Notes From the Margins…

Labour Plotters: Stop your Sobbing

  • June 30, 2016
  • by

I’m sorry to hear that some of the MPs who have turned on Jeremy Corbyn these last few days have been crying.  Angela Eagle looks weepy every time she appears on tele, and now Margaret Beckett has cried on air   It’s sad, but then there has been a lot of sadness and tears these last few days.  Not amongst the Leavers of course, many of whom have been crowing about a victory that I suspect will turn out to turn more bitter than many of them suspected.

As we now know to our horror, some of them have been out in the streets, gleefully terrorizing anyone who doesn’t talk like them or look like them.  Naturally there are no tears or even the slightest sign of remorse from the sinister Bullingdon Club wreckers, who have smashed up the country as comprehensively as they once smashed up pubs and restaurants in their salad days.  This time daddy won’t be able to pay for the damage, but it’s still worth a giggle and a smirk.

The sociopathic monstrosity Boris Johnson can’t stop grinning, like a naughty little boy who’s just burned down the summerhouse and shot one of the servants with daddy’s hunting rifle but knows that mummy loves him anyway and will always pat his tousled hair because hey, it’s just Boris being Boris, right?

And Sarah Vine, Michael Gove’s Lady MacBeth wife, is  having a laugh too, telling her husband ‘ you were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off.’  So it’s all a bit of fun really.

And let’s not forget Lord Snooty, the arrogant, cackhanded toff who has turned the country into the Little Shop of Horrors with a casual and feckless disregard for the consequences that will make him an object of absolute contempt and ridicule throughout the annals of political time.  Even His Lordship had time for a chortle at Jeremy Corbyn’s expense when he and his pals came slinking back into their seats in the House of Commons on Monday, when he told Corbyn ‘ I thought I was having a bad day! ‘

What a card, eh?   Real laughter in the dark.  Confronted with such behavior it ought to be clear – though tragically it isn’t – that we are dealing with some of the basest, most useless and most dangerous collection of amoral, decadent incompetents and chancers ever to park their backsides on parliament’s hallowed leather seats.  But they weren’t the only ones who’ve been laughing.  On the same day that His Lordship was mocking Corbyn, dozens of Labour MPs were jeering, mocking and laughing at their own leader at the same time.

With a government on the ropes, staggering into the ring without a clue or a plan, and the country staring into a future that increasingly looks like an abyss,  Labour MPs thought it would be a good idea to attack their own leader.  Instead of rallying to Corbyn’s call for unity, they preferred to turn a national crisis into  a political opportunity.  Instead of assaulting the government that has brought about this disaster, they attacked their own leader like a gang of playground bullies.

In doing so they let Cameron & his cronies entirely off the massive hook that was dangling in front of them, and even recruited Cameron into their sordid campaign,  to the point when this wretched fake could shout out in true Flashmanlike fashion ‘ For Heavens’ sake, man, go!’ when he and his cronies are the ones who should be long gone.   Instead of responding to the national crisis, dozens of Labour MPs deliberately precipitated an internal crisis that will do nothing to help the country and will almost certainly destroy the Labour Party.

That is crass irresponsibility on the same grand scale as their opponents on the other side of the chamber.   Now, after three days of staged and orchestrated resignations -worked out with their many friends in the media – after more stabs in the back than Julius Caesar received, after briefing, leaking, shouting and bullying, they aren’t laughing but  crying – and they even have the temerity to present themselves as heroes.

Well please don’t tell me there is anything noble, heroic or well-meaning about this.    Last summer Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party with a huge majority, that was partly prompted by a surge in new members, many of whom were young, idealistic and hopeful, appalled by Ed Miliband’s feeble campaigning,  and desperate for a new kind of politics that was able to challenge and resist the destructive class war waged by the Tories – with the complicity of a Labour right wing that too often aped and copied them or offered up a softer version of the same thing.

Jeremy Corbyn, for better or worse, became the focus for these new aspirations.   Ever since he has been subjected to a relentless and vicious campaign of defamation, contempt and vilification from within his own party and beyond,   that makes what was done to Michael Foot back in the 80s seem like a children’s game at a soft play centre.

