The problem is one of perception. Of the 100,000s of people drawn to become members of Labour because of what they believe Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership represents, there may well be 5000 people who fit under the banner of “hard Left”. The idea that the “hard Left” had a support base of 100,000s of people who have migrated to Labour is so preposterous that it shouldn’t require a dignified response. The Govt’s own figures for official estimates of party membership as of July 2016 were:
Any hard Left party that had a ‘Reds under the bed’ membership in the 100,000s might have been making a few more headlines over the past few years because they would have had a presence larger than the other parties combined.
So, if you put to bed the dismissive and deliberately fantasist notion that 100,000s of people becoming Labour members are Hard Left entryists, what are you left with? Firstly, you have a very mixed group of people with very mixed motivations for joining. Some people will be returning members of Labour, who left Labour under Labour’s partially successful “third way” experiment. Some people will be politically engaged with specific focus issues already and some will be people who have not been politically engaged before but want to be now. They all have one thing in common, they all believe that Labour offers them the best opportunity to have their voice heard and their voice represented and they have joined Labour because the arrival of Jeremy Corbyn into the party’s leadership was a signal that Labour had turned over a new page; a new page that they could help to write.
People are not wedded to Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party but he represents the new page. In 2015’s leadership election, people did not just vote for Jeremy Corbyn, they rejected the other leadership contenders and they rejected them because they offered nothing new. In that, they mirrored the British electorate who also rejected Labour in 2010 and 2015 and in increasing numbers since Labour’s high point in 1997.
The dismissal of Labour’s members as ‘lunatics’ signals one very clear message, the people doing so have the same level of political nouse demonstrated which lost the EU Referendum to Brexit and which lost Labour 40 seats in Scotland. It is a political mentality which has lost Labour the last two elections because, while it makes a lot of noise about listening to the people, it is wedded to only hearing its own voice. These same people are in their own fight within Labour and, to an outsider, it is bizarre that they are tolerated within the party. How long would a football team tolerate a player who consistently scores own goals, even if they were the child of the club’s owner?
Why would an element of a political party actively set out to isolate itself from the party membership, actively set out to demonise and ridicule the party membership?
As an outsider, my observation of the current leadership fracas is that is nonsensical because it is clear that not only is the perpetual own goal scorer being tolerated but they are being allowed to pick the team. Either a majority of the PLP are afflicted with the same terrible political acumen mentioned above or there are other, unsaid, reasons why they don’t exercise better judgment. There are those who oppose Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and there are those who want to be the leadership and so oppose Jeremy Corbyn and those who agitated for Corbyn’s overthrow from before him being handed a mandate by the party in 2015 are in that group.
Jeremy Corbyn’s victory in 2015 was a clear signal rejecting the “third way”, an echo of the rejection of the “third way” that had been successively handed down by the electorate. It was a signifier that the party was moving on and the “third way” experiment no longer attracted support. Listening but not hearing, those of the “third way” have taken that rejection to heart, ignored that it echoes the greater electorate, and have set themselves against the party. They attack the membership because they have no support there. They have nothing to lose.
I worry for Labour because I worry that a majority of its MPs lack the political acumen to embrace what the membership can offer, in favour of whatever it is that those of the “third way” offer. Nobody within Labour wanted a leadership election, Owen Smith was chosen as a challenger who was expected to lose. The same political minds that have failed over and over again set Smith up as a stalking horse to test if there were candidates for leader that the party membership would consider. The answer has come back, no. It is not ‘no’ because people are besotted with Corbyn, it is because they do not trust that another candidate will not just turn back the page. The same failed political minds, listening, not hearing, can only see the membership as a problem to be eliminated, to be written out. Smith’s campaign continues because, I presume, it is hoped that, if the party membership is shaken hard enough, a name that is not Jeremy Corbyn will fall out. It won’t and it won’t precisely because of the nature of the campaign that has been waged against it.
The attacks on the current leadership and the membership have escalated through the campaign, a genuine bitterness screams from each new press release or slogan, yet those MPs opposing Corbyn appear to not understand the damage they are doing to the party. As an outsider, it is very bizarre that they are incapable of stepping back from the cliff’s edge and work with the membership to continue writing the new page.