I simply cannot get my head round what’s happening in the British Labour Party.
It has a leader, in Jeremy Corbyn, who has twice been elected by the membership of the party (instead of by MPs).
This is a great advance for democracy in the party because in the past, it was MPs who largely selected the leader, even though many of them tend to forget about their constituents, once they get into Parliament. Well, until the approach of another election.)
In the campaigns for the leadership in both the elections in which Corbyn emerged victorious, right-wing Labour MPs who loathe Corbyn launched an attack on him that was more ferocious than anything that Corbyn has suffered at the hands of the Conservatives.
The right-wing anti-Corbyn campaign has a ready-made ally, in the form of the British media. [See Report on Corby and the media:]
Even the BBC, which is supposed to be neutral in British politics, sometimes treated Corbyn in interviews as if he was someone they wished they could avoid having to talk to. Because of the rules about neutrality, they needed to talk to him, but….
However, in spite of being flayed by the media in both leadership contests, Corbyn managed to beat his opponents hands down. In the last election (September 24, 2016), he got 62 per cent of the vote.
Normally, such a demonstration of support by the party membership should be welcomed as a democratic decision against which no true democrat ought to kick.
But democracy is in such short supply in the Parliamentary Labour Party these days that the right-wing opponents of Corbyn have not given up their undermining him. They’re sowing the idea that Corbyn can’t win a general election. But how do they know?
Many MPs say they won’t serve under Corbyn as members of the Shadow Cabinet. In doing that, they’re slapping the Labour membership in the face, are they not?
Logic suggests that Labour would do well in the country as a whole if it fields a leader who has the support of the majority in his own party, whose enthusiastic support can infect the electorate as a whole.
But the right-wing MPs are having none of that. So long as Corbyn’s policies are different from theirs, they will undermine him and talk down the chances of the party winning a general election under him!and him. What sort of democrats are these, one wonders,.
Indeed this question arises: what is today’s Labour Party? Is it merely an instrument for winning power in the country for an elite in its leadership ranks who, like the Blairites, can pursue “traditional” British policies as dictated by the Conservatives?
What are these “traditional” British policies? One is the so-called “special relationship” with the United States.
The Americas never hesitate to torpedo this policy when it suits them (e.g. during the Suez crisis of 1956).
Nevertheless, the notion of a special relationship can be so intoxicating to British political leaders that it can turn their brains into jelly.
How else does one explain Tony Blair’s insistence that “weapons of mass destruction” existed in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, and that Iraq should therefore be bombed to smithereens, when there was no factual basis for such beliefs?
“Mr President, we are with you!” Blair is alleged to have told President G W Bush, after Bush decided to invade Iraq in 2003. In supporting Bush, Blair was ignoring a warning from the high echelons of his own Foreign Office, to the effect that an invasion would be illegal, and that the Americans were “fixing the intelligence to match the policy, not the other way round.
The UN had said there were no “wmd” in Iraq, Not only that – the Americans had not done anything to assure Britain that they could establish a stable political regime in Iraq after toppling Saddam Hussein. So what? Blair must have told himself.
The “special relationship” demanded that Blair should follow Bush. So, follow Bush he did. The result?
Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis either dead and injured already, or still facing the threat of death and injury today – a good thirteen years after Bush and Blair mobilised their air and land forces to pummel Baghdad and its surroundings into the ground. And five years after the US claimed that it could withdrew its forces from an Iraq that had become a ‘stable’ and ‘safe’ country once more.
Many members of the Parliamentary Labour Party condoned the deliberate refusal of Tony Blair to use British diplomatic and analytical prowess to caution the US from inflicting such a monumental catastrophe on the people of Iraq.
These MPs have obviously not regretted the terrible bloodshed that their country took part in unleashing on the people of Iraq. So what moral right do they have to lecture Corbyn?
Nor are they the least bit embarrassed that a Labour prime minister , Tony Blair, should become exceedingly rich after leaving office – mainly through “business” activities not unconnected with Middle East politics.
Maybe it’s because the MPs realise that the Labour membership detests them that they too don’t want the membership to have a say in who leads the party or who determines what its policy ought to be? Some democracy, that!
The Parliamentary Labour Party would in fact do well to study how the Conservative Party treated dissent within its own ranks over the Brexit issue.
When some Conservatives felt they could not stomach the position of the Conservative Party on Britain’s continued membership of the EU, they broke away to form UKIP. But that did not break up the Conservative Party.
To end the dissent within the party, David Cameron called a referendum. When he lost, he resigned. I doing so, he, a Conservative, was demonstrating that he was sensitive to the feelings of the membership of his party.
In the Labour Party, on the other hand, the right-wing MPs want to eat their cake and have it. They fought against Corbyn and lost. Twice.
But they are too cowardly to fall on their swords (as Cameron did). And so, they are staying in the party to needle Corbyn and try to paralyse him from within.
It is to be hoped that the Labour Party will be able to see them off, just as it survived the calumny heaped upon the head of Aneurin Bevan, who stoutly defied the medical and pharmaceutical establishments to create Britain’s unrivalled National Health Service.
The Labour Party also survived name-calling by the media when it nationalised a huge chunk of British industry, including coal, electricity and gas, the railways and telecommunications.
Today, these “denationalised” industries are back in the hands of profiteers who provide a service that is quite often worse than when the industries were nationalised. It took a former Conservative prime minister , Harold Macmillan, to point out to his fellow Conservative prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, that handing these bulwarks of industry back to profiteers was like “selling the family silver”.
Jeremy Corbyn should therefore set his course steadfastly – after much consultation – and dare to ignore those within the Parliamentary Labour Party who wish to take the party back to the days of Tony Blair.
He should challenge them to break away to form another “Social Democratic Party” (as the ‘Gang of Four’ – Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Bill Rodgers and Shirley Williams – did in March 1981).
The ‘Gang of Four’ were also egged on by the right-wing media in much the same way as Corbyn’s detractors are being offered media support today.
The ‘Gang of Four’ were described – approvingly – the ‘moderates’ in the Labour Party (although the Labour leadership of the time was anything but rabidly left-wing). But they soon faded into irrelevance as the electorate soon realised that they had no real programme to better the lot of the voters.
Corbyn must take inspiration from the fact that the British Labour Party has been responsible for some of the most enlightened social laws ever enacted anywhere – such as (to mention a random few): the Housing Rents and Subsidies Act 1975; the Invalid Care Allowance; a Mobility Allowance; a Non-Contributory Invalidity Pension; a universal Child Benefit; a State Earnings Related Pension Scheme; a Sex Discrimination Act; an Employment Protection Act and Statutory Maternity Leave.
Corbyn should draw up similar programmes that that seek to enhance the welfare of the people. Just as the electorate ignored the bombastic Winston Churchill after WW2 and elected the vastly under-rated Clement Attlee to introduce the welfare state into Britain so will Corbyn carve his name into history. Britain does need a leader today who can do precisely that.
Letter from afar