By Dave Cohen
“I want to talk today about Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. I know I’ve been a divisive figure in the past, but I’m sure everyone across the political spectrum will agree on one thing, which is, the last thing anyone wants to hear right now is another speech by me about Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party.
This time though, it’s different. I promise. I realise, in criticising Jeremy, I’ve been making a basic mistake. I’ve been reacting emotionally, taking it personally, because I thought the changes that have happened over the last three years were all about me.
Initially, they were. The 2015 leadership election was specifically about breaking with New Labour. But the 2017 General Election was about something else, and only now are we beginning to see what that was.
I’m not going to talk about our record during 13 years of power, what are seen as our achievements and failures. We knew mostly what we wanted to do, and did what we could to achieve it. But there were two crucial areas where we didn’t set the agenda. The first was economic policy. Rightly or wrongly, we felt we had to break the myth, and it’s always been a myth, that the Conservatives are better at running the economy than we are. To do that we felt we had to play by their rules. We spent money on services and investment, and redistributed income, but we should have been bolder.
One of the reasons we weren’t bolder was because of that second area, the Tory press. After what they did to Neil Kinnock we understood that the newspapers, run largely as they are by a small rump of ideologically right-wing prejudiced zealots, had to be neutralised. We couldn’t beat them, but we had to work out how to live with them.
Ed Miliband made the crucial break with our policy. When he took on the Murdoch press, then the Daily Mail, I thought he was playing a dangerous game. I never felt we could do what he did, but when I saw what happened when he stood up to the bullies, I realised he was right.
When it came to the economy, Ed stuck reluctantly to the Tory agenda. What lost him the election was that by 2015, it no longer mattered how accurately we costed our economic policy. We were playing catch-up to the coalition’s disastrous austerity, and swing voters were never going to vote for a slightly less painful version of that.
Which is where Jeremy came in. In the leadership election, while the other three candidates were still talking about how to manage the economy better than the Tories, Jeremy was saying to hell with that, how much worse can we possibly be than George Osborne? Corbyn made the second break from accepted Labour policy when he attacked the Osborne-Cameron economic disaster, and this resonated with millions of voters, far more than Ed Balls could have managed with his accurately detailed but dull-looking financial statements. Jeremy deserves credit for that.
When it came to the 2017 election, the Tories had given up completely on financial prudence. The press were too busy arguing among themselves, and there wasn’t a soul left in the country who believed Labour could be any worse at running the economy than George Osborne, with the possible exception of George Osborne.
The result of that election surprised everyone. The only argument had been whether the Tory majority would be in double or triple figures. Len McCluskey, who had already been talking about how many seats Labour would have to lose before deciding whether Jeremy should stay on, was one of many from across the spectrum who thought we would be thrashed.
What none of us had factored in – me, Len McCluskey, the press, even Corbyn himself, was that tribal affiliations to Labour run deep.
The party is always bigger than the leader.
I’ll be honest, those tribal affiliations helped me. In 2005, a lot of traditional Labour supporters were angry either with our involvement in the war against Iraq, or our embrace of multiculturalism and the European Union’s new rules on freedom of movement. A lot of people who normally vote Labour refused on that occasion, but not enough to stop me winning that third General Election.
That deep-seated loyalty to Labour helped Jeremy bring us closer to the Tories in 2017 than was thought possible, and it cemented his position as leader of the party.
I’m not happy with that. But finally, I accept it. That’s where Labour is now.
What happens next, with the Tory party almost utterly destroyed as far as the public can see, and the real possibility of Corbyn as Prime Minister of a minority Labour government?
For most who don’t follow politics closely, that looks on the surface to be a good alternative. And actually, if you look at Labour’s domestic wish-list, there’s not a lot Jeremy and I disagree on. Spending more on the NHS, bringing millions out of child poverty, tax breaks and help for the poor – even John McDonnell’s boldest policies will take more than one five-year term to restore the health of the nation’s economy to 2010 levels.
There’s also not a lot to distinguish between our approaches to foreign policy.
On the surface, they couldn’t be more different, but there are crucial similarities. We both approach foreign policy from what we believe to be a moral standpoint. And, however much you may want to see a negotiated compromise between two opposing countries, there are times when you feel you have to take sides.
In my case it was the side of the Eastern European Muslims, then joining with the US against Saddam. Jeremy has chosen to back Russia’s support of President Assad in Syria, and President Rouhani and the Ayatollahs in Iran. I don’t think either of us will ever persuade the other to agree to the opposite view on these issues – but we both acknowledge our beliefs are equally and firmly held.
