Labour right panic and call for ABC

Tony Blair’s warning goes to show that the Labour Party can be shifted to the left, writes Eddie Ford

It is official - the Blairites are panicking. First we had the New Statesman account of how Jeremy Corbyn is “on course to come top” in the leadership contest, at least according to two private polls conducted by his opponents.1 One of the surveys put Corbyn ahead by more than 15 points, whilst the other had him in a “commanding position”. The same article also told us that “more than two-thirds” of the 80,000 or so who have recently signed up to the Labour Party, either as members or registered supporters, are backing Corbyn. There is no reason to think that trend will be reversed: quite the opposite in fact.

Then we had the July 22 YouGov poll, which put Corbyn comfortably ahead by 17 points on 43% - with Andy Burnham getting 26%, Yvette Cooper 20% and Liz Kendall trailing behind on 11%.2 The poll also predicts that Corbyn will win with 53% of the vote in any run-off against Burnham. In a second YouGov survey, Tom Watson (former deputy chair of the party) emerges as the winner in the deputy leader race - who in September 2006 wrote to Tony Blair urging him to resign because he no longer served the “interest of either the party or the country”. Compounding the nightmare, at least if you are a Blairite, it now seems that Corbyn and Burnham are currently neck and neck when it comes to CLP nominations. Both are on 73 each, with Cooper on 62 and Kendall - once the great Blairite hope for the party - once again lagging far behind on 12.3

Actually, YouGov’s conclusions are debatable. Whilst the 43% figure for Corbyn is totally plausible, it is still a fact that he could lose because possibly only a tiny minority of the second-preference votes of those who backed Cooper or Kendall will go to Corbyn. On that basis, to be sure of victory Corbyn really has to come close to winning outright on the first vote in order to beat Burnham - which is certainly not an impossibility, but far from a certainty. Everything is still to play for.

The YouGov survey has sent shockwaves throughout the party and beyond. After all, the leadership contest was meant to be the ritual exorcising of Milibandism and anything that might alienate the ‘aspirational’ values and concerns of the middle class. Pro-establishment common sense was supposed to prevail. But things have not gone according to script.

Quite hilariously, Cooper rejected YouGov’s findings - talk about denial. A spokesperson for her campaign stated that the poll “significantly understates” the “huge number” of members/supporters giving Cooper their first preference, and surreally claimed that the survey instead shows that she is the “only” candidate who can “win the leadership election and then reach out to the wider electorate” to win the 2020 general election. How coming a fairly poor third means you are the only winning candidate remains a bit of a mystery. The spokesperson added that Labour will not win that election by “shifting a narrow party further to the left” or by “returning to the dismal days of the 1980s, with internal party warfare and almost two decades of opposition” - despairing words.

Blairite despair

John McTernan, a former special advisor to Tony Blair, was more forthright. He told the BBC’s Newsnight programme that the figures were “disastrous”, described the Labour MPs who had “lent” their nominations to Corbyn as “morons” and condemned party activists for being “suicidally inclined.”4

Showing how desperate the Blairites are getting, he recommended - admittedly with a certain logic - that two of the leadership runners should consider dropping out in order to pool the rightwing vote and block Corbyn. The other candidates, he declared, need to decide “who is the ABC candidate” - the “anyone but Corbyn” candidate. Of course, McTernan was merely reiterating - albeit more colourfully - previous coded warnings by the acting ‘leader’, Harriet Harman, who had urged party members to “think not who you like and who makes you feel comfortable” - but rather “think who actually will be able to reach out to the public and actually listen to the public and give them confidence”. That is, she too wants a vote for anyone but Jeremy Corbyn.

Meanwhile, McTernan’s former master, Tony Blair, addressed the New Labour think-tank, Progress, on July 22. He warned yet again about Labour “lurching” to the left and worried that the party has “rediscovered losing”. Yes, he said, Labour could win again - but not from a “traditional leftist platform”: it had to “move on”. For him, the “debilitating feature” of the leadership contest was that it was being presented as a choice “between heart and head” - when actually the people who say their heart is with Corbyn should “get a transplant”. Indeed, we discover that Corbyn’s “radical leftism” is “reactionary” - as opposed to “radical social democracy”, which apparently is all about “ensuring that values are put to work in the most effective way”. Thanks for your profound thoughts on the matter, Tony. He would never serve under a leftwing leader, we are also informed - though he did display some self-awareness by refusing to endorse any of the candidates because it would “possibly” not be “helpful for them”.

