Corbyn, Terrorism and Intervention

By Harris Coverley

Let me just make a few things clear: after all these years I am still a socialist. I voted Labour in 2015 (and would do so all over again), and find myself broadly agreeing with a lot of what the current Labour manifesto has to offer. I never supported the Iraq War, and I feel the War in Afghanistan was mismanaged, as was the intervention in Libya. However, I cannot bring myself to vote Labour due to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, one of the most pressing issues of contention being his relationship to, and opinions of, terrorism.

This piece was originally two separate posts that I have edited together to form one full whole for publication here. The original posts can be found here and here.

On Corbyn’s Terrorism Speech, Islamist Terrorism and the Left’s “Terrorism Problem”

Firstly there is the issue of Corbyn’s speech, a speech which in many ways reflects what he has believed and promoted for years, but has been translated through a more acceptable prism.

This is not to say I disagreed with all of it: he harangues the government for applying the logic of austerity to the security services (even though his current Shadow Home Secretary wanted to abolish Mi5…) and the emergency response services (even though his current Shadow Chancellor signed a manifesto pledging their disarmament), underlining that the traditional Tory doctrine of “law and order” is utterly hollow in the face of neoliberalism’s onslaught. The contribution of prison dysfunction to the problem is also a pressing concern (note that such an issue contributed to the catalyst that has allowed the recent cycle of terrorist attacks in Paris).

But his speech contains severe contradictions and unfounded assumptions common to the rhetoric of his ilk, and it is a good opportunity to rehash some criticisms of them.

Corbyn in many ways mimics what must be a millennia old rhetorical Sophistic form, but mastered and applied by Noam Chomsky in the late 20th century and adopted by many political pundits of all stripes thereafter, whereby if you want to say something highly controversial and disagreeable, you first say its exact opposite, and then state a bland and vague version of it (you can also do this the other way around with the same effect). You could even use the “dog whistle” method of using certain words and phrases to communicate semi-hidden meaning and instruction. This way, you can address your intended audience — the proverbial choir one preaches to — directly, confuse fence sitters and the casually interested into agreeing with you, and when your critics accuse of saying the thing in question, you can point to the opposite point you said and declare “In fact, I actually said the opposite…”, which while technically true, is intellectually dishonest.

This is the rhetorical form of Corbyn’s speech: the “blame” may be “with the terrorists”, but we must see to it that “our foreign policy reduces rather than increases the threat to this country” — a blatant declaration that it is doing the very opposite.

There are other contradictions as well: if these terrorist actors are such purveyors of “atrocious acts of cruelty and depravity”, and that such “vicious and contemptible acts…cause profound pain and suffering”, then why does he aim to make “conflict resolution” the heart of his foreign policy, wherein you “will almost always [be] talking to people you profoundly disagree with”? Usually people who are “depraved” are beyond dialogue, and require a more forceful response…

But really, most of Corbyn’s condemnation of the attacks is just platitude: it is what you are expected to say, especially when you are employing the aforementioned method.

(It is also embarrassing that Corbyn says that we “must support our Armed Services”, when he is on record — video exists — in 2010 saying that the only austerity cuts must be to them. He said it, you can’t just brush it away…)

The aforementioned ‘opposed point’ Corbyn makes is clear: “Those causes certainly cannot be reduced to foreign policy decisions alone. […] And no rationale based on the actions of any government can remotely excuse, or even adequately explain, outrages like this week’s massacre.” However, he doesn’t mention, other than prison dysfunction, what might also be leading to those causes. Again: the only real culprit on offer here is British foreign policy.

Corbyn seems to want to balance main causes of terrorism between the actions of the West and the agency of terrorists themselves, but really, without directly identifying the ideological-political drivers of the main international terrorist phenomenon — that is, what I like to call revolutionary Islamism, or is more generally known as Salafi jihadism —not even mentioning IS by name, then the rhetorical axis in practice in focuses on the West being guilty of their own woes due to “blowback” from their own policy.

But the idea of “blowback” is a questionable one. Some like Peter Bergen — whom I greatly respect as the first journalist to make Al-Qaeda his focus — sees it as a real driver of global terrorism in regards to the Iraq War. Other evidence from the Iraq War however suggests otherwise.