I’ve noticed that when I disagree with Jeremy on foreign policy, and the issue of anti-Semitism, it has the opposite effect to what’s intended. The view of the majority of the membership, and I now accept a lot of Labour supporters across the country, is “if Tony says it, it must be wrong.” I understand that. For better or worse, in this country I am forever tied in with freedom of movement, and the Iraq war.
Even so, for the thousands of members and many MPs who are against me, but strongly disagree with Jeremy, this is an almost intractable problem. Many have left the party, but have nowhere to go. As the new Labour rulers say whenever a non-Corbynite member leaves, good riddance.
There is one issue, though, where I am certain I have the support not just of Labour voters and MPs but most members. Even those who voted Leave, are coming round to the idea that the Tory Brexit we are sleepwalking into will be a disaster for the country. Jeremy’s refusal to highlight this, or engage seriously with the subject, I think is mistaken.
I’m not asking Jeremy to change his views. No one can accuse him of being a softy Europe lover: if he starts to properly attack the Tory Brexit plans, and opens the debate about what our country should become, it would amount to a massive shift in the stalemate that has ground us down and made the country ungovernable for more than two years. If there’s one politician who could persuade people to think again about allowing Tory Brexit it’s him.
And yet he’s entrusting all the economic arguments to the very people who inflicted the chaos of austerity onto this country. Gove, Johnson, Davis, Duncan Smith, May – each played a crucial role in the most economically disastrous government in the history of all Conservative governments.
All the pointers are to a Brexit that would trash everything he believes in – but Jeremy’s response appears to be – “yes, it’s true I’m hitching myself to a dangerous campaign that could end in disaster, but don’t worry, I have truth and morality on my side, I’ll be able to persuade Boris and Nigel that once we’re out of Europe, we’ll be able to build a workers’ democracy with increased business regulation and massive government investment in our public services.”
Imagine a Labour leader, taking the nation into such an enormous risky endeavour with such naïve faith in his ability to change the views of people who fundamentally disagree with him.
Spoiler alert: it doesn’t end well.
The question now, I understand, is no longer ‘how do we replace Jeremy with someone who could win?’ Instead ‘given that Labour will probably win under Jeremy, what can we do to make that victory work for the majority of Labour voters and the rest of the country?’
The answer is obvious to me. If you’re still a member of the party, bring up Brexit morning noon and night. Contact your local Momentum group and tell them to bring it up at Conference. Ask your MPs to ask Jeremy what plans he has for the day after Brexit?
If you’re no longer a member, but long for the day when Labour are back in power, start organising in your communities – at work, at home, in your schools and hospitals. You will all know someone who voted Leave and is worried about what will happen, or someone with an EU passport whose future here is still uncertain. Talk to them, take up their case, let them know we’re not ignoring them.
We may not be able to stop Brexit, but with the Tories no longer interested in the outcome, it’s up to us to take responsibility and talk about how we’re going to rebuild Britain – and by us I mean Labour.
Remember – the party is always bigger than the leader.”
Funny, but I seem to recall Jeremy Corbyn taking Labour into the 2017 General Election planning in Government to take Labour Social Security policy well to the right of Blair and Brown and, in the case of the benefits freeze, even IDS.
Child poverty would actually rise further than now as a result of deliberate policy choices by Jeremy Corbyn, the most Socialist Labour leader, ever.
Most of this sentence is being “economical with the actualité “:
“Spending more on the NHS, bringing millions out of child poverty, tax breaks and help for the poor …”
I note you omit Jeremy Corbyn pledging Labour on its first day in office to spend £10 billion plus on universal ‘free’ university tuition for mostly white, mostly middle and upper class youth.
Blair said he would spend that money on tackling child poverty.
If Jeremy Corbyn, the grammar school failure and higher education drop out, was really a breath of fresh air and not a stale fart, canned in the early 1970s, Labour would be pledging to spend £10 billion plus on Sure Start on its first day in office, on working class kids, not on student tuition for a minority of 18 to 21 year olds.
I do not think, taking into account the foregoing fundamental factual errors and omissions into account, that your piece has much to say to someone like me.
I was, until this May, a lifelong Labour voter, party member, donor and activist.
I would now vote Conservative if I thought it would stop Corbyn getting into Number Ten with Seumas Milne and ‘Honest’ John McDonnell at his side.
And that before I consider the misogyny, racism, anti-Semitism, homophobia … prevalent amongst some of Corbyn’s fanatical supporters within and outside of the Labour Party.
Corbyn himself displays sexist, racist and anti-Semitic behaviour. He is also a bit of a snob.
Labour under Corbyn is no longer progressive, internationalist or a party for the working class.