Meanwhile Corbyn was ridiculed, insulted, briefed against and raged at by his own MPs, the government staggered like an Etonian drunk on a pubcrawl from one blunder to the next, until it fell off the edge of the pier and took the country with it.  Throughout this, Corbyn behaved with courage, dignity and principle – qualities that are almost entirely absent amongst the pitchfork mob that now surrounds him.  Personally I think that Corbyn and his team have missed a number of opportunities to deliver some killer blows to this disreputable government.   As a ‘left Remainer’ I think his campaign was ambivalent and lacklustre.

Nevertheless, to blame Corbyn for the referendum defeat is at best a huge distraction, and at worse a willful distortion that owes more to the priorities of the Blairite right than it does to any honest assessment of the long-term factors that brought about this self-inflicted catastrophe.

Labour was bleeding members and working-class votes for years before Corbyn was elected.  The attitudes and ideas that made so many voters regard the referendum as a referendum on immigration were already deeply entrenched in British society.  Do Corbyn’s enemies seriously believe that Liz Kendall, Yvette Cooper or some polished smoothie like Chuka Umunna could have had an impact on them – or that it would have helped if Corbyn had appeared on a platform with Cameron and Alan I-used-to-be-a-postman Johnson?

Where was the rage of these Labour MPs when the politician they admired so much catapulted the country into a catastrophic war on false pretenses and went on to become a millionaire?  Why didn’t they turn their anger and indignation on the government that has forced the sick and dying to work?  Why didn’t they open their mouths to condemn Theresa May’s viciously discriminatory Immigration Act?   Why did 184 of them refuse to vote against the Tories‘ Welfare Reform and Work Bill?

Too many of them did not oppose these things because they were too frightened and too concerned for their jobs and careers, or too ideologically-wedded to the essential premises of neoliberal austerity, to stand up and oppose them.   Rather than find ways to respond to the leftist upsurge behind Corbynism possible and try and use that energy to turn the country round, they did everything they could to snuff it out, and turned their rage on Corbyn.

Now the battle is out in the open, and many people, including myself,  have joined the Labour Party, not because we necessarily have complete faith in it or even in the Corbyn project, but because we are appalled and disgusted by what has been done to him, and because  it is quite clear that the  Labour right wing’s refusal to respond positively to the most promising leftwing movement in mainstream British politics in many years is part of a wider determination that goes beyond the Labour Party, to destroy and marginalize the left for years to come.

Personally, I doubt that the Labour Party can survive this  If it splits then Corbyn will be blamed, regardless of whether the current divisions are a product of a longer-term collapse of Labourism, and the get-rich-quick politicians who have done so well from Blairism.

Somehow I doubt that Angela Eagle, Dan Jarvis, Simon Danczuk or whatever candidate they conjure up can change this.  In a leadership contest, Corbyn will almost certainly win again, and the Labour Party will probably split.  When that happens, perhaps a new progressive politics can emerge  that can offer some real hope in these dark times.

God knows we need that.   But in the short term, only the Tories will be laughing, thanks to the MPs on the other side of the chamber who were jeering and howling on Monday. Some of them might be crying now, but as  Bob Dylan once sang, now ain’t the time for your tears.

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  1. mark

    30th Jun 2016 - 10:46 am

    Well Matt another interesting essay from the voice of the True Left.

    Yet another person predicting a split in the Labour Party and the implied creation of a new political party.

    The creation of a new political party is going to mean that there will never be a Labour government in your lifetime just a collection of fragmented political groups left of centre fighting for their own personal interests.

    I see you’ve joined the Labour party, after you vote for the new leader you may want to let us all know which way you went. True to you beliefs and a divided opposition for ever more, or a compromise and a leader who may put a labour party into government.

    God help us.

