This is meant to be a TV-related blog but as politics takes up a large number of the average household’s viewing hours per week via the news we’ll cheat a little on those grounds to sidestep from the comforting world of fiction out into the cold new dawn of the depressing political landscape we find ourselves in. Of course the often farcical scenes played out on screens in the House of Commons, particularly at Prime Minister’s Question Time over the years, with its braying donkeys on both sides of the divide, may well be viewed as entertainment, of a fashion, if it were not for the fact that the debates taking place hold the key to our future well being. Those taking part, of course, often lead sheltered lives, immune from the fluctuations of the British economy but to many millions across the country at the bottom end of our society there must be a sense of helplessness and frustration that the matters which so crucially affect their day to day lives and wellbeing, as well their future hopes and aspirations, can be treated as a pantomime theatre with cheap insults replacing policy debate. How can the working classes be expected to engage in the political world when they see the elected leaders of the country reduce the arena to that of cheap sideshow with nothing much ever changing for those in low incomes regardless of which side has grasped the reins of power? Just like the disenfranchised black vote in America, why bother to engage with democracy when it seems so pointless?
This why Jeremy Corbyn has been a breath of fresh air to British politics and the support he enjoys outside of his self-serving MPs in the Parliamentary Labour Party, out among the wider membership of the party, is the only real hope we’ve had of a sea change in the political landscape for many decades. In fact, probably since the post-war Labour government and the creation of the NHS. Because for the first time in anyone’s memory those who were previously thought to be outside the political arena are now engaging in it and flocking to join a Labour Party with Corbyn as its leader who is putting their interests at the centre of his agenda rather than those of the establishment. No leader of a political party has enjoyed such a surge of enthusiasm from his or her party members in the modern era and that is why the MPs in the Parliamentary Labour Party who have attempted to subvert democracy by overturning the will of the membership must be defeated.
The scale of the betrayal of the membership by the plotting MPs is quite breathtaking. They realise there is no democratic mandate for their actions in trying to oust their elected leader so they have descended to bullying instead. Launching vitriolic attacks upon their leader behind closed doors at parliamentary meetings to try and break his spirit they are endeavouring to force him out of office rather than daring to take the democratic path of actually fielding a candidate against him in a leadership contest. Despite days and days of warnings that a leadership bid would be coming soon, none has been forthcoming. There is one simple answer as to why this is the case, why they don’t try – fairly and squarely – to vote him out of his position. They would lose. Not only would they lose but all indications are they would lose very heavily indeed and that Corbyn, far from being the political liability they tell us he is, would actually increase his mandate from the membership.
Since he carried the leadership battle last year, membership of the party has more than doubled as people, once content to watch helplessly from the fringes of politics, suddenly re-engaged with the process and decided to throw their weight behind a leader who was saying the things they wanted to hear. Over 60,000 new members have joined since the Brexit vote alone and the smart money is on these being people who are so appalled by the attacks on Corbyn by his own MPs that they have decided to join in order to shore up the support of someone who speaks for them. The Labour MPs don’t want these people joining their party. They don’t want the people who joined last year. They would prefer a much smaller party which they are able to control without the unpleasantness of having to deal with the wishes of a membership who wanted them to engage in debating policies which directly impacted their lives. Make no doubt about it. This attempt to overthrow Corbyn is indeed a coup in every sense of the word – an attempt to overthrow an elected leader against the wishes of the electorate by a small rump of those seeking their own un-democratic agenda. It must not succeed.
The coup, of course was all pre-planned. Several newspapers and agencies have been receiving briefings from anonymous MPs and their teams of advisors for months signalling that the move against Corbyn’s leadership would take place immediately after the EU referendum. They have never been able to accept that the party’s membership elected this figure they have so little in common with, never been able to accept that the membership wanted this historically working class party to represent working class issues. All the while they have been plotting behind their leader’s back, since the very first day of his newly assembled shadow cabinet. Collectively, they realised that they couldn’t refuse to serve under him (though several die-hards did just that) as to do so would be to bring them into a direct clash with the membership who had given him such a clear political mandate for taking the party forward. Instead they would bide their time and hope that the wheels would come off the Corbyn bus and that the membership had been afflicted by only a temporary madness which they would recover their senses from. It soon became clear that this was not the case. The membership by and large were very happy with the direction and style of Corbyn’s leadership. As time dragged by they realised that they couldn’t launch any bid to oust him before the local elections which also coincided with the jewel in the crown of mayoral elections in London. Almost immediately afterwards would be the EU referendum and, again, it would be folly to create division at such time. Therefore, many months ahead, these un-mandated coup leaders plotted out the course of events and decided that, come what may, Corbyn would be gone immediately after the referendum.
