Crush the saboteurs
Eddie Ford says that after June 8 Jeremy Corbyn must stay on to fight the right, not fall on his sword
Theresa May’s decision to call a snap general election looks more of a no-brainer with each day. The prime minister might have been tempted to let Labour’s agony continue until 2020, but that always carried the danger of letting unfavourable events intervene at some point - so why take the risk? Rather just play it safe and take advantage of the Labour Party’s terrible state - riven by civil war and dismal poll ratings. It is hard to imagine any Tory leader or prime minister doing anything different.
Of course, various factors affected her decision. One of them being the growing realisation that the Brexit negotiations with the European Union are going to be extremely gruelling, any delusions about them being a shoo-in have evaporated - at least in private. Another possible, and related, consideration is that Donald Trump seems ready do a trade deal with the EU ahead of any agreement with Britain following discussions with Angela Merkel last month - where she purportedly reminded the US president a number of times that he would not be allowed to conduct a unilateral trade deal with Germany.1 Obviously, Britain is small fry compared to the EU bloc, with the US exporting $270 billion in goods to the EU last year, making it America’s major trading partner - whilst exports to the UK were only worth $55 billion. If Britain does find itself at the “back of the queue” or not near the front, as Barack Obama warned during the referendum campaign, then the Brexit self-image of Britain as a newly liberated global player cutting ‘free trade’ deals here, there and everywhere is severely punctured - putting Theresa May in a tricky situation, meaning she needs a solid parliamentary base to weather the inevitable political and economic storm.
At the end of the day though, the prime minister’s calculation was simple - now is the chance to convert a slim majority into an overwhelming one. Do not dither or dally like Gordon Brown in 2007. Naturally, no one knows what the exact size of the majority will be. But in betting shop terms, the odds of a Labour victory are pretty extreme (perhaps rather generously, William Hill currently has it on 20/12). In reality though, the Tories will win - as we have warned - with the real question being: what happens afterwards?
In fact, some Tory strategists are beginning to get a bit worried that victory seems so inevitable it could actually dissuade their supporters from bothering to vote - the fear being that the landslide “narrative” might promote complacency and also actively encourage others to back Labour and other opposition parties, simply in an attempt to minimise the scale of the anticipated majority.3 Call it a negative feedback loop. On the campaign trail in Wales, May reminded us that “the opinion polls were wrong” about the 2015 general election and the EU referendum, and also wrong about Jeremy Corbyn who “himself has said that he was a 200/1 outsider” for the Labour leadership contest- adding, maybe with unintended irony, and “look where that got him”.
Having said all that, an ICM poll published on April 24 suggests that the Tories are on course for a 150-seat Commons majority - notching up a 17% lead in marginal seats where Labour have a majority of 15% or less, which would see Labour losing 65 seats to the Tories (representing a swing of 130 seats between the two parties).4 These results were backed up by a separate YouGov poll showing the Tories 10% ahead of Labour in Wales, putting them on course to take the most seats there for the first time since 1859. Another poll has the Conservatives winning 12 seats in Scotland, taking 10 from the Scottish National Party. But one thing we can say for sure is that Theresa May did not call an early election out of “weakness” because she was facing a “rising tide of anger” from the British working class, as suggested by Paula Mitchell of the Socialist Party of England and Wales - maybe she lives on a different planet.5 Unfortunately, the exact opposite is true - the Tories are going from strength to strength, politically and electorally.
As for the Labour Party, the civil war continues even though there is an election campaign going on - the rightwing acting to sabotage Jeremy Corbyn and Labour’s electoral prospects. Who can forget Lord Peter Mandelson telling the Jewish Chronicle that he works “every single day” to undermine the Labour leader and “bring forward the end of his tenure in office”?6 One of the most prominent saboteurs, Tony Blair, has openly called for voters to back any candidate willing to oppose “Brexit at any costs” - including “reasonable” Tories and Lib Dems. Of course, insists Blair, he is “not going to advocate people vote tactically” - just that they “should vote on an informed basis on this issue”, the former Labour leader saying he would support the efforts of Best for Britain, the tactical voting initiative created by Gina Miller who won the supreme court case that forced the government to hold a parliamentary vote before triggering article 50.
Blair, who is still a Labour Party member, seems to have forgotten clause I, section 4 of the rulebook which states that anyone who “supports a political organisation other than an official Labour group or other unit of the party, or supports any candidate who stands against an official Labour candidate” will “automatically be ineligible to be or remain a party member”.
