Blairites will resort to sabotage
With the final membership surge we must begin to think about a Corbyn-led Labour Party and how to defeat the right wing, says Eddie Ford
Within the last week there have been two “shock” polls giving Jeremy Corbyn a commanding lead in the leadership contest. First there was the Sunday Mirror online survey, which had Corbyn on 68.6%, with Andy Burnham a long way second on 13.5%, followed by Yvette Cooper on 9.1% and Liz Kendall on 8.8% - a whopping first-round “knockout victory”.
Then we had the August 11 YouGov poll, generally regarded as more ‘scientific’. This saw Corbyn enjoying 53% of first-preference votes, up 10 points from the same poll three weeks ago. As for Andy the android, he is trailing again on 21%, with Cooper getting a less than impressive 18% - and Kendall, as usual, convincingly last on 8%. Remember when she was the future of the party? Looking at the results, Peter Kellner, YouGov’s president, said he would be “astonished” if Corbyn does not win.
Of course, there is nothing ‘shocking’ and ‘astonishing’ about Corbyn’s pole position. Once he sneaked past the parliamentary gatekeepers (thanks perhaps to the “morons”), it was obvious what was going to happen. As the Nobel prize-winning economist, Joseph Stiglitz, pointed out months ago, centre-left parties have “wimped out” when it comes to austerity.1 Meaning he is “not surprised at all” that there is a “demand for a strong anti-austerity movement around increased concern about inequality”. Corbyn is “representative” of what many people believe and think - down with austerity. Hundreds of supporters, many of them in their 20s and 30s, have queued round the block to hear him speak at packed public rallies up and down the country - including Scotland and even West Belfast, where Labour does not even stand candidates.
Cleary then, there is deep dissatisfaction within society, which the Corbyn campaign has successfully tapped. For most people, a Labour leader has a chance of becoming prime minister - therefore, by joining Labour and voting for Corbyn, you can make a difference in the here and now. Not something you can really say about the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition or Left Unity, alas.
Given that all the momentum and enthusiasm is with Corbyn, the Mirror’s higher figure seems nearer the truth. A breakdown of the YouGov statistics, for instance, shows that of the ten percentage points that Corbyn has gained over recent weeks, four have come from Labour voters who have switched sides in this period - very bad news indeed for the Blairites.2 The opposite was supposed to be happening. Whilst the remaining six points have come from the new cohort who have joined the Labour Party since the May general election, either as full members or registered supporters. Furthermore, women are “dramatically more likely” to support Corbyn - with 61% choosing him compared to 48% of men (according to Mumsnet users, Corbyn is a “sex symbol” in a “weary old sea dog sort of way”3). Almost a third of those polled are unsure as to whether Corbyn will lead the party to victory in 2020 but plan to vote for him anyway. Call it a ‘protest vote’ if you want.
One thing you can say with total confidence is that the large majority of those who have signed up in droves since May did not so do because they felt an overriding desire to vote for Blairite clones or a Tory from central casting - they would have to be mad. Once the expected figure was that Labour would get 140,000 new members, then the projection rose to 190,000. However, in the last 24 hours of registration a cool 160,000 joined - Labour’s website crashed under the weight of people frantic to vote Corbyn. Hence when it comes to the leadership contest there is a total electorate of over 600,000. In other words the Labour Party has tripled in size.
Some might even have received a ballot paper by the time they read this article, the first batch going to people who were members before May - theoretically allowing the party more time to “check” the recruits. Voting ends on September 10 with the result announced two days later - then the fun begins.
At the moment, the press is full of stories about people being fingered by Harriet Harman’s witch-hunting machine - there is no other term for it. We read that the party bureaucracy is “monitoring” 20,000 social-media accounts and trawling through thousands of tape-recorded conversations of union affiliates applying to register by phone - what a job.