For the plotters the Leave result of the referendum must have seemed like an early Christmas present. Struggling to come up with any justifiable reason for replacing an elected leader against the will of the larger party they were now able to fabricate a reason which they could rally behind. Not only would their own rebel faction be able to repeat it like a mantra but it would be owned by those in other parties who had been on the same side of the Remain debate leading to a demonisation of Corbyn in the press. This ludicrous new banner hoisted into the air for the plotters to rally around was simply this: that the Leave victory in the referendum was all Corbyn’s fault, a piece of nonsense which quickly took hold and which proves the maxim that when you want to convince people of a lie you must make the lie as big as possible.
Suddenly, the Leave vote wasn’t the fault of David Cameron, a Prime Minister who had taken his country to the brink of economic oblivion in order to quell a few Eurosceptics sitting on his own backbenches. Cameron had sought not only to quieten down dissent within his own party but to steal votes from UKIP at the general election by offering the same central promise in their manifesto. He had gambled that he would never have to press the referendum button as every opinion poll showed that a hung parliament was the only likely outcome and the Liberal Democrats would surely veto any suggestion of a potentially dangerous referendum as the price of their support for his Premiership. Faced with a surprise victory he hadn’t forseen he was then forced to go ahead with the referendum and was only able to deliver the support of a little over 40% of his own party supporters. But, no, it wasn’t Cameron’s fault that we ended up out of the EU.
Similarly it was no longer Boris Johnson’s fault either. This was the man who jumped ship into the Leave campaign as a calculated political gamble to land the leadership of his party and the title of Prime Minister that he hoped would go with it. An act of monumental folly with ego and ambition as its root cause he had also campaigned for something he hoped would never happen. Just as Cameron had thought he would never have to deliver the referendum he promised so Johnson believed he could never win. However, with Cameron having already stated that he would not campaign for a third term in office, Johnson had hoped that he would emerge as the plucky fighter who had stood up for British interests and who had taken a principled stand (even if the truth was the complete opposite), even though it was in opposition to the party grandees, and that he would then emerge as the overwhelming favourite in the leadership election a few years down the line. Johnson was another gambler who was left defeated by winning. The game he was playing had been to lose in the short term but to emerge triumphant down the line. Few can forget the look of bemusement and pain on his face as he gave his “victory” speech the morning after the referendum result. His political career has already crumbled to dust, as justice required it to do so, in light of the potential economic disaster he has visited on our shores, of the unleashing of powers of racism in our land and the sheer exposed idiocy of playing roulette with the welfare of a nation for personal political gain. But apparently it wasn’t his fault either.
No, apparently it was all Jeremy Corbyn’s fault for “not campaigning hard enough”. Of course the actual Labour MPs who came out in support of Brexit and campaigned hard for it are also apparently blameless. Presumably some of them have even joined in the attack on Corbyn’s leadership which would be an irony among ironies. No, easier and more convenient to lay the blame at the door of the leader and provide an excuse for the coup which was already planned to happen in those days following the referendum anyway. The argument goes that Corbyn didn’t campaign strongly and that therefore not enough Labour voters came out in support of Remain. Even setting aside the woeful figures of support from his typical party voters that David Cameron was able to deliver this argument doesn’t hold a lot of water. Firstly, Corbyn delivered almost two thirds of his party supporters for the Remain vote. This was a highly credible result given that many typical Labour supporters at the bottom end of the class system in the UK are the people who have been directly punished by six years of Conservative austerity measures. For these people, some of the outrageous lies told by the Leave campaign seemed to offer a way out of their poverty or, at the very least, couldn’t make them any worse off. History has taught us over and over again that those who have had their dreams and aspirations crushed, their communities destroyed by economic gloom are the most likely to reach out to wild new political offers when a crossroads is reached. That Corbyn was still able to deliver so much of the Labour support base should be celebrated, not lambasted.