Entering the ring also was Tristram Hunt, the shadow education secretary and former leadership contestant, who gallantly gave way because he could not get the necessary support. Speaking on BBC’s Today programme, Hunt - who naturally backs Kendall - argued that Labour’s “progressive, modernising” wing had not made a good enough case on issues like public spending and welfare reform: “It’s a big philosophical struggle inside the party,” he thought. Part of that “philosophical struggle”, it seems, is to plot a course between the “new populism” embodied in movements such as Greece’s Syriza and Spain’s Podemos, on the one hand, and the centre-right, on the other. Labour should attempt, Hunt argued, to marry the “patriotism” and “emotional connection” such parties have made with the electorate with an explicitly Blairite stance on public finances.5 Otherwise the party “could disappear overnight”.

But whether we should take anything he says seriously is open to question. This is the man, remember, who has described the leadership contest as so “lifeless that it needs a defibrillator”. Right, OK, so the fact that a supposedly unwinnable fringe candidate way to the left not only of Ed Miliband, but also of Michael Foot, has a good chance of becoming party leader is boring - sure, Tristram, we believe you. We look forward to you saying that again on September 12.


Some people have expressed surprise, if not astonishment, at the rapid progress made by the Corbyn campaign - going from 100:1 to 40:1 to 4:1 to 5:2 to… 6 But once he got the literally last-minute 35 nominations from MPs - the real hurdle - then everything has broadly panned out as we in the CPGB expected: the momentum is now clearly with Corbyn.

After all, just think back to Ken Livingstone’s London mayoral campaign - or Karl Marx topping the BBC’s ‘Thinker of the millennium’ poll, much to the visceral disgust of Lord Melvin Bragg and other pro-establishment toadies.7 Such contests give large numbers of people the chance to strike a blow against the establishment. In all seriousness, what on earth can you say about Burnham, Cooper and Kendall? They are New Labour clones. If you want to talk about boring, they are its personification. Any differences between them are purely about detail (or marketing), not substance. Corbyn, for all his obvious faults, represents a qualitatively different brand of politics - a working class pole of attraction.

Yet things are going from bad to worse for the Blairites, as this paper is delighted to report. Thus we have the fiasco of the Labour vote on the Tory plans to cut welfare by £12 billion, which, according to a leaked impact assessment by the department for work and pensions, would see more than 330,000 children lose out from the benefits cap and restriction of child tax credits to two children - pushing 40,000 of them into ‘official’ poverty. This disgracefully saw Harman urging Labour MPs to show the electorate that they were “listening” to their concerns over ‘excessive’ welfare payments - first by voting for a ‘reasoned amendment’ (tabled by backbencher Helen Goodman) that in theory would have blocked the bill from going to committee stage, and then by abstaining when it came to a vote on the bill itself. Presumably, in Harman’s sorry excuse for a mind, this makes the Labour Party look “economically credible”.

In the end, 193 Labour MPs voted for the amendment and 48 defied Harman by voting against the bill - with Corbyn naturally being the only leadership candidate among them. Doubtlessly displaying his leadership qualities, Burnham issued a statement on his official Facebook page saying the Labour Party “could not simply abstain” on the bill - before abstaining himself. Inevitably, and well deservingly, there was an immediate backlash against him - even from his own previous supporters. For example, one Facebook critic told him to “look up the definition of ‘opposition’” and another said he should “grow a pair of balls”.8 Of course, Burnham waffled on about “collective responsibility”, and so on - but the real reason was that he would have lost his shadow cabinet position if he had broken the whip.