    • Matt

      30th Jun 2016 - 11:14 am

      Dear Mark. I don’t regard myself as the voice of the ‘True Left’ and I doubt if anyone else does either. I’ve taken this decision reluctantly, because right now I don’t see a better alternative. A leftwing Labour Party might lose an election, but a rightwing one, wedded to the politics that are now on offer, almost certainly will, as it already has – twice. Nor do I want to contribute to a split in the Labour Party. Any such split is not due to me or people like me – it’s due to the complete refusal of the Labour right to recognize the democratic mandate that their leader was given, and which he still has. It’s due to many years of bad politics, including two electoral defeats that only seem to have pushed its MPs rightwards and its membership leftwards. It’s due to a wider crisis in social democracy and its inability to fight answers to neoliberalism and austerity. It’s due to the Iraq war and many other factors. The Labour right won’t allow Corbyn to present his political program to the electorate in a general election. If he does that, and fails, then fine – there should then be another leadership contest and a new conversation. For them to do so now, in the midst of a crisis of this magnitude, is gross irresponsibility. You talk about ‘personal interests’ – that seems to me precisely what these people have done. You’re right to say God help us, because right now there are no good outcomes, unless you share the ludicrous and opportunistic optimism of Lexit, which I don’t. For the time being I’ve chosen this tentative path. Am I comfortable with it? No. But I feel that the orchestrated destruction of Corbynism – flawed as it is, would a massive blow to ANY genuine alternative to the awful status quo that we increasingly seem to be condemned to – and because like many people, I’m actually disgusted by the way he has been treated.

  2. Yossi

    1st Jul 2016 - 7:31 am

    I share your contempt for the Blairites but given your measured blog prior to the referendum on your own position I find your doom-laden thoughts on where we are now surprising. The austerity measures were imposed by our government and it is in our power to change our government. We had no power to elect the EU commission. Not sure why so many remainers on the left are now lauding the un-reformable neo-liberal EU.

    • Matt

      1st Jul 2016 - 8:23 am

      Recognizing that the EU – as flawed as it is – is preferable to a Brexit process that represents a radical swing to the right, is not the same as ‘lauding’ the EU. There are many reasons why I would criticize the EU, for example its treatment of migrants and refugees, its disastrous and brutal punishment of Greece, absence of transparency etc, but these, for the most part, weren’t the dominant features in a campaign in which racism and xenophobia were the decisive factors. That doesn’t mean the exclusive factors, but if you take away immigration from the Brexit campaign, it’s really very difficult to imagine that it would have won – and my ‘doom-laden’ thoughts are entirely related to the very predictable results – a new legitimisation of open racism and xenophobia that we have not seen in this country in many years, and that will get worse as the Brexit promises turn out to be chimeras and the economy nosedives. As for the EU – the EU is the sum of its member states – its more powerful ones in particular – it can be changed according to what those states decide. Your suggestion that it’s ‘unreformable’ suggests that everything about the EU is bad and that everything bad that happens stems from the EU. I don’t agree. I think that if we didn’t have the EU, we would get much the same kinds of things that we are seeing now – in the UK and elsewhere. You rightly point out that austerity in the UK has been imposed by our government – in other words without the kind of pressure from the EU/Troika that was imposed on Greece. So why blame the EU for this then? If you find my ‘doom-laden thoughts’ surprising, I find the continued optimism and ‘now it’s our time’ thinking from some sectors of the left simply astonishing – an alarming mixture of wishful thinking, opportunism and ‘the workers united will never be defeated’ internationalism with no basis in the real world as it is, which has no qualms about precipitating a truly dangerous crisis that threatens the lives and well-being of millions of immigrants in the UK and other countries (if the rightwing Brexit surge has a knockon effect) – at a time of real weakness for the left.

      • Rossi

        1st Jul 2016 - 10:37 am

        You don’t know what caused people to vote leave any more than you know what made people vote remain. Saying that it was the racists or xenophobes or old people as many commentators are saying is patronising and insulting and will not persuade anyone. My guess is that it was because a lot of people, who have not prospered, saw that the system was not working for them.
        You say ‘if we didn’t have the EU, we would get much the same kinds of things that we are seeing now,’ in the UK and elsewhere. So you think that being in EU gives us nothing. I agree with one major caveat – we would not have an unelected level of government. I think it wrong to say that our government wasn’t pressed by the troika to impose austerity, but more than that the troika imposed austerity on Greece and I actually care about people other than those in the UK.