There also the old chestnut of confusing correlation with causation (C =/= C).

https://twitter.com/ronanburtenshaw/status/867857311615696896

This graph has been presented as “proof” the Iraq War caused a rise in deaths from terrorism — again, that C =/= C problem. But if we adopt its logic and look closely at the graph the opposite seems true: after the 2006 troop surge there was actually an overall long-term decline in terrorist deaths, and terrorism-related deaths only began to rise sharply again after the beginnings of the Syrian Civil War, a war from which Western intervention has been (until recently) almost entirely absent. You could draw that Western intervention applied consistently could in fact reduce terrorism-related deaths overall, but that would be falling back on the correlation fallacy…

Another graph shows that over the past twenty years, terrorism attacks in Britain have reduced to an historic low, not exactly indicating a country in the throes of “blowback”.

https://twitter.com/t_wainwright/status/867761850376695809

There are other problem: I don’t know how a 2003 war can cause 2001 attacks…you also have to ignore things like the 1993 WTC Bombing and the 1995 Bojinka Plot (the “original” 9/11 which would have killed far more people). I think much of the timespan of Islamist terrorism is omitted from these graphs, leading to a distorted picture. Islamist terrorism killed tens of thousands in the Middle East throughout the ’80s and ’90s; our response in the West was mostly “Oh Dearism”

“Blowback”, as opposed to a serious IR theory, is mostly used as a means to blame the West for its own foreign policy errors in the face of multiple terrorist attacks and hundreds of young men travelling to the Middle East to essentially kill themselves but not before killing as many innocents as they can (and desecrating a few priceless artefacts along the way). But in terms of real or self-alleged causation, the actual “inspiration” events vary, as Jonathan Freeland recently wrote: “I recall my own first encounter with [jihadism], back in the 1990s. I was speaking at a student meeting that was disrupted by loud activists from the extremist al-Muhajiroun group. What were they furious about? The west’s failure to take military action over Bosnia. These young men were livid that Britain and the US had not dropped bombs to prevent the massacre at Srebrenica. It proved, they said, that the west held Muslim lives to be cheap.” Maajid Nawaz, a former jihadi-turned-secularist activist, confirmed this for his own experience: “So Bosnia was the key recruitment drive. It was the key thing that allowed an entire generation of people that were my age, around 16 years old to be approached by Islamists who said — “do you want a solution to this problem?””.

“Blowback” is also a non-falsifiable theory: regardless of remote the act is, the War on Terror or Western foreign policy in general must somehow be responsible. For example: Joe Sacco somehow managed to blame the Charlie Hebdo shootings on the Abu Ghraib abuses, even though Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula said the killings had been ordered purely in the name of “vengeance for the prophet”.

In reality, there is nothing unusual about what happened in Manchester, if we take a global perspective. Every day Islamists kill Muslim civilians across the Islamic world, and do it in the name of defending their own principles against ‘kafir’. That this sometimes happens here is not indicative of a special event; rather, we are lucky that, unlike in say Iraq, this is not a weekly if not daily event. We are not the true focus of Islamist rage because we are, as IS puts it, the “grey zone”, a place where some Muslims live, who must be either reached (and “converted”) or killed with the rest of the “infidels”, but it is the Islamic world with its Muslim population where the pivotal battles must be fought. Muslims who agree with their aims are encouraged to stay and commit terrorism in the West, but this column of extremists is obviously a microscopic group.

Of course, ideologically speaking, Islamists despise the West: democracy is “polytheism” and incompatible with Islam; secular law conflicts with God’s law; feminine freedom is an affront to decency; and so on. Our military actions — for example, drone strikes — are nothing compared to what the West represents, to quote an IS fighter from the most recent Shiraz Maher interview: “We primarily fight wars due to [sic] ppl being disbelievers. Their drones against us are a secondary issue. […] Their kufr against Allah is sufficient of a reason for us to invade and kill them. Only if they stop their kufr will they no longer be a target.” We should take the words of mass murderers with pinches of salt, but then again, the regressive left (for want of a better phrase) latch onto to certain elements of Islamist discourse that parallel their own anti-interventionist/“anti-imperialist” stance while ignoring what lies at the heart of what truly drives Islamist terrorists as political actors, and what really drives all political actors: their ideology and their vision for the world. Every Islamist ideology broadly considered, whether Sunni or Shia, is dependent not on some defensive “anti-colonial” narrative lifted from Fanon — which only makes up part of their discourse — but on a desire to remake the entire world as they believe their respective interpretation of god wants to see it. For Hamas and Hezbollah (Corbyn knows them quite well I believe…), this entails the elimination of both Israel and Middle Eastern Jewry in its entirety, and the creation of a totalitarian Palestinian state in its place. For Iran’s Islamic Republic, this entails the destruction of Sunni powers such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and the establishment of a Shia hegemony over all of the Middle East — the Achaemenid Empire reborn. For Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, this entails the creation of a global Caliphate, a state that encompasses the entire world in a totalitarian system. There is no plurality in this one, no diversity — it is a total and complete domination.