Still, all good news for Jeremy Corbyn. After the welfare abstention thousands more people came out in support of his campaign - so keep up the good work, ‘comrade’ Burnham. One last push and Corbyn might make it over the winning line. Seeing how the momentum, and excitement, is all going in one direction, the feeling of panic amongst the Blairites, the Labour Party machine and pro-Labour media is bound to escalate. They are now thinking the unthinkable: we could lose it. No wonder ‘sensible’ Labourites are threatening to throw themselves under a bus if Corbyn wins. Go on, make our day.

Rightwing coup?

Faced then with the pro-Corbyn surge, it is not a great surprise to read in various papers that the right is planning a coup - the “terrifying prospect” of a Corbyn win is “no longer out of the question”, as one unnamed senior MP put it. One form it could take is a vote of no confidence in the new leader. Under the current rules, 20% of the parliamentary party (ie, 47 MPs) can nominate an alternative candidate for leader at the party conference in order to trigger a fresh leadership contest. However, this would only give Corbyn’s opponents little more than two weeks to orchestrate the putsch, given that conference is held in late September (some Labour MPs would love to adopt the simpler and more brutal system used by the Tories). But, of course, this time Corbyn would not get 35 MPs nominating him. Crisis over?

Another way, picked up quick as a flash by the Daily Mail (July 19), would be to scrap the leadership race altogether, even at this late stage - another very high-risk strategy.9 A senior Labour MP, we read, told the paper he is canvassing support for a ‘petition’ letter to Harman to stop the contest on the dubious grounds that Labour’s political enemies were “warping” the process by signing up as members to vote for Corbyn - a reference, of course, to TheDaily Telegraph among others. The newspaper has urged its readers to pay up the £3 fee necessary to become registered Labour supporters and then try to destroy it from within by voting for Corbyn - calling him a “bearded socialist voter-repellent”.10 A view essentially shared by Polly Toynbee of The Guardian, it should be noted, who dismisses Corbyn as a “1983 man” - a “relic of the election that brought him to parliament when Labour was destroyed by its out-of-Nato, anti-EU, renationalise-everything suicide note”. Voting for him is “ignoring the electorate” (June 23). But the plotters’ chances of cancelling the election are remote. It would almost certainly be an anti-democratic outrage too far: Labour head office claims it can readily screen bogus applications and had already rejected registration requests from Conservatives.

One thing the Corbyn campaign has beautifully done is expose the complete twaddle from those on the left who tell us that Labour is a bourgeois party, fundamentally no different from the Tories or, in a slight variation, that the party does not have any constitutional mechanisms to drive it to the left. Yes it does, comrades, as life itself is confirming - by voting for Jeremy Corbyn. Not exactly quantum physics, is it? Of course, if Corbyn were to be elected leader that would definitively finish the plans of those in Left Unity or the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition who dream of building a Labour Party mark two. To which we communists reply, about time too.

We need a strategy towards the Labour Party, one that involves encouraging people to join, participate and vote - not, King Canute-like, saying ‘Don’t do it!’ to those joining an historic party of the working class, despite its rotten parliamentary wing and undemocratic rules and procedures. The aim should not just be electing Corbyn but transforming the Labour Party from a bourgeois workers’ party that serves capitalism into a workers’ party that serves the working class and the cause of socialism.



1. www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/07/jeremy-corbyn-course-come-top-labour-leadership-election.

2. The Guardian July 22.

3. www.newstatesman.com/politics/2015/07/which-clps-are-nominating-who-labour-leadership-contest.

4. www.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=9xNx3c_jmt0&app=desktop.

5. www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/jul/15/tristram-hunt-say-labour-party-needs-shock-treatment.

6. http://sports.williamhill.com/bet/en-gb/betting/e/7456827/Next-Permanent-Labour-Leader.html.

7. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/461545.stm.

8. www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/grow-a-pair-of-balls--andy-burnham-faces-backlash-from-labour-supporters-after-flipflop-on-welfare-cuts-10404050.html.

9. www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3166835/MPs-plot-scrap-leadership-race-Corbyn-pulls-ahead-two-polls-Panic-spreads-party-amid-fears-hard-left-MP-win.html.

10. www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/labour/11741861/How-you-can-help-Jeremy-Corbyn-win-and-destroy-the-Labour-Party.html.