There is anecdotal evidence of someone being barred because he stood as a Socialist Alliance candidate 13 years ago - can anyone even remember the original SA? The Independent tells us that 1,200 people have been disqualified, as they are deemed to be supporters of “rival parties” - including 214 Greens, 37 Tusc, 13 Conservatives, seven Ukip supporters, a former Liberal Democrat MEP and one from the British National Party. Allegedly, Green Party members were “spotted” discussing on Facebook how to get around the system - not very skilled or adept ‘entryists’, it does have to be said.
In the same inquisitorial spirit, The Guardian scarily informed us that “more than” 250 former candidates and members of other leftwing parties have “sought to be given a ballot paper” - ie, 150 people who stood as candidates for the Green Party, 92 members and candidates of Tusc, and 18 “senior” LU figures (August 7). Yes, a grand total of 260 swamping the Labour Party. “It is not clear”, the paper stated, how many have decided to “switch allegiances” or “retain ultimate loyalty to their previous party”. Rather ludicrously, an unnamed Labour source said Corbyn was “sneaking in Green Party members by the back door” - apparently a Corbyn surge would be “completely illegitimate” and “on a par with, if not worse than, the Militant infiltration in the 80s”. The same source said also says that senior figures would expect an “immediate independent inquiry” to follow the result, regardless of who wins.
All this feeble red-baiting is slightly deranged. The press is trying to make it sound sinister that Tusc supporters (there is no Tusc membership as such) or former Labour Party members have been genuinely inspired by the Corbyn campaign and now quite naturally want to come ‘come home’ - ditto for Green Party members, especially the younger ones. Is the £3 fee not meant to apply to the left or former Labour members - only Blairites need apply? The new recruits, whoever they are, should be welcomed instead of being regarded as a permanent problem.
However, the near endless silly stories about ‘infiltrators’ and ‘entryists’ from the Greens, Socialist Workers Party, Tusc, ‘ex-Militant Tendency’, CPGB, etc serve one clear purpose: to discredit Corbyn, even if he wins by an absolute majority, insinuating that his victory is somehow “illegitimate”. Yet back in the real world, as opposed to the paranoid world of the press, even if you add up all the ‘infiltrators’ claimed by the press (including Tories who tend to write give-way rude messages on their applications), they are virtually certain to be an irrelevance to the final result: 0.1% at the maximum. When it comes to the Corbyn campaign, we are dealing with a mass movement - not a leftwing conspiracy.
But the right is sensing defeat and is sounding increasingly desperate. The Financial Times reports that a group of MPs are calling on Gordon Brown to come out against Jeremy Corbyn, saying it would “probably help” if he “was able to say something” - talk about clutching at straws (August 11). Alan Johnson has demanded that it is time to “end the madness” of Corbyn. The charming Alastair Campbell has issued dire warnings about Labour “driving itself off a cliff” if Corbyn is elected, arguing that “anyone who wants to see another Labour government” needs to support the ‘ABC candidate’ - “anyone but Corbyn”.4
A bit more drastically, Barry Sheerman, MP for Huddersfield, has called for the race to be halted due to the “malign” influence of ‘infiltrators’ from the Conservative Party and the SWP - an imagination out of control. Really spitting blood, Simon Danczuk, the Kendallista MP for Rochdale, has also called for a rerun of the “not even tenable” contest, telling LBC Radio that he would “not put up” with the “crazy leftwing policies” that Corbyn supposedly intends to pursue as leader - readily admitting that the plotting against Corbyn would begin “as soon as the result comes out” and giving him only about 12 months to survive as leader.5 The notorious John McTernan, who coined the term “morons” to describe the MPs who “lent” their nominations to Corbyn, said that “if it all goes wrong” on September 12 then the only hope of rescuing Labour from itself is Tom Watson - Gordon Brown’s “ninja assassin” who “helped force” Blair out of office in 2007 and is now standing for deputy leader.6 According to McTernan, Watson is a “party person” who will “do anything to save the party he loves” - the “perfect opposite” of Corbyn, who will “happily destroy” the Labour Party in the “furtherance of the ideology he loves”. He believes that “if Jeremy Corbyn is Michael Foot, then Tom Watson is Neil Kinnock”. Is that the best the Blairites can do?