However, there is a whole raft of MPs now attacking Jeremy Corbyn, the standard line from the Labour right being that we are conducting a local campaign around local issues-do not mention Corbyn whatever you do, let alone have him on your election leaflets. But you can bet your bottom dollar that the Tories will have pictures of the Labour leader on their leaflets. The idea that you can somehow uninvent Corbyn, make him disappear, is for the birds- people will be asking you about him regardless. The fact of the matter is that Theresa May is calling this election not on the basis that she wants to massively increase her parliamentary majority (though she is and she will), but by claiming it is a choice between stability and chaos -between a strong Conservative government and a “floundering, weak and nonsensical Jeremy Corbyn that will put our nation’s future at risk” - essentially making this a rerun of the last election in which David Cameron campaigned relentlessly about Ed Miliband being in the pocket of Alex Salmond, and so on.
Well, we know that the arithmetic does not work on this particular occasion as the Tories are so far ahead - ruling out any sort of coalition deal or government. Appearing on ITV’s Peston on Sunday show, Tim Farron, the Lib Dem leader, made clear that there would be no “no supply and confidence” arrangement with Labour or anybody else - nor would his party “prop up” a minority government under any “circumstances whatsoever”. In turn, Cobyn has rejected any “progressive alliance” with the SNP as it “may talk left at Westminster, but in government in Scotland it acts right” - as a “genuinely progressive party would not refuse to introduce a 50p top rate of income tax on the richest” or want “to break up the UK”.7
Displaying their growing confidence, Philip Hammond in Washington last week said that the May government was not tied to Cameron’s pledge not to increase income tax, national insurance or VAT. Obviously, breezed the chancellor, he did not come into politics because he believed in higher taxes but “we need to manage the economy sensibly and sustainably” and “get the fiscal accounts back into shape”. It was “self-evidently clear”, he continued, that the commitments made in the 2015 manifesto now “constrain the ability to manage the economy flexibly”. Tax rises are on the horizon, in other words. Earlier, infuriating rightwing Tory backbenchers and grassroots activists, Theresa May said she would retain a pledge to allocate 0.7% of national income to international aid and - more significantly -would not commit her government to the so-called triple lock for pensioners, which ensures that the state pension rises by the higher of the inflation rate, average earnings or 2.5%.
Of course, the daft Cameron-Osborne ‘promise’ to achieving a budget surplus by 2020 was ditched long ago - but the recent comments, or non-comments, by both Hammond and May represent another scrubbing away of the past: Cameron and Osborne seem like distant memories now. The distinct message from today’s Tory government is that pensioners are far too well off and should be made to feel guilty about the fact that their pensions have been going up each year - obviously it is their fault that young people cannot get jobs and houses. Therefore punish ‘rich’ pensioners and help out young people.
Utterly idiotic from any rational, economic point of view - if not downright deceitful, though some people might fall for it. But the calculation is that most pensioners who traditionally vote Tory will continue to vote Tory. Who else are they going to vote for? Not the Lib Dems, as most of them voted ‘leave’- definitely not Corbyn’s Labour Party. After all, the Labour right seems to have persuaded the majority of Labour voters-reinforced endlessly by the colluding media-that although Corbyn may be a thoroughly nice bloke, he is completely incompetent. Not a devil, but more a fool - a bit like Ed Miliband, who could not even eat a bacon sandwich properly. If his own party, or at least the Parliamentary Labour Party, do not think Corbyn should even be the leader, never mind prime minister, then why should you trust him or vote for him? This is the story so far.
Our own expectation, for what it is worth, is that the media and the Tories have plenty of things up their sleeves to use against Corbyn if necessary-multiple examples of his ‘anti-Semitism’, statements on the Soviet Union, pro-IRA sympathies, etc. Pictures of him alongside whoever at some rally, demonstration or meeting. Just waiting to be deployed if he appears to be making tangible progress in the run up to June 8.
Stay or go?
Yes, of course, it is possible that Labour will not do quite as badly as we expect - but we strongly suspect that things will turn out to be as bad as we imagine. We have been going on for some time about the likelihood of some sort of repeat of 1931 and the national government - when Ramsay MacDonald joined a coalition government with the Tories and Liberals because at least some in the Labour cabinet refused to sanction cuts, especially to unemployment benefit. As a result, Labour was hammered at the polls because they faced not only Tories but Liberals too - who were still a significant force at the time. It is interesting to note that MacDonald did not want to go for an early election but the Tories forced his hand - wanting to crush Labour, which they did.
