Corbyn supporters are a broad church. Labour MPs worried that he is leading them to defeat need to engage with their new members.

Corbyn supporters are a broad church. Labour MPs worried that he is leading them to defeat need to engage with their new members.


The Donald Brind column: From a Labour perspective

“I learned long ago, never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.” – George Bernard Shaw.

The Shavian quote was offered to me by the wise and erudite Lewis Baston after I recounted to him a Twitter spat with blogger Dan Hodges. For the avoidance of doubt, Hodges, who hails from a Labour family but earns his living from the Telegraph and the Spectator, is cast in the role of the metaphorical pig.

I had observed Baston’s advice assiduously until I came across a particularly daft Hodges rant against Labour MPs. He labelled as “spineless” those hoping to recruit large numbers of “moderate” new members to the party to counter supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. He lamented the lack of a plan to bring Corbyn’s leadership to “a swift and brutal end”.

I gave in to temptation with a tweet asking how much spine it took to be a Telegraph columnist attacking the Labour party. I suggested Hodges was like an armchair general calling for a pointless sacrifice. It seemed self-evident that a Westminster coup that led to Corbyn being re-elected by the membership would make Labour’s hole even deeper.

Others have addressed themselves in a more balanced way than the Telegraph’s blogger (Hodges came in for a storm of Twitter scorn for announcing for at least the second time that he had resigned his Labour membership).

Kevin Maguire in the Mirror called for an end to feuding. He reports that “despairing stalwarts” are “fed up to the back teeth at colleagues biting lumps out of each other instead of the Tories”.

He says that “from Labour’s angry Left across a truculent Centre to the rabid Right, there’s no shortage of MPs wallowing in a disunity that is fatally hazardous for the party’s prospects. Nobody has clean hands in this internecine strife.”

Maya Goodfellow at Labour List says the “anti-Corbyn din” is preventing the Labour Party from having a constructive debate … “While all of this is going on, the Tories are attacking essential rights and freedoms and ensuring that our society continues to grow more unequal.” Corbyn won a democratic election and he needs to be given the space to do his job.

The “din” is also obscuring the fact that Corbyn’s frontbench teams are taking the fight to the Tories and winning arguments on the economy, health, housing, home affairs and climate change. Corbyn supporters and opponents from the leadership battle are working well together.

Which is not to deny that there is anything other than a deep sense of gloom amongst the majority of Labour MPs who believe, notwithstanding the victory in Oldham, that Corbyn is unelectable and that the party faces disaster in 2020

I have a theory that the members and supporters who gave Corbyn his landslide victory back in September are a broad church. That victory was born of deafeatism – many thought that none of the candidates on offer would deliver in 2020 so they might as well vote for someone who was closest to their values. In particular they felt that under Ed Miliband the party had not posed an effective challenge to the Tories on the economy in general and on austerity in particular.

Anecdotal evidence from MPs who have engaged with new members in their own constituencies supports the idea that many would be willing to contemplate a change if they can be convinced that there is an alternative who offers a better prospect of victory at the distant General Election. They are being encouraged to experience the thrills and spills of election campaigning in London, Bristol, Wales and Scotland and elsewhere.

My theory, call it a working hypothesis, is given practical expression by Luke Akehurst who offers ten reasons why people shouldn’t be leaving the party.

He makes an appeal for “comradeship” arguing that for “every idiot insulting people on social media there are good people in every local Labour Party who supported Jeremy for leader but are not sectarian, respect other viewpoints and you can debate vigorously with but then socialise with and work together with on the campaign trail”.

Abuse by online trolls should not dictate the culture of the Labour Party – “ we need to work with anyone who behaves decently whether on the left or right to make Labour a welcoming place for everyone who has Labour values”.

It’s an argument for taking the long view and for engagement. There’s a good word for claiming to be a progressive then walking away from a fight. It’s “spineless.”

Donald Brind

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