The softly, softly “conflict resolution” approach Corbyn invokes will not work with this last group of Islamists. With the Palestinians and Islamic Republics, a solution is possible when cooler heads prevail (and I still hope one day to visit that Palestinian state), but the ‘Islamist internationals’ will never yield. They already think they are right and are willing to die for it. You talking to them just buys them time. You finding “compromise” with them just means their unwilling subjects will continue suffer. (And to think Corbyn criticised Smith for suggesting the exact same thing…)

None of this has somehow been birthed purely or even mostly from the so-called War on Terror; the 9/11 Attacks can be traced intellectually back through Osama Bin Laden, through to the chief theorist of the Muslim Brotherhood and founder of modern jihadism Sayyid Qutb, and even further back to the Islamic Revival of the late 19th century in the terminally declining Ottoman Empire (and the collapse of the sectarian millet system with it). The intellectual history of the Islamic world may at times be confusing and obscure, but (to ironically invoke Edward Saïd) to reduce a great, centuries-long political, cultural and religious struggle within a vast population spread across the Old World down to petty reaction is Euro-centric Orientalism.

At the end of the day, taking his entire career as given, Corbyn has what might best be termed an ideological terrorism fetish. The ideological ends of the terrorists themselves do not really matter, whether it be a United Ireland under a Gerry Adams dictatorship or an Islamic fascist Palestine with its Jewish population nicely expunged. It is an admiration for terrorists based in the understanding that terrorists are revolutionaries who oppose the currently existing order of things, and as revolutionaries they require unquestioning solidarity. Even when the struggle is over, every criticism of the terrorists’ violence — no matter how brutal — must be contextualised as a response to the violence of the state or of other actors, often through either minimisation or equivocation; this is why Corbyn still refuses to condemn the IRA without mentioning Loyalists. If he has to lie about it, he will lie about it.

Cobyn has systematically voted against almost every anti-terrorism law not because he believes they require judicial oversight (which begs the question: why did he never table any amendments?), but because he feels such legislation would interfere with the actions of righteous rebels.

The admiration for terrorists by political radicals (including pseudo-radical poseurs such as Corbyn) goes back a long way, and can be seen in an 1869 letter by Mikhail Bakunin, the prophet of modern anarchism, to Nikolai Ogarev, in which he praised brigandage (banditry in the Russian badlands) as a revolutionary ideal: “Banditry is one of the most honourable ways of life within the Russian state [representing] a desperate protest by the people against the infamous social order[.] The bandit is the people’s hero, defender and saviour.” For Bakunin, the bandit is currently in Russia “the only true revolutionary”, and as for moral responsibility, regardless of how many innocents are killed, it is purely the state’s fault: “Governmental cruelty has engendered the cruelty of the people and made it into something necessary and natural.”

Corbyn through a long line of apologists for mass criminality in the name of revolution carries on this tradition. His association with Irish irredentist terrorists (for how else can we describe the IRA really?) and every calibre of Islamist extremist is well documented.

For example: The Stop the War Coalition, of which Corbyn was an officer and later Chair from 2011 to 2015, in 2005 released this statement: “The StWC reaffirms its call for an end to the occupation, the return of all British troops in Iraq to this country and recognises once more the legitimacy of the struggle of Iraqis, by whatever means they find necessary, to secure such ends.” They had earlier affiliated during the initial anti-war protests with various Islamic extremist organisations.

Much later during the Paris Attacks, the StWC published an article titled “Paris reaps whirlwind of western support for extremist violence in Middle East”, which they later, under the pressure of multiple resignations, apologised for, but which in essence contained the same “blowback” argument that Corbyn makes. The article read: “Without decades of intervention by the US and its allies there would have been no ‘war on terror’ and no terrorist attacks in Paris. […] Without the American crime of aggressive war against Iraq — which, by the measurements used by Western governments themselves, left more than a million innocent people dead — there would be no ISIS, no “Al Qaeda in Iraq”.” Corbyn later that year attended their Christmas fundraiser as a “special guest”.