Meanwhile, backers of Cooper say an analysis by “independent psephologists” suggests she has a 2% advantage compared with Burnham in her ability to get second- and third-preference votes - as if that would make any difference.
The Daily Telegraph recently carried a story about how Labour’s biggest donors would stop supporting the party if Corbyn wins (August 8). Assem Allam, the owner of Hull City football club who gave Labour £500,000 under Ed Miliband, told the paper that he would “never back a dead horse”. Richard Brindle, an insurance mogul who has donated £100,000 under Ed Miliband, also ruled out giving any more money to the party if the “economically illiterate” Corbyn becomes leader. Another donor, this time unnamed (who has given a “six-figure sum”), declared that a Corbyn victory would be “electoral suicide”, leaving Labour in opposition for 20 years. The party’s top individual donor, John Mills - having handed over £1.65 million in shares - remarked that he was “not very convinced” by Corbyn’s economic policies: he had previously suggested that a Corbyn victory would create an “SDP-type party”.
If we are to believe the Telegraph, this is all part of a “backlash” against Corbyn. But the story is not as straightforward as the headline suggests. For instance, Stefanos Stefanou, who has given almost £200,000, said he would continue to financially support the party, whatever the outcome, but was naturally “concerned” by tax rises. Steve Lazarides, a prominent gallery owner who deals in works by Banksy and gave £121,000 in 2008, was actually full of praise for Corbyn - describing him as a “wild card” who could “drag” Labour back to its old socialist roots. And tucked away right at the end of the article we find out that Unite gave £19 million during the last parliament. Is this really evidence of a “backlash” that will drain Labour of funds? Not very convincing, to put it mildly.
Of course, the Tories are putting forward legislation that could impact upon Labour’s finances with regards to the unions - so if such individuals were to withdraw financial support, the consequences might be serious. Then again, a Corbyn spokesperson referred to the fact that he has received more than £100,000 in donations through a crowdfunding campaign. He went on to say that Labour’s “core funding base” is “small donations by millions of members and trades unionists” and Corbyn had already shown he is capable of “rebuilding Labour” as a “mass, grassroots movement for change”. Whatever restrictions are eventually introduced by the Tories, it may be the case that the unions are able to circumnavigate them by various means.
What will happen if Corbyn wins? In some respects this is imponderable. However, it is certainly true that the right wing of Labour has no life raft. Unlike the 1980s, there is no insurgent centre ground - the Liberal Democrats are almost back to the days when their parliamentary party could fit into a London taxi cab. Whatever the likes of John Mills might say (or hope), talk of another SDP is just a load of hot air. That only leaves the Blairites and ‘modernisers’ with the Tory Party - which is obviously not on at the moment. The Labour right are careerists who have mapped out their path since university. Therefore they will not easily go or casually waltz out of the party. In all likelihood, they will fight tooth-and-claw to control the Labour Party - something which they regard almost as theirs by right of birth.
If they want to avoid defeat, the right will have to pull something dramatic out of the bag - whether that be a coup by seditious elements of the Parliamentary Labour party or at the party conference in September, or by stubborn guerrilla warfare, as recommended by The Times (August 11). The party’s “thoughtful and moderate” MPs, it advises, “should declare now that they will fight and fight again” - which means “abjuring absolutely any cooperation with a Corbyn leadership”. This campaign of sabotage could take the form of very many Labour MPs refusing to serve under Corbyn, perhaps leaving him unable to form a shadow cabinet - both Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper will certainly not be sitting round that table, as they have already made clear.
Our response should be firm and decisive. We should demand a special conference. MPs who refuse to cooperate with the Corbyn leadership should have the whip withdrawn and be subject to a process of deselection. Indeed we should demand that they resign and test their popularity in a by-election. Instead of rightwing careerists constituency parties should field proven class fighters and committed socialists. That way, we can begin to bring the Parliamentary Labour Party to heel.