By Shaun Doherty
Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 426

The screeching sound of handbrake turns

This article is over 4 years, 6 months old
Issue 426

One of the most entertaining aspect of the post-election analysis was the spectacle of the Labour right and the liberal commentariat desperately seeking to come to terms with their worst nightmare.

Copious helpings of humble pie were being consumed — if not digested — as they contemplated the Corbyn insurgency and the Tory debacle. But don’t imagine that there have been any lasting Damascene conversions. Even in their mea culpas their attempts to recalibrate their strategy were clearly signalled. In their reluctant acknowledgement of Corbyn’s achievement these latter day Iagos “follow him to serve their turn upon him”.

There are two strands to their strategy: the false analysis followed by a renewed strategy of opposition.

The first, articulated by the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland, was that the political “earthquake” had been achieved by garnering the votes of those who voted for Corbyn because of him and those who voted Labour despite him — as if there was some happy equilibrium between these binary positions.

There was no acknowledgement of the dynamic of the election — the surge created by the publication of the manifesto and Corbyn’s concentration on the mass rallies that created such momentum in the final weeks.

Even the BBC had to acknowledge that Corbyn’s surge had increased the votes of his many critics in the PLP.

Remember that only a few weeks previously Freedland had headlined an article “No more excuses Corbyn to blame for this meltdown”.

Polly Toynbee, one of Freedland’s colleagues, had a slightly different take on the situation. Calling the manifesto a “cornucopia of delight” she then opined that “Corbyn was not that leader” to deliver it.

No acknowledgement of the obvious fact that without Corbyn there would not have been a manifesto remotely like it.

Her volte face after the election, “Corbyn has rescued Britain from the chains of austerity. This is his moment”, smacked of the zealotry of the convert.

The oleaginous Lord Mandelson, he of the vow “to undermine Jeremy Corbyn every single day”, was forced on air to talk of a “political earthquake” and to praise Corbyn’s “sure footedness”.

But perhaps the award for brass neck of the pundits goes to Luke Akehurst, who sees himself as a key strategist for the Labour right. Writing in Labour List he argues that Corbyn “deserves credit” and that Labour “didn’t just survive but moved forward”. This was achieved because “all sides of the party pulled together to achieve this result”.

Erased from this picture is the sustained campaign of the Labour right, egged on by Akehust, to undermine Corbyn at every turn and to hope for as well as anticipate his electoral humiliation.

The second phase of their strategy, apart from the egregious calls for the party to unite without recriminations, is to focus on the Brexit negotiations and to argue that the whole of Labour needs to bend every sinew in support of remaining in the single market.

Mandelson even went so far as to suggest that the Labour Remainers should reach out to their fellow thinkers on the Tory benches.

Freedland argues in a similar vein that shaping opposition to Brexit should be the focus of the whole of Labour’s energies and that its current position might have been good enough for the election but now has to be abandoned.

Without reprising the whole of the Brexit debate there are two fundamental flaws in this position. Firstly, its characterisation of the Leave vote is crudely inaccurate as the election result demonstrated.

Secondly, it fails to acknowledge the fundamental flaws in the demand for support for the single market.

The EU is not a benevolent society. The implications for its members are clear: implement neoliberal policies and privatise public services or else you will suffer the same fate as Greece — the imposition of an ultra-austerity agenda.

For Labour to even attempt to go down this road would be a de facto abandonment of its election manifesto to nationalise key utilities and to defend public services.

There can be no accommodation with the Labour right. Paul Mason was right when he told the conference of their main organising vehicle, Progress (despite disavowing his own previous Marxism):

“The question for people in this room is: it is now a left wing Labour Party. It is a Labour Party led by a man vilified in the Daily Mail and The Sun as a terrorist sympathiser and we got 13 million votes. Do you want to be part of that or not? Because there is an alternative. There could be a British Macron.”

And when he was booed he replied, “If you want a centrist party this is not going to be it for the next ten years. If it’s really important for you to have a pro-Remain party that’s in favour of illegal war, in favour of privatisation, form your own party and get on with it.”

The Labour right do indeed look wistfully across the channel at Macron. But the Blairism he represents has been rejected by millions in this election. Don’t give the Labour right an inch in their attempts to resurrect it.

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