Expect the worst, hope for the best
Corbyn has only himself to blame for Labour’s predicament, writes Tony Greenstein.
In previous elections I had little difficulty in predicting the outcome. It was clear in 2015 that Ed Miliband’s ‘austerity lite’ campaign would fail. In Scotland it was a complete disaster. And in 2017, contrary to all those who believed that Labour’s election campaign would be a rerun of 1983 under Michael Foot - the “longest suicide note in history”, according to the late Sir Gerald Kaufman MP - I foresaw that the Tory campaign under “strong and stable” Theresa May would crumble. In two blogs, I predicted that a hung parliament, or even a Labour victory, was possible.1
Why? Because this was the peak of Corbyn’s popularity. The ‘anti-Semitism’ moral panic had still not got off the ground, the Labour left was still united. The Corbyn movement and what was a popular upsurge demonstrated that it was not a handful of entryists in the party, as the Labour right tried to fool itself into believing, but a popular movement outside that had impacted inside the party.
Above all, young voters turned out in unprecedented numbers and voted decisively for Labour. According to an NME exit poll, 56% of 18-34s voted in the 2015 election, including 53% of those aged between 18 and 24 - a 12% increase over 2015. And 60% of 18-34s and two-thirds of those aged 18-24 voted Labour.2 The results of this were shown in the unprecedented victory of Rosie Duffield in the university town of Canterbury.3
However, if a week is a long time in politics, then two and a half years is an eternity. Labour today is not the same party that campaigned so confidently in 2017. Its manifesto is a mixed bag. Radical on taxation and the economy, but echoing Labour’s traditional bipartisan support for the Tories on foreign policy, including Israel, and Nato.
Today you cannot speak of a unified left inside the Labour Party, now that Jon Lansman’s Momentum has got into bed with the right. In the wake of the high court decision that Chris Williamson’s suspension was unlawful, the national executive committee decided by 21 votes to five that he would remain suspended and ineligible to stand as a Labour candidate. He had been resuspended just before the high court hearing as a precaution against an adverse verdict. Just one of the trade union representatives - from the Fire Brigades Union - joined four out of the nine Constituency Labour Party representatives in voting to rescind Chris’s suspension.
The case of Chris Williamson is pivotal and marks the end of the Corbyn project as we know it. I have seen proof that Corbyn had indicated to Chris before the NEC meeting that his suspension would be lifted. In the event Corbyn decided not to attend the NEC and he made no statement in Williamson’s support - as has been the case throughout the whole ‘anti-Semitism’ affair, when his supporters, such as Ken Livingstone, have been targeted.
Chris Williamson’s original suspension for ‘anti-Semitism’ had not only been unlawful: it had been based on a completely falsified and distorted version of what he had actually said, taken out of context.4 His statement - “We have backed off too much, we have given too much ground, we have been too apologetic” - was clearly referring to the false accusations of anti-Semitism: he had prefigured this by saying: “The party that has done more to stand up to racism is now being demonised as a racist, bigoted party.”5
Whereas the establishment and their media lackeys, from the Tory tabloids to The Guardian and the BBC, were taken unawares in 2015, that is not the case today. The Labour right were stunned into silence. Who can forget the shock and horror on Stephen Kinnock’s face in the fly-on-the-wall documentary Labour: the summer that changed everything when the exit polls predicted a hung parliament?6
Kinnock and others were stunned at the fact that Corbyn had gained the biggest swing to Labour since 1945 and increased the number of seats it held.7 Who can forget the predictions of The Observer’s Nick Cohen barely a month before the election was called that Labour would get around 25% of the vote?8 Apparently the Tories had “gone easy on Corbyn”, because “they want to keep [the left] in charge of Labour”, since “in an election they would tear them to pieces”. This latter-day Nostradamus asked: “Will there be 150, 125, 100 Labour MPs by the end of the flaying? My advice is to think of a number then halve it.” To those on the left who supported Corbyn he had only one piece of advice: “Your only honourable response will be to stop being a fucking fool by changing your fucking mind.”
Today, however, there are two issues that are dragging Corbyn down. The first is the ‘anti-Semitism’ smear campaign. According to the Jewish Chronicle and others, Corbyn himself is an “existential threat” to Jews in Britain. In the words of Margaret Hodge, he is a “fucking anti-Semite”.9 For four years not just Corbyn but the Labour Party has been the subject of a concerted and determined campaign to paint it as anti-Semitic. The outlines of this campaign were the subject of a four-part undercover documentary by Al Jazeera.10
We even have Tory ministers, fresh from the Windrush scandal and their anti-immigrant “hostile environment”, attacking Labour as an anti-Semitic party, whilst at the same time their MEPs in Europe sit in the European Conservative Reform group alongside fully-fledged fascists, racists and anti-Semites. One of whom - Roberts Zile, the Latvian member - openly marches every year with the veterans of the Latvian Waffen SS.11
All serious studies of the Labour Party’s ‘anti-Semitism problem’ show that it is miniscule and indeed far less than in the wider society, yet, because the party failed to rebut these allegations from the start and even took them in good faith, Corbyn has been wounded.12 Instead of a campaign against state racism, we have seen a concentration on what is at worst a marginal prejudice against white people.