(There are many other occasions such as these, but The Times has helpfully compiled a list.)

It would be unfair to say Corbyn rejects military intervention outright, but it isn’t really a ‘Corbyn doctrine’: “I want to assure you that, under my leadership, you will only be deployed abroad when there is a clear need and only when there is a plan and you have the resources to do your job to secure an outcome that delivers lasting peace.”

There is an obvious problem with this: the bar is too vague to ever be properly set, or perhaps it is set so high the Hubble Telescope has yet to detect it. In his parliamentary career he has voted against every single military intervention against genocide, ethnic cleansing and mass murder, and defends this proud inaction to this very day (see his latest interview with Peston). If this means branching further into outright genocide denial, then why not?

He may point to Rwanda as a potential candidate for intervention, but there is no record in Hansard of him advocating anything like that at the time (for the whole of 1994, he apparently references Rwanda only once, in relation to humanitarian aid figures).

 

Corbyn and the IRA: A Closer Look

If Corbyn had just been straight up about his relationship to the IRA at the beginning, so much of this could have been avoided, but several spurious interviews later it cannot be ignored.

Just last Friday, Corbyn looked Andrew Neil dead in the eye and said: “I never met the IRA.” He also followed this up with: “I have never supported the IRA.”

This is quite a surprise, given that his supporters throughout his troubled leadership have systematically placed him at the heart of the peace process in Northern Ireland (and still are doing so), something he had not disavowed until just then.

Before we deal with this new claim, let us just analyse the original group of claims of Corbyn’s contribution to the ending the Troubles.

Of those major histories of the Troubles published in the past twenty or so years, almost none of them seem to mention Corbyn’s name. He is not mentioned in the ‘new standard’ history of the conflict by David McKittrick, Making Sense of the Troubles: A History of the Northern Ireland Conflict (Penguin, 2012) according to the index, nor is he mentioned in Tim Pat Coogan’s 1996 account The Troubles: Ireland’s Ordeal 1966–1995 and the Search for Peace (Arrow, 1996). (Go ahead, check, the indexes are available for preview.) How can someone supposedly so pivotal (or not) be completely ‘whitewashed’ out? Is it a vast Blairite conspiracy to re-write history?

I did however manage to find a single reference to Corbyn in the authoritative anthology The Northern Ireland Troubles in Britain: Impacts, Engagements, Legacies and Memories (MUP, 2016), but it was only in relation to the 2015 Labour leadership election, and it definitely did not paint the “Corbyn as peacemaker” dogma in the most flattering light. Here is the section in full (the ‘killer’ is the last sentence):

“The public voicing of Irish republican perspectives, or views in any way supportive of them, continues to be a risky business in England today. Di Parkin’s interviewees for her chapter 12, all Labour Party activists promoting dialogue with Sinn Féin in the 1980s, prefer to remain anonymous in order to conceal their political work in the past from their employers. Anecdotally, these concerns — and counter-measures for what Marie Breen Smyth has termed identity management are widespread, especially among those who have or seek public positions of responsibility and accountability. A vivid example of the way political sympathy for, or engagement with, Irish republicanism during the conflict continues to provide a basis for hostility and delegitimisation in British public culture can be seen in the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn during his successful campaign for the Labour Party leadership in 2015, and subsequently on Corbyn and his Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, for their ‘links with the IRA’ and refusal to single out republican violence for condemnation.
 More thoughtful critics of Corbyn and McDonnell might point out that ‘silencing’ could also work in a different way here: they presented their position in 2015 as if, in the 1980s, they had simply been encouraging dialogue and a ‘peace process’ with Irish republicanism avant la lettre. However, during the early and mid 1980s, Corbyn was unashamedly a supporter of Irish republicanism’s right to ‘resist’ British ‘oppression’.” [pp. 11–12]

(The full chapter is available online here.)

In the cited chapter, that certain participants chose to partake ‘anonymously’ could seem to be enough to explain Corbyn’s current denialism, but this makes no sense: he and his supporters have been open about it in the very recent past (and present), so why acclaim anonymity now? Even when it seems such a participation was stunningly minor?