Not surprising really, given the archetypal Labour member, even under Corbyn, is a middle aged, middle class, graduate white male, quite often living in London and the South East.
Labour’s membership was 70% ABC1 under Miliband.
It is now 77% ABC1.
Blair observed last year that Labour no more knows (and wants to know?) why it lost Walsall North by 2,601 votes and why it narrowly won Canterbury by 197 votes and Kensington by 20 votes.
Extrapolating from May’s local authority elections in London to a General Election, Labour would lose Kensington to the Conservatives and the Conservatives Richmond Park to the Liberal Democrats.
You will recall apologists for Corbyn claiming Labour’s local authority election results in London, as the best ever, well at least since 1970, to disguise Labour falling back in places like Walsall.
Let me forestall anyone saying, ok, Labour under Corbyn may be a bit crap; its policies overly focused on winning middle class votes at the expense of the bottom 60% by income; anti NATO; Trumpian when it comes to trade and industry; pathetic when it comes to giving workers (not I note public sector workers? The voluntary and community sector only exists to dispense tea and sympathy on Planet Corbyn) a greater say in how they carry out their daily duties, a threat to the private and occupational pension funds of working class folk … but have you seen the Conservatives?
We did not win in 1997 on a Manifesto chock full of such whataboutery.
I was at the national launch of Labour’s Remain Campaign.
Jeremy Corbyn was not.
He was at a way more important Stop Some Wars event.
The media were not present.
It would seem Seumas Milne had forgotten to drum up their interest.
Two decades old, hardened campaigners for Lexit undermined Labour’s Remain Campaign from the outset and you seriously expect people like me to vote Labour and encourage others to do so?
I would lose any sense self respect if I went out canvassing, saying, yes, Jeremy Corbyn has the best interests of this country at heart and would make as good a Prime Minister as Clement Attlee, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Jim Callaghan or Harold Wilson.
I barely managed to keep a straight face during last year’s General Election …
Country and principle before party.
And try telling the Cult of Corbyn that no one, even #JC4PM, is bigger than the party and stand well back, if you ever do.
Thanks John. I take all of your points. Everything you say may be true, and has been said many times by many people, but we are where we are. I’m not a politician, I’m just trying to look at the same problems as you are, from a different angle.
Your table reservation at the Chestnut Tree Café has been confirmed.
Please, do not forget Dave to bring your “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!” song sheet.
No, you are not a politician and you are clearly unfamiliar with the thrust of Labour’s General Election Manifesto. And yet you say, “Everything you say may be true …”, implying it might not be true.
The floor is your’s. Please set out where you think I am in error?
If you are going to spin in the name of Corbyn’s Labour Party you should at least ensure your spin is built around a kernel of truth. I would, therefore, suggest you avoid talking about John McDonnell’s plans to reduce child poverty, because they were not in the 2017 Manifesto.
Jeremy Corbyn has said Labour in Government will not be able to afford to end the benefits freeze, the benefit cap and will make Universal Credit work. If you are unfamiliar with what that means, please, do ask.
He is quite a miracle worker is Jeremy Corbyn, he plans to make both failed IDS projects work.
Universal Credit and Brexit.
Before you go out on the stump, Dave, ask yourself what you would tell a Jaguar Land Rover worker at Castle Bromwich who has just learnt she will be working three day weeks between now and Christmas, in part, due to Brexit and in lieu of job losses.
She may have voted Leave, Remain, not voted or have been too young to vote in 2016.
Odds on, you would have nothing to say to her, except respect Jeremy Corbyn on Brexit (a Corbyn fanatic hashtag #RJCOB), because that perfectly encapsulates the Labour Party’s Lexit policy.
And, trust me that line might work in a leafy suburb, but it will not play in a working class area.
Fine words butter no parsnips.
Only, to be accurate it should be respect Seumas Milne on trade, defence and foreign affairs. A narrow minded, unelected, Hard Left, former Guardian columnist and ex public school boy, who does not do working class, is now setting much of Labour’s policy agenda.
As you say, we are where we are.
Labour has its worst leader in the history of the party and a third rate Shadow Cabinet, hand picked by that leader.
Labour’s 2017 General Election Manifesto was as much a work as fiction as the Conservative 2017 Manifesto. Neither were framed in the context of Brexit.
Labour as you state will not form a Government with a working majority under Jeremy Corbyn. You imply that he will lead a minority Government, reliant on at least the support of the SNP and Plaid Cymru to pass legislation.
Did you get het up about the DUP shopping list they presented to Theresa May to secure their support for her Government?
If, yes, would you be equally exercised when the SNP and PC presented similar lists to Jeremy Corbyn? Such lists are unlikely to be to the good of Scottish and Welsh Labour.
