This is my first post in a while, and it’s only fitting that it should be on the subject of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership victory.
I spent much of yesterday inexplicably arguing with Yes campaigners who, first, don’t accept that this is a defining moment in politics and, second, who refuse to see that the Labour Party has actually done what we wanted it to do, albeit only the members thus far.
They have hauled the party back towards socialist ideals. They have responded to the general election defeat in exactly the manner we wanted them to; by annihilating the leadership pretensions of the Red Tories and the remnants of the Blairite wing.
I am thrilled at their victory. It is an enormous endorsement of the politics of change we saw sweeping Scotland during the referendum campaign. In a very real sense, this is our victory; we were part of what made this landslide happen.
Corbyn did not simply scrape over the line either; he was elected by every single section of the party structure. He has an enormous, unquestionable, mandate to change things.
The Parliamentary Party he leads is a different creature entirely, of course. It doesn’t accept that this mandate exists. It believes it is the ultimate arbitrator of what Labour ought to do.
This is the last spasm of their political culture. It is in ruins today, and they are the survivors of this meteor strike only insofar as they are still, at the moment, standing up. But the effects of it are going to lay waste to them. By the time the next election comes around, the PLP will be radically changed. It will either have been hollowed out or it will have destroyed its own leader.
If it’s the former, he has a shot at rebuilding the party into something resembling what it ought to be, and what it once was. If it’s the latter, the party itself will have imploded, ripped to pieces by its own elected MP’s.
The political consequences of that are usually pretty devastating.
A number of them have already pinned their colours to the mast and said they don’t want to serve in a Corbyn cabinet. In some ways this is good; it will allow him to assemble his own team and to do things his own way.
There was talk of some of them agreeing to serve “but only if”, trying to shackle this guy right out of the starting gate, but that appears to be dead in the water. The “thinking” now, if you can call it that, is that the left must be made to “own the defeat.”
I laugh at the notion.
It’s fanciful rubbish, and they know it, but it’s the only card they have in the deck, and so they’ll play it for all it’s worth … not much, as we’ll see.
See, before now, the left in Britain was ridiculed, because, as the story goes, the last time it put its ideas front and centre it suffered a catastrophic defeat, in the election of 1983.
Those of us with political nous understand that the ’83 election was much more complicated than it’s been made out, ever mindful of the truth that before the Falklands War Michael Foot and the Labour Party had a rock solid opinion poll lead.
This followed the SDP split and the Liberal pact, and that, along with the national war fever, contributed to the loss.
It’s often forgotten that the Tory votes total fell in that election, by around 700,000. It’s one of many facts that never gets brought up in the discussion. The creation of the SDP was what assured that defeat; at the very least they exaggerated the scale of it, making it far larger than it ever ought to have been. At worst, they prevented an actual Labour majority.
It’s the Gang of Four, not the left, who bear the historical responsibility for the 1983 result.
Those of us who’ve studied this accept that.
Nevertheless, the idea has been allowed to take root that it was Labour’s “far left” policies which were responsible, and that myth – that outright lie – has contributed to the paucity of political ambition in this country for well on 30 years.
Corbyn’s election should be an opportunity to put all the big arguments front and centre again, to open up a true and honest national debate about where we’re going as a country, about what we want from it, what its values should be.
Instead, his ideas are going to be opposed by a phalanx of special interests inside and outside Westminster, including the Labour Party itself.
And with that in mind, there’s simply no way that Labour’s careerist MP’s can stand back and “let the left own the defeat.”
That would only apply if they allowed left wing politics to frame party policy. But they won’t.
They’re already lining up to criticise Corbyn before he’s even got his feet under the table and some of them will fight tooth and nail to keep him in his box.
So the left will never get to put its prospectus forward, although that is what the rank and file membership clearly wants to happen. Corbyn will be savaged by his own back benchers, who will make it as near to impossible for him to lead as you’ll get.
What kind of narrative do you think that will result in?
It’s them who’ll own any catastrophe and the left will have a “knife in the back” legend to rival all others.
If Corbyn’s people have any sense at all, they’ll commission and publish polling showing support for every one of the “loony left” economic and social policies he espouses.
At the same time, Tom Watson has inadvertently given Corbyn his window to propose a national debate on NATO expansion and the retention of nuclear weapons. I have always believed that when those issues were discussed rationally, openly, factually that there would be a sea change in public attitudes towards them and that is exactly what we’re going to get.
So, imagine Corbyn’s team has the political nous to do that, and I’m sure they do and I am certain that they will.
Then imagine the PLP opposing those moves.
The party fragments.
Dissent becomes all out civil war.
The PLP shackles its own leader, refusing to support a single one of his proposals … or they despose him.
In doing so, they will destroy any prospect of a new, progressive, course for politics on this island.
They’d be counting the costs of that for a generation or more.
Those of us who’ve lambasted the PLP as “Red Tories” would have a martyr and a symbol which would endure from now until the last Labour rosette had been cremated on the bonfire of history. There would be an eruption of anger, and especially here in Scotland where Jeremy Corbyn’s political ideas already command widespread support.
The PLP destroying him would be the final insult to millions of Scots.
I don’t see how the union could survive that, even in the short term.
It’s no coincidence that Nicola picked yesterday to announce – finally – that the Holyrood manifesto will include a timetable and “trigger mechanisms” for another independence referendum.
The writing is on the wall.
I’m going to write in more detail about the impact this election will have on Scotland later on, tonight or tomorrow, but for the moment I want you to ponder on what Labour’s MP’s are actually contemplating … and think about how that helps the independence debate.
Scotland has nothing to fear from Corbyn’s election … and everything to gain.
There is hay to be made here, friends … whole fields worth of it.
There is no negative outcome here for us, if we play it smart.
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