(Does anybody else remember that episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm where Ted Danson donates a wing to a charity building project under the moniker “Anonymous”, only at the unveiling party to go around admitting that he was “Anonymous”, and for his supposed “humility” he got distantly more praise than Larry David who had also donated a wing but under his own name? Life imitates art…)

Every reference I can find of Corbyn during the Troubles references him not as a “peacemaker” but as an out-and-out supporter of the IRA and its campaign of violence. According to Rosa Prince’s biography of Corbyn, the Northern Irish historian and Professor of Politics at Queen’s Belfast (and former radical republican) said the following of Corbyn’s interest in the conflict: “The terms on which Corbyn was in dialogue with Adams was on the basis that Adams wins”. The same biography mentions the opinion of Northern Irish Catholic journalist Eilis O’Hanlon: “From Corbyn to McDonnell to Ken Livingstone, they all justify it these days by saying it was OK because it led eventually to the peace process. But that’s disingenuous in the extreme. When they were out defending the IRA, its fellow travellers also didn’t know when, or if, that campaign would end. They still happily supported, or had an ambivalent attitude towards, Republican violence. They knew exactly what they were doing, and how their solidarity was used by the Republican movement to paint its murder campaign as part of some wider struggle for social justice.”

All of this has a strong basis in fact: Corbyn has openly partaken in multiple link-ups with the IRA during and after the Troubles, starting at least in October 1984 when he played “host” to two convicted IRA killers. His claim to have “never met the IRA” does not only not stand up: it is demonstrably false through the words of the IRA and its closest associates themselves. Repeat photographic evidence belies this. (Even though he sometimes seems to struggle to know what exactly is going on…)

The only thing that suggests any condemnation of the IRA at any time before his leadership was an early day motion he signed in 1994 condemning the 1974 Birmingham bombing, but in fact, the motion does not actually mention the IRA by name, and demands the “cessation of violence by the paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland”; this is just yet another vague equivocation.

His own supporters claim he was fundamental to the peace process. One even places him at the crux of making the Good Friday Agreement work:

https://twitter.com/RedLeftAndy/status/867345006394257409

Let’s take that assertion as a given: why would someone who has “never met the IRA” be selected, out of all other MPs, to head this off? The answer is obvious: only if they had a pre-existing relationship of some kind.

Corbyn has since admitted meeting “convicted IRA terrorists” (Peston’s phrase not his) in the most stumbling, mumbling, “please-can-we-move-on” kind of way possible, but the original assertion is still making its rounds.

McDonnell and Abbott, his closest political associates, fare a lot more honestly in their declarations. McDonnell has a long history of praising the IRA, and as recently as 2003 said: “It’s about time we started honouring those people involved in the armed struggle. It was the bombs and bullets and sacrifice made by the likes of Bobby Sands that brought Britain to the negotiating table. The peace we have now is due to the action of the IRA. Because of the bravery of the IRA and people like Bobby Sands, we now have a peace process.” In 2015, he gave one of those non-apology apologies literally of the “If I gave offence” variety, but the aforementioned rhetoric stands for itself. Abbott made an even more unambiguous declaration back in 1984: “[Ireland] is our struggle — every defeat of the British state is a victory for all of us. A defeat in Northern Ireland would be a defeat indeed.” She may have had an “afro” back then (her bizarre self-defence), but her refusal to disavow her own words speaks for itself.

I don’t think Corbyn is completely stupid, nor are his supporters; they know the IRA has a toxic legacy that leaves even the most dye-the-wool Labour voter tasting bitterness. This explains both his recent denial and the Corbynite attempt to “ret-con” his IRA relationship (again, in spite of overwhelming evidence otherwise). Given everything, no amount of spin or retroactive (pseudo-)apologies will make this look any better. Trying to portray attending a commemoration for dead IRA operatives as some pathetic attempt to “call for a peace and dialogue” just will not cut it when it considered with everything else.

But in denying his links in the face of overwhelming evidence, he puts the final nail in the coffin for his supporters’ declarations of his limitless “honesty”, and a supposed progress through Corbynism towards a “kinder and gentler politics” that disavows the horrors of Blairite spin.

“…Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!