Secondly, Corbyn actually delivered a share of Labour voters for Remain that was just one per cent lower than Nicola Sturgeon did for the SNP in Scotland. Sturgeon has emerged as perhaps the one true winner of the EU referendum with a party basking in praise for delivering Scotland for the Remain camp. She now almost certainly will be able to press forward with a campaign to bring about a second Scottish independence referendum and few would vote on her losing it at this stage. However, the actual facts don’t really back up this picture. Sturgeon actually only delivered a fractionally higher percentage of SNP voters for Remain than Corbyn did. And this was in Scotland, a country much more naturally inclined towards Remain than the citizens south of the border. So here we have the slightly strange spectacle of Sturgeon being praised for delivering 65% of her supporters, and somehow gaining credit for the whole Scottish vote, whereas Corbyn is attacked for delivering 64% and is blamed for losing the entire UK referendum. The logic of the plotters is simply out of touch with reality and it can be seen for what it is – a convenient peg for them to hang their pre-existing prejudices on against a democratically elected leader which they wish to depose against the wishes of the party membership.
Of course, knowing that they couldn’t win any leadership contest against him due to the inconvenience of the members being firmly behind Corbyn they have been forced to rely on ever more desperate alternative measures. First of all there was the orchestrated series of resignations. Coming in batches at a time – even though the whole thing had been pre-planned for many months – to ensure that it kept generating news headlines for several days rather than just one story with everyone resigning en masse. They had hoped that Corbyn would be embarrassed out of office. It didn’t work. Corbyn’s nerve held in the face of an unrelenting onslaught against him as the MPs – against the wishes of their own constituency parties – sought to humiliate him in public. His declaration that he would not betray those who elected him as leader was heartening. The MPs now had to resort to their Plan B.
The second strategy for the rebel MPs was that they would hold a Vote of No Confidence among the Parliamentary party. Once more this was an undemocratic process as it had no standing whatsoever within the rules of the party. Knowing they couldn’t win a leadership contest they persisted with their campaign of humiliation with the equivalent of a kangaroo court which delivered a verdict no one had to listen to or act upon but which continued to generate news headlines. Furthermore, the cowards attempting the coup made the vote a secret ballot to encourage further dissent behind the cloak of anonymity. The headlines of course proclaimed the overwhelming vote against Corbyn, What they didn’t share with the British public on the news bulletins that evening was a simple piece of analysis. When Corbyn had stood for the leadership he had so little support among the MPs that he fell well short of the 35 nominations required to make it onto the ballot. After a request that some MPs could come forth and nominate him “just to widen the debate” in the leadership campaign a number came forward at the last minute to give him their nominations and the rest is history with the actual membership deciding he was their favoured candidate by a long margin. Despite only having about 20 MPs a year earlier who were prepared to come out in favour of him before the call to widen the ballot, Corbyn, despite the sniping and the pre-planned coup attempt now commanded the support of over forty MPs. Even in a group who had never wanted him and who thought they knew better than the party’s membership his support had actually grown.
With Corbyn refusing to budge after the sham of the No Confidence vote the plotters were forced into ever more fanciful plans. Legal advice was taken on whether they could actually appropriate the party name. In other words, could they all just shuffle down the benches in Parliament and declare that they were actually the Labour Party and not Corbyn and his remaining supporters? Needless to say, this ludicrous idea was knocked back almost instantly. Next up though, as they span through the alphabet of plans, was the idea of seeking legal advice to see if they could exclude Corbyn from the ballot in a forthcoming election. This is perhaps the most desperate of all their plans, as well as being by far the least democratic and displaying a clear and total contempt for the membership. They can’t win an election so they want to rig it so that it is fixed in their favour, to cheat by excluding the man who would clearly walk away with victory. Legal advice seems to think that Corbyn must – as common sense and democratic values would suggest – be automatically on the ballot. The rebels are clinging to some sort of rival advice but it is clear that they think their attempt doomed or they would have come forward to launch the challenge already.
And so the plotters continue to snipe away each day. Gone is any attempt to hold the Tories to account for taking the country out of the EU. Gone is any attempt to set the country on a course where we might actually recover from this moment of supreme folly. Gone is any attempt to rally behind a banner and fight for the rights and living standards of the oppressed in this country who are sure to feel any potential pain from Brexit first and hardest. Instead, the plotters want to overturn an elected leader who still commands vast support to parachute one of their number into his position against the will of the party.
