Notes From the Margins…

Corbyn’s rebels

  • November 28, 2015
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Lyndon Johnson once said of F.B.I. Director J. Edgar Hoover that ” It’s probably better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”  Perhaps that was the rationale behind Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to pack his shadow cabinet with so many people who did  not  reflect the new political direction that so many party members voted for.  Or perhaps it was motivated by the desire to maintain as much of a broad church as possible, and try to prevent a destructive schism in the Labour Party between the PLP and the grassroots campaign that so triumphantly and unexpectedly brought Corbyn to power.

Either way, from where I’m standing I can’t help feeling that the strategy has failed on both counts, and that  Corbyn would have done better to remember the wisdom expressed by the O’Jays, when they sang ‘ they smile in your face, all the time they wanna take your place, the backstabbers.’

Because some members of the PLP are merely critical of some of Corbyn’s policies, which is normal, but others are clearly so viscerally opposed to his politics in general that they are prepared to take any opportunity to undermine Corbyn and make his position politically untenable, and I mean any.    At the beginning of the week it was McDonnell’s somewhat clunking attempt to ridicule Cameron/Osborne’s courting of China, with Mao’s Red Book.

Let’s face it, that wasn’t a smart move, but McDonnell’s intentions were obvious to anyone who wanted to look.   Not to  Chuka Umunna apparently, who declared ” I haven’t quoted from a communist before,  and I have no intention of doing so in the future.”  Well, it’s always good to come across a politician with principles, isn’t it?

But such fakery is nothing compared with Syria, which many of Corbyn’s enemies now appear ready to wield as an instrument for his political destruction.  Because unlike Corbyn, I cannot believe that the decision of so many Labour MPs to support Cameron’s back-of-a-fag-packet bombing campaign is driven by moral considerations.

Perhaps some of them really see bombing Syria as a matter of conscience, but I cannot believe that they seriously believe that the case Cameron presented to parliament on Friday was any more ‘compelling’ than the case that Blair made for the Iraq War.   Even the Daily Mail found it shallow and unconvincing, yet Hilary Benn and co. appear to have swallowed it whole, without even chewing first.

Do they really believe that a government that has yet to explain what a bombing campaign would achieve has ‘learned the lessons of Iraq’, as Cameron claimed?  I have heard at least one Labour MP suggest that Corbyn is ‘out of his depth’ in Syria, as if the party that took the country to war in Iraq had some deep understanding about the Middle East that is informing its current thinking.

To hear people like Tom Watson reciting the mantra ‘ we-must-keep-our-country-safe’ without even apparently having thought through whether or not bombing would bring about this outcome, suggests something more than naivete or ignorance. Watson is one of the Labour MPs who voted for the Iraq War, and the seeming inability of politicians like him to understand the extent to which that war helped form the same enemy they now want to bomb, suggests that  militarism and Great-Britain-must-be-greatism  are as ingrained in their  political DNA as they are on the Tory Party’s.

And for all the talk about morality, I can’t help feeling that there is nothing moral about this, and that what these rebels would really like to do is use Syria to humiliate Corbyn and make it impossible for him to remain as party leader.  And I have a horrible feeling they might succeed, because, no matter how the vote turns out, and regardless of how many times McDonnell says ‘democracy doesn’t mean division’ , I can’t see how Corbyn can  fight an election campaign with a party as divided as the Labour Party now is,  over so many crucial issues.  

And I can’t see how he can remain in the same party as his enemies – at least not as leader.  It’s one thing to have the occasional Corbynite on the backbenches to give the appearance of a broad church, when you know that the party leadership will ignore everything they say.   It’s quite another to have him in charge, with a mandate from outside the PLP.

Too many Labour MPs have made it clear that they have more in common with the Tory opposition than they do with Corbyn, and that they will plot, leak and brief, and do whatever is necessary in order to destroy him and the movement that created him,  so that things can go back to normal – their normal.    

Perhaps they see all that as ‘moral’ too, but I really doubt it.


  1. Daniel Margrain

    29th Nov 2015 - 8:32 pm

    I like the O’Jays reference. I agree with your analysis. The problem with trying to appease everybody is that you often end up pissing everybody off. I’ve never met Corbyn, but he comes across as a man who has deeply held convictions and principles, one of them being a genuine desire to encourage internal party democracy – warts and all. I stated in a previous post of mine that I feared this might lead to his downfall but hoped to be proven wrong. I don’t think he accounted for the extent to which his colleagues don’t share his principles. The level of back-stabbing is incredible and indicates, to me at least, that the PLP is driven more about crass opportunism, self interest and self preservation than it is about any principled adherence to grass roots democracy. I’m particularly disappointed by Watson who I thought was somebody who was trustworthy, but it seems he’s just another backstabber like the rest of them. It’s at times like these, that you know who are your real comrades and who are your enemies and I’m sure Corbyn feels really let down by the antics of those he’s surrounded himself with. For me, it shows the lengths to which the establishment (because that’s what the PLP are) are prepared to rally around each other. They care not a hoot for genuine democracy.

  2. Nigel Baldwin

    29th Nov 2015 - 11:50 pm

    I fear that several months ago, the Labour Party elected another George Lansbury…

  3. Guano

    1st Dec 2015 - 9:41 am

    “I fear that several months ago, the Labour Party elected another George Lansbury… ”

    I fear that many people in the PLP are acting on the assumption that the Labour Party elected another George Lansbury. Many people in the PLP would like to promote their own careers by portraying Corbyn as a pacifist and by portraying the members of the party and the public who are writing to them as “nasty trolls”. Unfortunately for these members of the PLP, Corbyn’s grasp of the situation in Iraq and Syria is much better than Cameron’s and the “moderate” members of his own party who seem, in part, to be motivated to bomb Syria for no good reason except to portray Corbyn as another Lansbury.

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About Me

I’m a writer, campaigner and journalist.  My latest book is The Savage Frontier: The Pyrenees in History and the Imagination (New Press/Hurst, 2018).  The Infernal Machine is where I write on politics, history, cinema and other things that interest me.

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