As I said above. what is most crucial is not the actual election result, but what happens after June 8. In other words, will JC stay or will he go? History, for about the last 30 years, has been of leaders falling on their sword to make way for someone fresh. We are no wiser than anybody else about what Corbyn will do, but the left should be urging him to stay on and fight the right. But if you look at the Owen Jones version of events, apparently there is a bright young leftwinger ready to takeover from Corbyn. Well, he or she might be bright and young - but leftwing? Clive Lewis, Richard Burgon or Rebecca Long-Bailey? You must be kidding. There is no one obviously, or remotely credible, in terms of a fairly principled leftwing platform or past. I have to say, what passes for the Labour left at the present time is severely wanting. Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott, are bad enough, but the rest are far worse.
Anyhow, replacement candidates for sitting Labour MPs who stand down are being chosen by the National Executive Committee- therefore safe rightwingers or centrists, not ‘dangerous’ leftwingers. According to the Huffington Post, however, this should to be taken with a pinch of salt: Labour candidacies for key vacant seats have been “carved up” under a “secret plan” agreed between Jeremy Corbyn, Tom Watson and leading trade unions - ensuring that “each of the wings of the party and its union backers get their share of plum constituencies” where MPs are standing down (April 25).8 For example, beneficiaries include Sam Tarry, director of Momentum and Corbyn’s former leadership campaign director, and Stephanie Peacock, the GMB’s political officer - the former expected to win the selection battle for the safe seat of Hull West and Hessle, and Peacock is set to triumph in Barnsley East. Meanwhile, Mark Ferguson, the former Labour List editor and aide to Liz Kendall, and Ellie Reeves, sister of Labour MP Rachel Reeves and wife of Labour MP John Cryer, are on course for Westminster too - the latter looking “unstoppable” in Lewisham West while the former, backed by Unison, is now favourite to take Blaydon.
Having said all that, the possibility of Corbyn staying on as leader has increased due to the recent Unite election - which saw Len McCluskey beat the right’s candidate Gerard Coyne, albeit on a depressingly low turnout of 12.2%. McCluskey won 59,067 votes (45.4%) and Coyne got 53,544 (41.5%), with Ian Allinson- a member of the RS21 split from the Socialist Workers Party - on 17,143 (13.1%). By contrast, the 2013 contest in which Jerry Hicks challenged McCluskey, saw a turnout of 15.2%- the incumbent securing 144,570 votes and Hicks getting a respectable 79,819.
In our view, it was a very bad decision by RS21 to stand a candidate against McCluskey in this election. The fact that Allinson was backed by other sections of the left, including SWP, shows that they are totally incapable of strategic thinking - what the hell were they playing at? Clearly, the election was far less about actual internal Unite politics and far more of an overspill of the Labour civil war - that was certainly how the Labour right saw it and the media too. For instance, look at the response to the election result victory by The Economist. It ran the instructive headline, “The tragedy of Len McCluskey’s re-election as head of Unite” (April 22).9 The article correctly pointed out that Unite is a Labour Party “power-broker”, providing the party with funds and “irrigating its grass roots” - also rightly saying that the party’s tradition as an alliance between a parliamentary party and a trade-union movement is “represented in its purest form in Unite”. For the journal, McCluskey’s narrow victory is a “tragedy for the British left” as it “condemns Unite to another five years of incompetent leadership while significantly increasing Mr Corbyn’s chances of holding onto the leadership of the Labour Party after losing the general election” - which of course is the real point.
Naturally, various MPs and grandees of the Labour right have lined up on the media to attack McCluskey for being far too close to Corbyn- exactly why Allinson’s participation in the election was so reckless, as he could have been responsible for the defeat of McCluskey. Not that we have any illusions in the left bureaucrat, Len McCluskey, it goes without saying, but it is far more likely that he will urge Corbyn not to fall on his sword post-June 8. McCluskey’s Unite, as opposed to Coyne’s Unite, could provide an ideological base for the left to do what they ought to be doing - ie, attacking the right for losing the election, not Corbyn, because of the civil war the right has conducted against him as soon as it looked likely that he was going to win the leadership - it has continued all the way through. Corbyn’s re-election on an increased mandate did not stop the civil war - no, they just toned it down a bit whilst plotting away.
But once the election is over we should expect an explosion of anger from the right, magnified by the enemy media, the likes of which we have not seen before - more no-confidence motions, more parliamentary harassment and scheming, more attempts to give Jeremy Corbyn a nervous breakdown, and all the rest. Full of vindictiveness, rage in their heart, the right will get the really sharp knives out and fight to retake the party, guided by the slogan, ‘Never again’.