Nothing beside remains. Round the decay

Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare

The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

 

Final Thoughts

There are people who will read this and argue that I have somehow taken quotes ‘out of context’; however, the more and more context you give quote by quote, the more these people tend to either stretch or narrow meanings, split hairs, equivocate (as though that absolves the original remark), or will demand so much additional context that the entire extant history of the known universe will have to be provided, by which time their defendant has managed to get away scot-free. I have tried to be as fair to Corbyn as possible, I’ve cited all the relevant links, and please be my guest and read Corbyn’s original speech linked at the top and all the sources on offer.

Just for a moment, forget his past general relationship with terrorism: such an egregious dishonesty can only raise the question of how open and transparent a Corbyn government would actually be, or indeed how disingenuous and censorship happy it could get.

And to return to question of his overarching relationship to terrorism and his views on intervention: When Corbyn stands up and parrots a revised version of the same line he’s been pushing for decades, while demanding that we “do not doubt [his]determination to take whatever action is necessary to keep our country safe and to protect our people on our streets, in our towns and cities, at our borders”, I respond to him (and his followers): given everything you have said, both right now and in the past stretching back thirty-five years, why the hell should I or anybody else not doubt your word?

Hangover cure

By Jake Wilde

Professional commentators and columnists are obliged to take a broad, holistic view of the political landscape, to consider their audience and to write in such a way that connects with the thousands, maybe millions, who read their views. They can’t afford to be too narrow in their focus because there’s only so many politics trainspotters like me (and, if you’re reading this, you) out there.

I, by contrast, can be as niche as I please. I’ve​ written about subjects other than the Labour Party, but I don’t write about the Tories, the Liberals or the nationalists because I am not particularly interested in them and I wouldn’t consider voting for them. On the one hand that frees me to focus on the space usually and generally occupied by the broad church Labour Party. On the other there’s the risk that I view everything through this prism and I’m conscious of this flaw.

So when I look at this snap election I see it as only being about one thing – the state of the Labour Party. I know that it’s billed as being about strengthening May’s hand in Brexit negotiations, and about giving her, and her government, a mandate they arguably don’t possess, but I simply don’t think that’s true. However, and hence my preamble, I am aware that I might just be blinded by my perspective. That my focus on my niche has made me think that the only reason we’re having this election now is that 21 point lead in the polls. That May looks at those polls and thinks, “this is when politicians call elections and I have these plausible (Brexit & mandate) ‘reasons’ for doing so.” As John Rentoul wrote today “everyone knows that the purpose of this election is not to decide who will win, but how much she [May] will win by”.

I’ll explain why I think I’m right, and you can decide if I’m just confirming my own bias. For this election to be predominantly about Brexit two things would need to be true. Firstly there would have to be two different options on offer from the two potential governments. Are there? At this stage I’m not even sure there’s one option on offer. If the argument is about strengthening the PM’s hand, and not about collectively agreeing our aims and objectives, then we are being asked to sign a blank cheque. The only reason for such a request is the absence of any coherent alternative being offered by an alternative government. Thus the election is actually about the competency of the Labour Party and not about Brexit.

Secondly it would need to be the case that Parliament is the best place to articulate opposition to ‘bad Brexit’. Oliver Kamm wrote that it is acceptable to vote for individual Labour candidates who oppose Brexit (or possibly Brexit at any cost). This is based upon the theory that we need, after the election, the House of Commons to contain enough MPs prepared to challenge May’s desired hegemony. (And to break party discipline if necessary.) However it’s surely not sufficient just to challenge, that challenge also has to be effective. Yet only 114 of the current crop of parliamentarians voted against triggering Article 50, to precisely zero effect. I would suggest that greater challenge, to greater effect, has come from outside Parliament and this will become more, not less, important after a general election purporting to give an individual a mandate to pursue as yet unspecified outcomes. The battle against a bad Brexit won’t be won in Parliament – Corbyn has seen to that already.

Alternatively, if I’m right and this election is a referendum on the Labour Party above all else, it’s the chance for the moderates to call in the cavalry. The contention from the moderates has always been that the selectorate (those voting in the Labour leadership election) is different from the electorate. That people who normally vote Labour will simply not vote for this incarnation of the party. That nobody in the middle, those crucial swing voters, will swing as far left as Corbyn wants or needs them to. That Britons will burst the Corbynista bubble, decisively and clearly.

So this is why I argue that the scale of the defeat is the most important thing. It needs to be so overwhelming that the Corbynistas can rescue nothing from the ashes.

