Corbyn: Alastair Meeks looks at the options for Labour’s right wing

Corbyn: Alastair Meeks looks at the options for Labour’s right wing

Jeremy Corbyn

Believing six impossible things before breakfast

Jeremy Corbyn has come in for much criticism from the right of the Labour party since he took over as leader of the Labour party.  He has been accused of indulging in fantasy politics, of deluding himself that the British public will ever elect a party on such a left wing prospectus and of surrounding himself with third raters whose only virtues are their impeccably socialist credentials.  But the Labour right is just as guilty if not more so of fantasy politics.  Like the Red Queen in Alice through the Looking Glass, it is capable of believing up to six impossible things before breakfast.  Unless it disabuses itself of these notions, it is doomed to defeat and irrelevance.

  1. Jeremy Corbyn will go quietly

Of course he won’t.  He’s got an incredible opportunity to reshape British politics in a direction that he never dreamed he’d get.  He’s grasping it with both hands.  If he goes, it will be because he sees his job as complete and he’s ready to hand over to someone else.  That someone else will not be any more congenial to the Labour right.

If Jeremy Corbyn is going to go, he is going to need to be challenged at some point.

  1. The pendulum in the party will inevitably swing back to the centre at some point

Nothing is inevitable in politics.  No doubt there were Tory wets who were confident that the Conservative party would return to their politics in due course after Margaret Thatcher had her time.  Any such wets are still waiting 40 years later.

Jeremy Corbyn is taking the internal controls of the party and using them in order to bypass the Parliamentary party.  In a few months’ time he will have completed the takeover by the membership of the party institutions.  It may already be too late to stop this.  For so long as the membership’s centre of gravity is far to the left of the Parliamentary party, the Labour right is in a very weak position.

For the pendulum to swing back, someone is going to need to give it a yank.

  1. The members will stop supporting Jeremy Corbyn eventually of their own free will in response to external events

Labour party members were won over by Jeremy Corbyn because he clearly articulated an alternative positive view that they found appealing.  They will not find it less appealing because the public have not warmed to it.  They have discounted his past connections with unsavoury groups in Ireland and the Middle East.  They regard much of the press criticism as a demonstration of media bias, even when based around verbatim quotations.  They will regard electoral setbacks as a manifestation of media bias or caused by other factors, such as internal party sniping.

Unless Jeremy Corbyn abandons his own credo, party members will stay loyal to him until someone puts forward a more compelling case.

  1. Party members and the public don’t need the Labour right to articulate a positive prospectus for their ideas

The right of the Labour party were openly disdainful of Ed Miliband’s election strategy at the last election of largely campaigning on not being the Conservatives.  They are making the same mistake themselves.

It is not enough for Labour rightwingers to present themselves as progressives who are not opposed to Trident, who do not subscribe to neo-Marxist foreign policy objectives, who are not opposed to some discipline on public spending and who do not agree with open-door immigration.  They need to present their prospectus in positive terms. With the honourable exception of Tristram Hunt, no figure from the Labour right has attempted to do this yet.

It is very clear what they stand against.  But to get people to vote for them, whether in the party or in the wider electorate, they need to explain what they stand for.  Assuming, of course, that they stand for something.  Do they?

  1. The right issue to stand and fight on will arise sooner or later

Jeremy Corbyn has picked two major fights so far: Syria and Trident.  On both subjects he is far more in tune with the party rank and file than his opponents are.  So long as he carries on picking fights where the bulk of the membership backs him, he will carry on consolidating his support base.  There’s no reason to assume that he will do otherwise.

Rather than being reactive, the Labour right will need to actively bring up awkward topics to present the leadership with dilemmas that put it on the wrong side of the membership.

  1. Someone else will bell the cat

Jeremy Corbyn is in an internally strong position.  Anyone who goes into open rebellion is risking everything at poor odds of success.  So it is easy to wait for others to act.  But if Labour rightwingers believe that change is required, some of them are going to have to show leadership rather than followership.  Some of them will need to front the rebellion.  Some of them will need to be prepared to face the consequences if they fail, as they are likely to do.

The consequences of failure are not necessarily fatal.  The act of fighting may itself establish them as considerable figures, just as Hilary Benn rose immensely in the public’s estimation when he led the Labour interventionists in Syria.  At worst, they may establish to their satisfaction that Labour is lost and they need to find a new home for their social democratic beliefs.  One thing is certain: doing nothing will achieve nothing.

Sir Walter Raleigh scratched into a window pane “fain would I climb, yet fear I to fall”.  Under it, Queen Elizabeth I scratched “if thy heart fails thee, climb not at all”.  Sir Walter climbed and eventually fell, but not before he had a career that still resounds through the ages.  Do Labour rightwingers have the heart?  We shall soon see.

Alastair Meeks

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