Of course, the bleating about the Brexit disaster being his fault holds less water with each passing day so the plotters have to put forward another reason for removing Corbyn in their attempted coup and they fall back on their old tried and tested “the party is unelectable under his leadership”. It’s a very strange line to take in that it doesn’t seem to bear up well under any scrutiny at all. Aside from the fact that Corbyn has won eight straight elections as MP for Islington North in London and then swept to power with the highest level of support for a Labour leader for generations the party under his leadership seems to have been doing extraordinarily well in the electoral tests put before it so far. They have won every single by-election they have contested since he took over, and managed to increase their majority on each occasion. They have won every single mayoral contest as well, including the prized Mayor of London. They also, despite predictions across the media of losing control of swathes of councils all over England, managed to control the exact same number as before the 2016 council elections and won 1326 seats to the Conservatives’ 842. It was a resounding victory which held onto and matched the resounding the victory from the last time the seats were contested.
Despite this, anyone watching the BBC News coverage of the council results in particular could be forgiven for thinking that Labour had somehow lost almost everything with all the reporting focussing on Corbyn’s inability to make some sort of breakthrough. Obviously, scoring over 50% more seats than the government must be a sign of failure in some parallel mirror world. But not in reality. Or outside of the heads of the plotters who by this stage had resorted to grasping at anything to back up their unpopulist campaign. They just keep trotting out the mantra of unelectability over and over and over until, they hope, enough people are swayed by it.
The plotters have also desperately tried to gain some credibility for their campaign of disloyalty by saying that Corbyn himself was a rebel who voted against the party line on hundreds of occasions in parliamentary votes so he can hardly complain when the boot is on the other foot and MPs oppose his viewpoints. As I’ve already said, some of their arguments are particularly desperate and this one is really something else. Corbyn’s principled stands on a range of issues since he was elected to the House of Commons in 1983 has often seen him come into conflict with the party leadership of Labour. However, when you see what he was voting against it becomes clear why he was rebelling. When he was rebelling against the war in Iraq he was doing so not only from a position of morality but also echoing the view of the vast majority of the people of Britain. When he has opposed any cuts to welfare services he has done so again from a position of morality and for the interests of the British public. It is interesting that the rebel plotters who oppose him – to a man and woman – voted either with the Tory government last year to cut welfare for the very worst off members of society or to abstain. Corbyn voted against these measures, despite the advice from the stand-in leader at the time, Harriet Harman, that the Labour Party should support the Tory attack on the weakest members of society, a truly despicable instruction which it’s hard to imagine could ever be uttered from the lips of a Labour leader. Fortunately, when Corbyn took over the party he was able to stop these welfare cuts in their tracks and put a block on the Tory plans.
As I write this it is the eve of the publication of the long-awaited Chilcot Report into the Iraq War. Incredibly, many of the rebel MPs who are saying that Corbyn is unelectable and doesn’t represent Labour were people who voted in support of Tony Blair’s illegal war which has led to – even at the very lowest end of the estimates with the most conservative body count numbers – hundreds of thousands of innocent, ordinary Iraqi civilian deaths with a country shattered beyond all hope of ever being fixed and with vast swathes of its territory now under the command of the Islamic State and providing a hotbed for terrorist attacks on the area and the West. Even Blair has now admitted that the war caused the rise of Islamic State and, despite there actually being no terrorism in Iraq before the war (along with no weapons of mass destruction), we have now created the very thing Blair and his cronies lied about – a state which provides a very real and constant terrorist threat across the whole region and right up to our own shores. Oh, and we just happen to have spent untold billions of pounds to help produce this human disaster into the bargain. Corbyn warned in parliament and at rallies that this very thing would happen and that the war would “set off a spiral of conflict, of misery, of hate, of desperation that will fuel the wars, the conflict, the terrorism, the depression of future generations.” He was right. And yet so many Labour MPs stood by Blair and voted with him and his flimsy validity for his actions. No wonder they wanted Corbyn removed before the Chilcot Report as they will have to shoulder the responsibility for their actions and the untold death and suffering it has unleashed.