John Rentoul’s article today was about the next Labour leadership election, who might be candidates from the Corbynista faction and the numbers they’d need to stand. If the rejection of Corbynism is sufficiently​ great then that whole debate will return to being the sideshow is used to be, when it really didn’t matter who the far left chose. And frankly if the hopes of the moderates are based on preventing the far left from taking part in the competition then we ought to be planning for a split instead.

You know when you get so drunk that you have a hangover so bad that it makes you cry with pain, and you swear that you’ll never get that drunk again? But then, as time goes by, you forget the pain until one day there you are again, drinking like there’s no tomorrow, having forgotten the agony of the inevitable outcome. Labour have forgotten 1983 and are drinking hard right now. The electorate are guaranteed to give them a hangover but it needs to be one that the party never forgets.

Theresa May is only interested in capitalising on Labour’s drunkenness for her, and her party’s, benefit. And in the short term she’s right and she will indeed benefit. But there’s a way, an opportunity, to find some measure of victory for the opposition to May as well, beyond the Kammite rescue of individuals. As surely as Foot led to Blair, without that defeat in 1983 there wouldn’t have been 13 years of a Labour government. This election is about a Labour defeat in 2017, but it can also be the first step to a Labour victory.

Are some votes for Labour OK, but others not?

By Jake Wilde

I normally agree with Oliver Kamm’s views on pretty much everything and I have every sympathy with the argument he outlines in his article for CapX: “Corbyn leaves Labour voters with no good options”. It goes something like this – Corbyn is doing, and will continue to do, a terrible job of holding the Conservatives to account over Brexit; It’s important that the House of Commons contains some MPs capable of doing this and we should support these individuals; It’s a shame that some of them are Labour MPs but Brexit is more important than anything else. This is, as Oliver points out, the argument put forward by Tony Blair, “that voters should pick candidates from whichever party is prepared to hold the government to account over Brexit.”

The problem I have with this approach insofar as it relates to the Labour Party of 2017 is the same problem that I have with selective industrial action in the trade union movement. Selective action is the theory that bringing certain key sectors of workers out on strike will have a sufficient impact upon the dispute to render unnecessary the need for all workers to take strike action. So instead of everyone losing pay only those taking selective action do, possibly supported by contributions from those not taking strike action. The thinking is that those who wouldn’t otherwise vote for strike action would support this, as they are not the ones going on strike.

This theory is a crock.

For one the entire purpose of being in a union is to demonstrate that you are resolved to act as one. As soon as you start to give individuals an opt-out then it’s over. Once you have one group of workers doing everyone else’s dirty work for them you’re no longer presenting a united front. You’ve also handily identified to the employer which group of workers to either victimise or buy off, depending on their whim.

I contend that the same is true for the relationship between those of us on the centre left and the Labour Party. However much we may wish it there are not two Labour Parties. There is one, and it is led and controlled by the Corbynista faction. A vote for any Labour Party candidate on June 8 is a vote for that particular and peculiar incarnation of the Labour Party.

If you try to argue that a vote for individuals such as Oliver Kamm’s MP Meg Hillier, or other equally worthy people, should not count in the same way as a vote for Corbyn himself then you are deluding yourself. Indeed, as Oliver himself concedes, it’s only acceptable to vote for Labour under these circumstances if you are certain that Corbyn will “suffer crushing humiliation”. Yet of course every vote for Labour, whatever the circumstances behind its casting, is one vote further away from that crushing humiliation.

There is no opt-out in a party system. If you do not support the party for which a candidate is standing – and Oliver outlines eloquently as always why Labour should not be supported at this election – then you should not vote for them. For all the admirable personal qualities of individual candidates the vote you cast will be counted as a vote in favour of Corbyn’s Labour Party.

Oliver Kamm’s article was an attempt to give advice to people on the “moderate Left”, regular Labour voters who find themselves in a dilemma, and he acknowledges that none of the options are good ones. But by endorsing the principle of the opt-out it will leave an unclear but certainly overstated picture of the true level of support for Corbyn. How will we know how big the “moderate Left”, and thus the opposition to Corbyn, is if some vote Labour, some vote for other parties and some don’t vote at all?

