Skip to main content

How moderate MPs have ended up dragging Labour leftwards

One of the things we automatically assumed about the Labour leadership race was that it provided one last chance to drag the party back into the mainstream. Jeremy Corbyn would be faced down by concerned MPs with a clear political agenda to make Labour electable once again. And if they failed – and Jez’s numerical strength within the party proved too much – at least the rebels would have laid down a clear marker for the possible launch of a centre-left alternative.

But something rather bizarre and unforeseen appears to be taking place.

Rather than shifting the centre of gravity back to the middle ground, this election is actually pushing Labour even further to the left.

Owen Smith, the MP for Pontypridd, managed to persuade his colleagues in the Parliamentary Labour Party that he should be chosen as the challenger to Corbyn, rather the much more experienced Angela Eagle.  Part of his pitch was that he could appeal more readily to the ‘soft’ Jez fans, who admired the current leader’s ideological zeal but despaired at his lack of competence.

Angela Eagle, Smith reminded his fellow MPs, had supported the Iraq War and the bombing raids on Syria. She was closely associated with the former Labour governments of Blair and Brown. The Welshman would come along with a clean pair of hands and make a direct appeal to the wayward and left-leaning party members.

What Smith didn’t make clear was just how much he would pander to the hard left.

First of all, there was the excruciating beatification of Corbyn as an individual. Jeremy had been ‘right’ about so many things, argued Smith in his leadership launch speech. This praise somewhat perplexed other parliamentarians, who were under the impression that the incumbent leader’s sole achievement had been to drive a 116-year-old party to the brink of extinction.

Before long, we were told that Corbyn was to be offered a non-existent Presidential role in recognition of his non-existent contribution to the Labour Party.  This status of spiritual leader presumably implies that his philosophy is to guide the movement’s political direction, even after he is relieved of any practical control.  It’s a little like removing an incompetent teacher from the classroom because he can’t keep control and follows his own curriculum, but then giving him an armchair in the staffroom from which to lecture his colleagues on best practice.

The second alarming aspect of Smith’s campaign is the challenger’s confident and bold assurances that he is an unashamed left-winger. This positioning has come as something of a surprise to people who have observed his more moderate pronouncements in past years.

Exactly how far was Smith prepared to take his posturing? 

Well, when asked, he stated that he was ‘massively to the left of Blair’. When I hear this claim, my first worry is that he may be lying, in which case I really don’t want to vote for him.  My next worry is that he may be telling the truth. In which case, I really, really don’t want to vote for him.

And then, of course, there are the policies.

As far as I can tell, there is only one area in which Smith is clearly to the right of Corbyn and that is on defence and security. The former Pfizer executive has made clear that he supports the UK’s independent nuclear deterrent and implied that he would launch the Trident missiles if required. 

While such talk will undoubtedly be reassuring to many of the voters Labour hopes to win back, Smith’s economic programme certainly won’t be.  It’s a hotch-potch of glib socialist soundbites, involving significant increases in borrowing, as well as higher taxes and renationalisation.

And now comes the interesting bit.

Corbyn is clearly alarmed that Smith might gain a foothold among some of his former supporters with all this radical talk. So Jez’s response is to is to try to outflank the former shadow cabinet member from the left.

It’s like a polarising game of proletarian poker.  I’ll see your spending plan and raise it.

Two particular contributions in recent days from the Corbyn camp have jumped out at me. The first is a commitment to compulsory collective bargaining by trade unions in organisations employing more than 250 people.  This involves the repeal of a piece of Blairite legislation from the late 1990s.

Corbyn is so bloody-minded and full of bitterness towards Blair, that he wants to cast aside the legislation of his own party.

He then talked about restricting the Prime Minister’s right to deploy special forces without parliamentary scrutiny.  This policy would not only be highly unpopular, because it would tie the hands of the UK in responding quickly to a crisis, but it is also thoroughly disingenuous, as Corbyn has never supported any military action by British forces at any time.

Smith’s leftward drift isn't genius, but more of a genie released from a bottle. If the would-be leader ousts Corbyn, he will be committed to a range of policies which are considerably more radical than those offered by Ed Miliband in 2015. Even if he only stuck to half of them, Labour would struggle to break the 30% barrier in a national poll.

If Jeremy comes through the election, on the other hand, he will claim a mandate for an even more outlandishly radical platform than the one which brought him victory last year. At that stage, all bets are off on how far Labour’s ratings may slump.

It reminds me of Michael Heseltine’s attack on the Labour government in 1976, in which he described the march of a ‘one-legged army, limping away from the storm they have created’. 

Left... left... left left left.


Popular posts from this blog

I was sad when I quit Labour a year ago. Now, I feel a sense of relief.

What motivates decent people to stay as members of the Labour Party?
It’s a question I’ve been pondering intensely over the past year, which I’ve spent in self-imposed exile. I resigned the moment Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected as leader after the contest with Owen Smith.
When I quit, it was with a very heavy heart.
As far back as the late 1980s, I’d served as Labour General Secretary of the London NUS. By the early 90s, I was chairing Frank Dobson’s constituency party in inner London. On two occasions, I stood as a Labour parliamentary candidate.
If you make that kind of commitment, you assume it’s a relationship that will last for life. And even though I hadn’t been an activist in recent years, it never occurred to me that I’d be forced to rip up my party card. 
Today, as Labour’s 2017 conference looms, I wonder how anyone with a moderate viewpoint can kid themselves the party is even worth rescuing.
One group of centre-ground survivors falls into the category of the bloody minded. Like …

What if the whole Corbyn project is based on a lie?

If there’s one thing that scares the Corbyn movement more than anything else, it’s the emergence of a new centre-ground party.
Supporters know very well that once it arrives, the alleged ‘popularity’ of Labour’s far-left leadership would be badly exposed – in just the same way that Michael Foot’s good poll ratings disintegrated with the emergence of the SDP in the early 1980s.
When people are given a choice, many will opt for moderation.
When they lack choice – a particularly stark problem in the UK’s indefensible first-past-the-post electoral system – they tend to polarise to left and right.
For supporters of today’s Labour leadership, it’s therefore critically important to dismiss the centre ground as something which no one wants any more. As a failed ‘neo-liberal’ project, which has no relevance to 2018.
But consider the facts.
A recent BMG Research poll for The Independent found that millions of voters currently find themselves without a political home.
Many feel that the main parties …

Cult of personality? The writing's on the wall.

Nothing makes Corbynistas more angry than the suggestion there are cult-like qualities to their movement and their veneration of the man they affectionately label ‘JC’. This accusation is viewed as such a slur, in fact, that on some social media channels moderated by the far left, anyone using the term ‘cult’ is deemed to be abusive and is in danger of finding themselves banned.
The evidence – specifically a cult of personality - is, however, now so strong as to be incontrovertible.
The madness reached some kind of apogee this week with the unveiling of a mural of Corbyn on his home turf of Islington.  
Let’s be clear. Murals celebrating political figures are not a part of British culture, unless of course you count the streets of West Belfast, where the Labour Leader has built up a strong network of contacts over the years. I’m sure they are de rigueur in parts of Gaza City, where the veteran socialist MP counts yet more friends.
It’s difficult to establish who is the more idiotic.…