        • Matt

          1st Jul 2016 - 11:03 am

          Actually I do know – not what caused everyone of course – noone knows that. But I’ve seen and read what enough people have said on both sides to feel pretty confident that racist and xenophobic hostility to immigrants and foreigners was, as I said, a decisive factor in the referendum. Not the only factor (how many times does one have to say this?) but the driving decisive factor. You accuse me of being patronising and insulting – no it isn’t, it’s recognizing what took place. Obviously your ‘guess’ is correct – people felt that the system was not working for them, but that doesn’t mean that the Leave campaign was a progressive and positive rebellion against austerity and neoliberalism, even if austerity and neoliberalism helped create the conditions in which xenophobia and neoliberalism could thrive. The country had the chance to reject austerity in the last election – well, it had the chance to choose between ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ austerity – it chose the former. I don’t think at all think that ‘being in the EU gives us nothing’, on the contrary, I think it has given us lots of positive things – too many to mention. Regional funding for deprived areas, structural stability funds that have helped make the Irish Peace Process possible, the single largest experiment in free movement of people in history, a single market that creates jobs, and much else. All this is now to be jettisoned – the baby with the bathwater – for nothing except a fantasy of British (English) ‘independence’, and for Lexit – an equally fantastic brave new world of revolutionary internationalism with no prospect of practical realisation. And please spare me the snide ‘ I actually care about people outside the UK’ – I spent two and half years researching what was happening to refugees and migrants on Europe’s borders because I also care about people outside the UK. And I can assure you one thing – you might have voted Leave because you care about people outside the UK, but most of those who want to ‘take our country back’ and ‘take back control’ definitely don’t.

          • Yossi

            1st Jul 2016 - 11:49 am

            Why give the funds you refer to via a middleman . The middle man always takes a cut. We should fund directly. As you said on your first reply to me ‘if we didn’t have the EU, we would get much the same kinds of things that we are seeing now”. The single market you refer to doesn’t seem to have provided reasonably paid jobs for a lot of the people who voted leave or the young unemployed in the north of England, Spain and Greece

  3. John

    1st Jul 2016 - 10:34 am

    Great post Matt – and I agree entirely with your analysis. Like you I have joined the Labour Party – although a year ago when Corbyn was running for the leadership. It does initially feel uncomfortable (especially when you receive emails from the likes of Chuka Umuna) but the discomfort passes. Standing firm behind Corbyn against the Labour right’s ill-judged attempted coup (their extraordinary sense of entitlement is beyond irony) is I think the only option those of us who continue to believe in the possibility of a truly progressive politics now have.

    • Matt

      1st Jul 2016 - 11:08 am

      Thanks John. I haven’t received any such emails yet. But it certainly feels uncomfortable, especially when I hear John McDonnell saying that ‘free movement is over’ – that’s kind of a red line for me. We’ll see.

  4. Guano

    5th Jul 2016 - 9:15 am

    After the last election some parts of the Labour Party said that the Labour Party should move even further to the right: they claimed that the British are right-wing and the only way to be electable was to be more right-wing. Another section of the Labour Party said that, if it moved any further to the right, it would have lost touch completely with its principles and that it has to make a case for its principles (not just jettison them).

    It is difficult to see how these two points of view can now exist in the same party. There was some hope, a year ago, that some modus vivendi could be worked out and that the PLP would recognise that there was a section of the membership that didn’t agree with the constant rightward drift; it now looks very unlikely that this could happen.

    Whatever happens the Tories will be a dominant political force because the PLP doesn’t see attacking them as a political priority, and Labour is unlikely to win a General Election unless it works out something with the SNP (of which there is no sign). A split may allow the Tories to divide and rule, but it may also allow the various parties to work out their relations with each other and concentrate on exploiting the splits in the Tories.

    There is no going back to 1997. Rupert Murdoch is having lunch with people like Fox and Farage. It is unlikely that anyone is going to pull off the trick of getting Murdoch to support Labour.

  5. Susan

    17th Jul 2016 - 2:02 pm

    I agree with Corbyn’s economic policies, but this strange idea that there are plots and conspiracies against Corbyn is ridiculous. You deny antisemitism, but you use classic antisemitics tropes of plots and conspiracy theories against Corbyn.

    • Matt

      17th Jul 2016 - 2:16 pm

      With all due respect, there most certainly are conspiracies to undermine Corbyn and your allegations about my supposed ‘antisemitic tropes’ are utterly without foundation.

  6. Susan

    17th Jul 2016 - 5:57 pm

    You have not shown that it is a conspiracy. I don’t believe it. It is dangerous idea.

  7. Susan

    17th Jul 2016 - 6:41 pm

    You have not shown that there are plotters or conspiracies to undermine Corbyn. I see no reason why I should believe you. You have a higher burden of proof when you spout dangerous theories.

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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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