Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn's Labour pains

The leader of the Labour party is now a man who describes terrorists and religious fundamentalists as "friends", who wants to "compromise" with murderous fanatics, who shares a platform with antisemites and donates to their causes, who speculates on wild conspiracy theories, and whose new Shadow Chancellor wants to "honour" IRA bombers.  His supporters can shout as much as they like that these are "smears" – but it's hard to see things that way, when these are things the man himself has actually said or done.  Quoting somebody's own words is not "smearing" them, and these issues will not go away.  In spite of all of this, Labour party members and supporters voted for Jeremy Corbyn in droves.

But twenty-four hours into his tenure as Labour leader, it was quickly becoming clear that Corbyn's bungled Shadow Cabinet reshuffle; his absurd decision to "crowd-source" his lines for Prime Minister's Questions (as if Labour still haven't learnt that opening things up to the general public – especially on the internet – is just asking for the system to be abused); his description of journalists' questions as "people bothering him" (as if he expects just to be able to do whatever he likes without any scrutiny, like he did when he was a backbencher – it is the job of the press to hold politicians to account, not simper and genuflect to them as in places like North Korea); and so on were only the tip of the iceberg.  Jeremy Corbyn's position as Labour leader is surely completely untenable.  I wouldn't be at all surprised if senior figures within the party were already planning how to depose him.

His fans will shout and scream that he was "democratically elected" as leader, and that he "has a mandate" which needs to be respected.  They will call for "unity", and expect other Labour MPs to be "loyal" to their leader.  But this is all nonsense…

Jeremy Corbyn doesn't give a fig for democracy.  Not if it doesn't fit his predetermined agenda, anyway…  Corbynites on Twitter are incensed at the idea of Labour MPs not supporting their leader, and rebelling against his "principled" stance on a variety of issues – but this is exactly what Corbyn has been doing for over thirty years, during which time he has rebelled against his party's whip more than five hundred times.  It seemingly hasn't occurred to people that disagreeing with Corbyn can also be a "principled" position, and that Labour MPs not toeing the Corbyn line might not be rebelling just to cause trouble, but out of the same high-mindedness which led Corbyn himself to rebel against myriad former Labour leaders.  As Helen Lewis pointed out in the New Statesman back in July, Jeremy Corbyn does not have a monopoly on principled belief.

"But Corbyn was democratically elected!" they bleat.  Moderate Labour MPs have to respect that!  Since when has Corbyn respected the sovereign wishes of an electorate?  He certainly doesn't respect the views of the people of the Falklands Islands, who voted overwhelmingly to remain a part of United Kingdom in a 2013 referendum.  He doesn't respect the views of the people of Northern Ireland when he hobnobs with the IRA.

No, Jeremy Corbyn is only interested in democracy or party unity when it suits him.  I don't see how he can reasonably expect other Labour MPs to show any more loyalty than he would've shown if any of the other candidates had won the leadership contest – or expect people to respect the democratic wishes of his voters any more than he respects the democratic wishes of the voters in the Falklands, or in Northern Ireland.  He certainly can't expect to carry on doing whatever he pleases free from media scrutiny and without consequence.

And as a result, his time in charge of the Labour party will be characterised by dissent, attrition and rebellion – all of which fractious in-fighting will cause splits in the party, and distract Labour from being an effective opposition to the Conservative government.  So much for the wisdom of people who na├»vely greeted Corbyn's election as leader with: "At least we'll have an opposition who actually 'oppose' now!" (or similar).  Well, at least Corbyn and his cronies know they can always blame someone else for their failure to hold the government to account.

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