Do you really think Jeremy Corbyn, who is incapable of building a coalition of support within the Parliamentary Labour Party, would be able to lead and hold together a coalition government containing at least two other political parties?
And at this point in our country’s history?
You really think the way forward is to rally behind an arch mediocrity who was elected party leader, twice, because he made and makes people from his own class and background feel good about themselves?
For some Corbyn fanatics, Dave, being a Blairite is synonymous with being unprincipled. I am sure it was not your intention in writing your blog to give them evidence to supported that prejudicial point of view.
Taken out of context, Adolf Hitler had some very credible economic policies …
In theory and taken out of context that is.
Throwing the Jews under the bus to enact universal ‘free’ university tuition is unprincipled.
Spending £10bn plus on universal ‘free’ university tuition is inequitable and unfair.
As you say, Dave, you are not a politician and not especially well informed about what was in Labour’s 2017 Manifesto and what it would mean for the people for whom Labour was primarily founded.
I was an unelected politician for 27 years and I was trained to appraise policy.
I also know more than a little about the history of the UK and its politics.
Appeasement was way more popular in the late 1930s than Leave was in 2016.
At least, it was until war broke out and then …
Have you ever, Dave, seen a documentary, featuring an interview with someone who was of voting age in the late 1930s who says I supported Appeasement, because it was the right policy?
Ever formed the impression Neville Chamberlain forced Appeasement on an unwilling electorate?
The wind is definitely changing.
Its shift in direction is even being reported in the Daily Mail under its new editor.
Jeremy Corbyn, courtesy of Seumas Milne and various sycophants, looks ever more like the reluctant Remainer that he has always been.
And Labour did better in 2017 than expected, because the party attracted votes from people who do not usually vote Labour.
They did so on the matter of Brexit. They thought Corbyn was at least in favour of Soft Brexit.
They will not lend Labour their votes again on that subject, will they Dave?
Your party is losing members.
Of those remaining, a majority could not even be bothered to vote in Labour’s National Executive Committee elections.
Just over a week ago, there was a 43.2% turnout in a Scottish local authority by election.
Jeremy Corbyn is not the right person to lead Labour.
He never has been and he never will be.
Jeremy Corbyn has enjoyed for most of his adult life the prerogative of the harlot down through the ages, power without responsibility.
He has criticised, derided and sneered at the work of others (and that includes Labour’s sister parties in Europe and their commitment to the EU) and questioned the motivation behind their labours.
The boot is now firmly on the other foot.
And his fan club, so used to sharing his predilections seem unaware that the terms of trade have turned and not in his or their favour.
Power with responsibility is a heavy burden.
And in Jeremy Corbyn, Dave, you have a man who has dodged bearing that load, with some skill and dexterity for most of his adult life.
He is ill equipped, too intellectually disinclined (to be generous), inherently too undisciplined, lazy and mentally heavy on his feet to take up the challenge of being Prime Minster in his 72nd year.
But, as you say Dave, we are where we are and the answer to our country’s woes is to rally behind this arch mediocrity and career politician.
A man, who, in 35 years of a very well paid time as an MP, has achieved nothing practical to improve the condition of the working class or any class for that matter.
May I look forward, Dave, to you writing a similarly desperate blog post, if, no, when Jeremy Corbyn steps aside for John “The Quartermaster” McDonnell?
Sun, Express and Mail readers have learnt over the summer that Corbyn ‘accidentally’ hangs around with people who look like they shoot up pop concerts for kicks, but McDonnell got his nickname for being an IRA/Sinn Féin groupie in South London pubs …
You are where you are, Dave, and you clearly need a new leader, leadership team and advisers as well as more than a few well thought through policies with broad popular appeal.
Like we had back in 1997.
Well said Mr Blair. Generally we in the UK are looking for a professional person to stop 🛑 Brexit. Comes rain or shine.
Can Mr Corbyn deliver or not? If there is no one in opposition capable promising to stop 🛑 now Brexit or reverse ASAP, sound bad.
Since 2016 I was counting on you 100%.
To be the person.
I could not envisage anyone else. If you are not going to trow a towel.in the ring. I FEEL I have lost the fight too.
I’m loving that in my attempt to disprove Corbyn’s observation that I have no sense of irony, my ironic writing is being read as completely without irony.
I am a quarter Welsh and so one day in four, I do not get irony.
Did no one notice it was the Jews, the Irish, the Scottish and the Welsh, who Corbyn, very much a Little Englander, said did not get irony?
He did go to Scotland over a year ago and reveal he did not know, until then, that Scotland had always had a separate legal system from the rest of the UK, even before devolution.