July 14, 2016 § 7 Comments
We’ve been spared Mrs Banker as PM. I’d imagined a summer of worries about her smuggling Nigel Farage and his cohorts into government. Instead we have St Theresa setting the tone on the doorstep of Number 10 with a speech reporters have likened to one Ed Miliband could well have made had he been so lucky. The comparison is surely cautious. Her invocation of social justice was followed by a persuasive citing of ‘burning’ wrongs to be righted; class, education, gender and race, health, poverty and housing all featured on this list. With none of Cameron’s Old Etonian glibness, she even sounded as if she meant it. It began to echo the Sermon on the Mount, it became too bold for Ed Miliband, too left-wing.
The high and mighty need not fear (and they know it) any more than the poor and lowly will be comforted. Theresa May got the job because she’s proved herself to be a safe pair of hands for keeping the Tory party in power and on course.
Yet, yet… There’s something in the air.
When Angela Eagle launched her leadership bid on Monday, she spoke about Jeremy Corbyn in a Newsnight interview with unexpected approval of his politics. Jeremy had taken the Labour Party in an important new direction, but there was a need for someone better equipped as leader to move it forward and unify the party. Did jaws drop all over England (I’m keeping the more detachable UK parts out of it for now)? Was she really endorsing Corbyn’s commitment to an anti-austerity economics, to re-nationalising the railways, to state investment where it’s needed, to ending privatisation in the NHS and wherever else it has set its greedy paws against public ownership for the public good? Well, yes! Even though she said nothing so specific, or anything clear at all about policies, who could doubt her intentions when she responded to Evan Davies’ demur about a left-right split with an emphatic ‘I’m on the left’. Davies then confronted her with her voting record (Iraq, tuition fees, benefits cuts etc) and she answered with no hesitation: ‘I was only following my party’s whip’ (you couldn’t hear the ‘only’, but it was there, just silent), unwittingly implying that she’d had no conviction about what she’d voted for, and overlooking the value of independence of spirit in a leader.
Watching this I was suddenly reminded of another bit of blatant weaselling on Newsnight, just over 19 years ago. John Prescott, the brand-new deputy leader of the Labour Party, was wriggling out of a question about being on the left of the party while teaming up with Blair. He shrugged and told his interviewer that things had changed, that old labels like that had maybe outlived their usefulness.
On the left! Since Blair’s ascendancy leading Labour politicians have made sure to repudiate the embarrassing designation. Those claiming it had to be rooted out, and they largely were. Or else they got old and took their pensions. A small few of this dying breed weathered out the decades on the back benches.
It was the Labour leader before him who started the business of futile accommodations to Conservatism, inching the party ever rightwards, before Blair took the great leap of rebranding. In the past week Kinnock and Son have done their bit towards saving that version of Labour (the ‘New’ epithet now so tainted as to be unmentionable) from Corbyn’s influence, provoking much hollow laughter. With Kinnock’s own sorry saga of leadership, you’d think they’d have stopped him from entering the fray. But they’re trying everything.
Something certainly is in the air. Owen Smith, Eagle’s fellow contender for Corbyn’s job, has told us he’s on the left too, even though it’s emerging that he is nothing of the kind (on Channel 4 News, Michael Crick brought up Smith’s support for PFI and privatisation in the NHS; see Craig Murray for more: https://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2016/07/entirely-fake-owen-smith/).
LEFT-WING; they’re practically shouting it. The reversal, a long time coming, is an effect of Jeremy Corbyn’s politics and their popularity. Last September his enemies in the Parliamentary Labour Party were attacking those politics, ridiculing them as unrealistic and electorally doomed, while praising him for being a decent, nice man. Now they’re pretending to have adopted them, indeed to have had faith in them all along, seeing the failure entirely in the man and his lack of qualities.
He’s been criticised for being weak, and now he’s being attacked as a bully, an accusation spurred on by a broken window at Angela Eagle’s Wallasey constituency office. Eagle told Evan Davies that Corbyn is also failing to show leadership by not stamping out the bullying. She’d had death threats. Sadly, women MPs are no strangers to death threats and every shade of online misogyny. At a meeting a few weeks ago I heard Diane Abbott speak about this as her own experience. Corbyn too has had death threats. The fault lies not at his door, it flows from the impunity with which threats of violence can be expressed on the Internet by pathetic individuals endowed with anonymity. What would Freud have made of this massive Id released into virtual life by digital technology?
Even though it exposes them in this way, politicians have an obligation to be open about what they’re doing because they represent us. So do the Labour Party’s NEC members, who are voted in by the membership. Because he argued for an open vote on whether he should automatically appear on the leadership ballot paper, Corbyn has been accused of intimidation by a female NEC member, on the grounds that she and others would be exposed to bullying if their voting choice became known. In the end the vote in Corbyn’s favour was secret.
Corbyn is popular in Eagle’s Wallasey constituency, whereas she no longer is. She is so unpopular that they’ve been making moves to de-select her, which doubtless plays a part in the personal attacks and the political change of heart. While condemning and smearing Corbyn, his leadership rivals make a show of imitating his politics. What a very sincere form of flattery. But why vote for fakes or imitations when you can have the real thing?
There is now a legal challenge to the NEC decision from a Labour donor. If that doesn’t succeed, Corbyn’s enemies will have something else up their sleeves. The enemies I’m thinking of are the ones at the top, including Blair and Mandelson. Whatever it is, Eagle and Smith may not even turn out to be part of the plan. All sorts of rumours are circulating and all of them are shameful. When Blairites are reduced to posing as left-wingers, who knows how far they’ll go.