It is no accident that those behind the false anti-Semitism allegations were responsible for a barrage of abuse that led to the cancellation of the launch of Bad news for Labour - a book by five distinguished academics.13 Facts and the ‘anti-Semitism’ smear campaign do not make comfortable bedfellows.
The Labour Party jumped through all the hoops it was required to and on every occasion this rebounded on it. It adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance ‘definition’ of anti-Semitism, which, as the Jewish former court of appeal judge, Sir Stephen Sedley, said, is not actually a definition at all.14 Labour agreed to a “fast-track” system for expelling those accused of ‘anti-Semitism’, which has led to people being summarily expelled for nothing other than hostility to the Israeli state.
The more people Labour investigated, suspended and expelled, the more this has been taken as ‘proof’ of the problem. The more victims of false allegations that were offered up, the more the party was providing ‘evidence’ of the very problem it tried to deny. As Len McCluskey wrote in frustration at the campaign mounted by the Board of Deputies of British Jews, “They won’t take yes for an answer!”15
Although people rarely mention anti-Semitism on the doorstep or in conversations, what all this has done is enable the political narrative to focus on Labour rather than the racism of the government. It has established a dominant ruling class ideological hegemony When Corbyn was challenged to apologise by Andrew Neil, he should have responded that he had nothing to apologise for, but instead he looked and sounded like a wounded animal. Instead of calling out the weaponisation of ‘anti-Semitism’ as a means of defending the world’s only apartheid state, Israel, Labour decided to examine the minds of its own members - at a time when racism is deadly, not when it is expressed in tweets, but when it comes in the form of immigration raids and fascist gangs.
The second major disaster - and one which is likely to prove more damaging at the polls - is Brexit. We have a prime minister who is by any definition amoral - he does not even know how many children he has sired. His ability to tell the truth matches that of Donald Trump. Even with the vicious bias of the Tory press it should not have been that difficult for Corbyn to put Johnson on the back foot.
Labour’s victory over its critics in 2017 was, to a large extent, due to the perception that it was opposed to Brexit. Certainly that was true in the south. Now, however, Labour has got into the position where it is seen by opponents of Brexit as supporting ‘remain’ and vice versa. Socialists can argue about whether Brexit has any positive virtues or whether, as I believe, it is a far-right project, but it is difficult to see how deciding not to take a position can be anything other than a self-inflicted wound.
Apparently Corbyn is going to negotiate a withdrawal agreement and then, come a referendum, not support either his own deal or ‘remain’. That is simply not credible. Instead of going to Labour voters in the north and arguing that Brexit would be an economic disaster for them (which it would), Labour is seen as having no position on the key political issue of the day.
How then will Labour fare in the election? This is probably the most difficult election to call. I fear a Tory majority, but there may well be a hung parliament - though, if the Liberal Democrats continue to slide, that may not happen. What is clear is that there is no surge to Labour. I cannot see a Labour victory or an increase in the present number of seats. By failing to see that the British establishment would do all it could, in conjunction with the United States and Israel, to ensure that an anti-imperialist would not become prime minister, the left has to face the future with a Labour Party minus Jeremy Corbyn.
For that we can thank a number of people, including Jon Lansman; Corbyn’s abysmal advisor, Seamus Milne; the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs, who said nothing throughout; John McDonnell, who was always eager to please those who accused Labour of ‘anti-Semitism’; and, above all, Corbyn himself. I fear the result on December 12 and can only hope that, as Micawber remarked, ‘something turns up’.
‘Labour can win if Corbyn is bold’: https://tinyurl.com/vf588e5; ‘General election - is Labour on the threshold of victory?’: azvsas.blogspot.com/2017/06/general-election-is-labour-on-threshold.html↩︎
For the NME exit poll of how young people voted in 2017 general election, see https://tinyurl.com/yxyvp4k4.↩︎
See, for example, ‘The youth for today: how the 2017 election changed the political landscape’: https://tinyurl.com/ydbnrnwu.↩︎
The Canary ‘Don’t let the media fool you: Chris Williamson got a big win in the high court today’: https://tinyurl.com/qsppgm8.↩︎
‘What did Chris Williamson actually say: why the Labour MP has been accused of anti-Semitism’: https://tinyurl.com/wu9d8su.↩︎
‘Jeremy Corbyn increased Labour’s vote share more than any of the party’s leaders since 1945’: https://tinyurl.com/y9p6ftvw.↩︎
‘Don’t tell me you weren’t warned about Corbyn’: https://tinyurl.com/mlbxh53.↩︎
‘Three Jewish papers take the unprecedented step of publishing the same page on Labour anti-Semitism’: https://tinyurl.com/yb4vkbdp.↩︎
The Lobby: www.aljazeera.com/investigations/thelobby.↩︎
‘Calls to ban Baltic neo-Nazi marches’: https://tinyurl.com/ro9q9g7.↩︎
‘Anti-Semitism and the Labour Party’: https://tinyurl.com/r3v3ako.↩︎
‘Waterstones cancels launch for book on Labour and anti-Semitism’: https://tinyurl.com/uaca996. See also ‘Book they want to ban’: https://tinyurl.com/yxj9vvk7.↩︎
‘Defining anti-Semitism’ London Review of Books: https://tinyurl.com/yc36fug5.↩︎
‘Corbyn has answered concerns on anti-Semitism, but Jewish community leaders are refusing to take yes for an answer’: https://tinyurl.com/u3mvhjs.↩︎