The plotters say they represent the best chance of election success and yet it will be Corbyn in the days ahead on the side of the general public, and who has always been so, with his stand against the war. It is Corbyn who is reconnecting with voters by opposing austerity while the previous leadership actually dared to suggest that some limited form of austerity – some Tory-lite vision – was the answer to the nation’s woes. Woes brought about by an economic crash and banking crisis enabled by the Blair/Brown administration and focussed into punishing the poor by the Tory successors to their government with six years of austerity so far, while at the same time cutting taxes for the richest in society. Corbyn’s anti-austerity campaigning is the only thing likely to make Labour electable and relevant once more. Isn’t it ironic, and almost head-shakingly unbelievable, that the very people within the Parliamentary Labour Party who are claiming Corbyn has made them unelectable are also the very people who have held sway over the party as it has just lost two consecutive General Elections. And not just lost two elections. No, they have lost two elections to a Tory party of rich guffawing Eton boys who actually stood on a platform of austerity – i.e. of making people poorer. Even after losing one election to these creatures and with the Tories offering up another five years of austerity in their election pledges, alongside welfare cuts for the poor, the previous Labour regime was unable to win. If you can’t win those elections then how can you expect to ever win? It is clear that Corbyn’s alternative to the Tory attack on the working classes is the only route back to power and the opinion polls agree in that he has moved the party from trailing a long distance behind the Tories to a position where they were actually in the lead before normal politics was suspended for the referendum push. Again, why let the facts get in the way of the matter? The plotters just keep trotting out the same lies over and over until people start to believe them. Suddenly the people who lost two elections in a row are lecturing the leader who restored the party lead in the polls and who won every elected contest under his leadership on the issue of electability.
Corbyn not only stands for the voice of the downtrodden in our society and for those who had previously felt disenfranchised but he made a point of trying to usher in a new style of politics. His request for a less confrontational manner at Prime Minister’s Question Time was met with agreement from Cameron. Of course it was, as to disagree with it would appear incredibly unreasonable. Of course, it didn’t take long for the Tory leader to revert to type and while Corbyn was interested in bringing the voices of real people into the weekly debate via emailed questions Cameron and his cronies not only ridiculed him for doing so but, on one infamous occasion, instead of answering a question, decided to attack Corbyn for the general style of his clothes to gain a few cheap column inches and soundbites on the news. This may well be the style of British politics the Tories are happy with but there is a better way and it is good to see a leader of a major British party who is prepared to stand up for it. It’s also good to see a leader who in the EU debate was prepared to stand up for what he actually believed in – that the EU had many failings and needed much reform but that it was the best option on the table and that we should stick with it to ensure worker’s freedoms and rights and a more prosperous shared future – rather than trade lies with the opposing camp in a manner that reduced the whole debate to a smokescreen of untruths which only served to turn many away from voting at all. If anything was going to turn traditional Labour voters away from the Remain camp it wasn’t Corbyn’s reasonable position on the matter in the face of a storm of lies from both sides. No, it was much more likely to be the presence of the toxic Tony Blair who got wheeled out in the final days.
Events often move fast in the world of politics and it is possible that by the time you read this much of it will already have been obsoleted by unfolding developments. Corbyn may have already lost and the plotters may have succeeded in overturning the democracy of their party. I hope this is not the case. Corbyn is a man of principles who genuinely cares about creating a more equal society. Yes, he has very little support among his own MPs but given that they have voted in support of illegal wars and in cutting the benefits of the most struggling sections of our populace they are not people who you would perhaps want on your side anyway. The plotters have decided that they want to live in a bubble and ignore the groundswell of opinion which has seen the membership of the party reinvigorated and ready to take the fight to the Tories. They have decided to fight a civil war at a time when the country needs a vision of a way forward during a national crisis. Perhaps figures like Angela Eagle, constantly threatening to launch a leadership challenge but never actually doing so as she knows she can’t actually win, who seems content to destabilise the party rather than support the elected leader against a common enemy, will find herself in the position of being de-selected by her constituency party who are appalled by her actions. Maybe then she and some of the others will get a lesson in how democracy actually works.
The hope is that Corbyn will be able to see off the rebels through a negotiated settlement with the help of the unions which sees them come back into the fold or that they finally put their money where their mouth is and hold an election in which there can only be one winner. Either way, I can only hope that the man who has spoken for the traditional Labour voters and reached out to bring a wave of new young voices into the party can hold this anti-democratic coup at bay. It’s time to be fighting battles against austerity and forging an agenda for how we deal with the fallout from Brexit rather than dealing with MPs who no longer even command the support of their own constituency parties, let alone the wider membership of the party, let alone the country.
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