Snapping the olive branch
With Corbyn about to be re-elected as Labour leader, Paul Demarty despairs at talk of peace offerings
Life occasionally offers a pleasant surprise, and this week the Labour left received a good old push in the right direction from none other than Alan Johnson.
The context will be well known to readers: we were in the dying stages of a Labour leadership contest induced by the right by their shambolic, failed coup attempt over the summer. Barring total catastrophe, Jeremy Corbyn will win, and Owen ‘Who?’ Smith defeated and rapidly forgotten. The question of the day is: what next?
For Johnson, the question is a simple one. “They’ve captured the castle,” he told that noted friend of the Labour movement, TheTimes. “Just as the [Socialist] Campaign Group carried on year after year undermining whoever was the Labour leader to the best of their abilities, so we’ve got to do the same.” His opponents? Well, they’re all comfortable-off people from “east Yorkshire and Sussex and Surrey”;1 “smartarse 26-year-olds” and what have you. He does not seem to be in a forgiving mood - his attitude is for scorched-earth guerrilla warfare for the very soul of the party.
We couldn’t agree more.
War and peace
The war policy is the main point of unity of the right and their bourgeois backers. September 19 saw both the BBC and Channel 4 unleash ‘scandalous’ exposés on Momentum, the official movement of Corbynite do-goodery, and we have in the media reportage on Momentum a perfect case of the phenomenon whereby a lie often enough repeated becomes a very serviceable substitute for a fact. We are told, with relentless vigour, that Momentum is merely a vector for far-left entrism; or otherwise itself basically the same as an 80s Trotskyist entry operation; or else merely a gang of sociopaths, whose lives are dedicated to hurling abuse at poor, fragile MPs.
None of these things are true; all of them together in any case would be contradictory (one cannot be simultaneously a hostile entrist group and a patsy for hostile entrist groups). Who cares? Keep flinging muck - because it works. Oh, ladies and gentlemen of the press, if only Momentum had an ounce of fighting spirit in its spinal core! It is simply not true: every lie is taken at face value, every attack met with retreat and meek silence. We have on our side - as it were - many Alan Johnsons, who have noticed the sounds of war about them; but Momentum’s leadership considers this a very bad thing, and will do everything in its power to demobilise such elements.
Momentum merely takes its lead uncritically from the Corbyn leadership, and as ever, the noises from there are of peace, of extending the olive branch, even as the right wearily spurn such efforts for the umpteenth time. We cite only the latest such incident: in reply to the Parliamentary Labour Party’s indicative vote in favour of their own right to elect the shadow cabinet, Corbyn has instead proposed a tripartite scheme whereby he picks a third, the Labour membership elects another third, and the rest are elected by the PLP.
Meeting on September 20, Labour’s national executive committee failed to reach an agreement, and no doubt the matter will be revisited within a short time. But we can charitably view Corbyn’s counter as an offering for the sake of being seen to be reasonable, designed in reality to be rejected as unacceptable. Two thirds to Corbyn (for that would be the result), one third to the right? Not good enough, more than likely: the right wants total control.
On the other hand, what if it were accepted? It would merely be a pretext to send in Johnson, Hilary Benn and the like, so much the better to engage in organised and sustained sabotage over the course of months and years. When will Corbyn learn that his much trumpeted collegial ‘niceness’ is at odds with the pursuit of his convictions - such as they are?
Cargo cult realism
Related to the official peace policy is the phenomenon we like to call cargo cult realism, an affliction most prevalent among leftwing thought leader types viewing their youthful radicalism in an ever smaller part of the rear-view mirror.
For an excellent example, we turn to Paul Mason, the rightward-galloping ex-Trotskyist who raised more than a few eyebrows earlier this year by coming out in favour of the renewal of Trident, or at least against opposing it. Evidently, this is not enough nuclear apostasy for Atomic Paul, as listeners to Radio 4’s Any questions? on September 17 will have learned. Asked what he thought of the Hinkley Point C deal, Mason ummed, aahed and minced his words, but ultimately came out in favour, in the name of keeping the lights on. This ended up leaving him as the sole representative of the government’s view on the matter - Patience Wheatcroft, ex-Torygraph editor and Tory peer, pointed out that the whole arrangement is entirely full of holes. (Ukip’s Arron Banks, amusingly, outflanked Mason to the left by calling for the nationalisation of the energy industry; Mason would only mutter about ‘looking at’ the structure of ownership.) In attempting to look ‘realistic’, Mason ended up defending something that is clearly an embarrassment even to the government.
It is not hard to see how. Mason has broken with his former Trotskyism in order to hard-headedly ‘get things done’, and whatnot. Yet when he was a Trotskyist, he would have viewed the sort of people to admonish him about not living in the real world as merely covering up their rightism. Now that he wants to be ‘realistic’, he can do so only on a basis exactly inverse to his previous attitude: that is, he views rightwing apostasies as realistic in themselves. If one really wants to be ‘realistic’ about keeping the lights on, and doing so on a capitalist basis with the expectation of 3% annualised GDP growth until the heat death of the universe, then one must agree with Baroness Wheatcroft - invest in gas now, and sensible nuclear projects later, not the Hinkley Point shambles.
Weaker than they look
The biggest bit of pseudo-realistic unrealism, though, is the fond and ridiculous notion that somehow we will be granted the time and space to build up a reputation for good common sense by the arbiters of taste in the matter - the press (and the latter’s pet saboteurs, the Labour right). This is the fantasy of Owen Jones, who in his latest piece of blog-fluff, seems to believe that the Murdoch press can be placated with scoops:
Rightwing newspapers should be offered interviews and exclusive announcements. If journalists all feel universally maligned by the party leadership, they may believe there is little incentive to provide any even fair coverage at all?- and if they are bypassed altogether, then they may ignore Labour altogether.2
Come on, Owen. The left has been under relentless assault since Corbyn’s first victory last year. The increasingly hysterical tone of media coverage and rightwing calumny in the run-in ought to clue our side in: that will be the story of the next year, and the year after that, until we win or they do. Perpetual war, says Johnson: will we fight, or will we roll over and die? Comrade Jones, in this latest round of cowardly drivel, essentially says the latter.
The best argument for fighting, apart - of course - from the strategic needs of the British working class, is that our enemies are at their nadir. It may seem, under the relentless assault of a hostile media apparatus and furious Blairites, that we are utterly overpowered and must find a way to compromise; but these are paper tigers. The bourgeois media is in the toilet, as I argued last week. And more to the point - who the fuck is Alan Johnson?
Seriously, now - he froths about war, but is this the best Napoleon the right have available? The man is a joke, sliming his way from the union bureaucracy to parliament, where his role is basically to be the only ‘normal’ Blairite, the exception that proves the rule about only Oxford PPE graduates being attracted to hard-core Labour rightism. He has flitted in and out of insignificant cabinet and shadow cabinet roles, with the exception of a brief shot at the home office in the death agony of Gordon Brown’s government.
He popped up as the frontman for Labour’s ‘remain’ campaign in the referendum, which turned out just as spectacularly, though not before repeating every one of George Osborne’s bedtime spook stories. Apart from that, his contribution to the cause seemed to consist entirely of getting himself photographed a lot hugging children and what-not, with a smile on his face like a provincial used-car salesman. (What had that to do with the EU, we asked? ‘Nothing whatsoever,’ answered the electorate.)
What is true of Johnson is true of the lot of them - the greatest indictment possible of the Labour right is their total dependence on mediocrities and intellectual cripples. Thus, never has the Labour left’s instinct for compromise been more absurd and less necessary. Let us fight them, and change British society for good.
1. The Times September 17.