This election is an opportunity to seize back control of the momentum on the left. It is an unexpectedly early chance to demonstrate to the far left the paucity of their popular support. That people do not “like Jeremy Corbyn but…”. That people will not vote for TUSC just because it has changed its name to something more familiar. That support for terrorism, despotism and illiberalism cannot just be shouted down with a megaphone. That nobody else beyond their end of the horseshoe wants what they offer, this blend of hate, envy and empty rhetoric. That we can see they have more in common with the far right than with the vast majority of those of us committed to liberal democracy, free speech and regulated markets.

This is the time to push back, united. To bring to an end the last two years where the voice of the centre left has been drowned out by the banshee screams of the far left. This can’t be achieved by taking selective action. It can only be achieved by being united in defeating Corbyn’s Labour Party at the ballot box and then, on 9 June, to rebuild from the ground up.

It is difficult. I know that. There are a considerable number of Labour MPs who deserve support. But my argument is that the time when they need that support is not now, but when they, as leaders of the centre left, start the rebuilding process. They do not need to be MPs to do that. We are already in the post-Corbyn era. This election, just as 2020 would have been, is lost to the Conservatives. But there can be a victory from it, and it can now come sooner than we originally thought. The people we admire, those currently in Parliament and those not, they can help to create the genuine opposition, grounded in the true principles of the Labour movement that Oliver Kamm rightly identifies that this country needs.

 

The Narcissistas

By Jake Wilde

You will certainly have an opinion about Donald Trump, perhaps the world’s most famous alleged narcissist, and most of us will have indulged in a bit of cod psychology to try and understand the extraordinary things he says and does.  I ask you to bear him in mind while I try and draw a comparison.

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, individuals with narcissistic personality disorder present most or all of the following symptoms:

  1. Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment from others
  2. Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.
  3. Self-perception of being unique, superior and associated with high-status people and institutions
  4. Needing constant admiration from others
  5. Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others
  6. Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain
  7. Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs
  8. Intensely envious of others and the belief that others are equally envious of them
  9. Pompous and arrogant demeanour

But what if these symptoms were the reflective of the character a whole political movement? A movement that seems simultaneously immune to and extraordinarily hurt by any form of criticism. A movement defined more by its own existence rather than any coherent set of beliefs. A movement where obvious homilies are passed off as fully formed policies. A movement that prides itself on being rebellious and anti-establishment but that demands unquestioning support and loyalty from all those associated with it.

Those of you familiar with the far left have long known that they hold their views as superior, both intellectually and morally. While it’s rare, even in these forgetful times, to hear somebody come out and openly propose Marxism as a way of running an economy, everyone on the left is supposed to be anti-capitalist, and if you’re not then best start running, dog. Capitalism is not merely a different method of economic organisation, it is evil, and any proponents of it, however reformist, are similarly satanic. I’m always dismayed when I see this kind of language taken up by otherwise sensible politicians; the resort to biblical notions of good and evil rather than engagement with alternative political ideas is the refuge of the dimwit. Even the most extreme ideas of left and right, ones that propose that it is acceptable to kill human beings, can be condemned without the need to imagine their proponents guided by hoof and horn.

One of the barriers to the grand dream of a broad, united left has always been the impossibility of agreeing on ideological questions. The far left enjoy nothing more than finding the point of difference between themselves, cracking it wide open and then having a good purge. What strikes me as different about Corbynism is the utter absence of ideology. The only common word in use is “socialism”, a catch-all that enables people from fundamentally opposed belief structures to share that same label.

The Corbynistas have thus far prevented splitting and purging and managed to cope with a slow dwindling as otherwise significant individuals, from commentators to economists, have begun to cash in their chips. They’ve done this by avoiding anything any more detailed than ten pledges that would achieve consensus on any parish council. But if they’re not bound by ideology then by what? Can it really be Jeremy Corbyn’s electric personality, his oratory skills, and his clear and inspiring leadership? Er, no.

I think the answer lies elsewhere, primarily in their attitude to others. From the very beginning the Corbynista movement has defined itself by contrast. That may be as a consequence of originating in an internal party leadership contest, where narrow differences between candidates are amplified (most people mistakenly thought the denunciations would stop after the election). Occasionally it has been mistaken for a pure personality cult – that Corbynism was all about Corbyn – and thus some thought that the removal of Corbyn would see it come to an end. But if you observe what Corbynistas, from Jeremy himself down to the lowliest troll, say then it is about the sheer belief that they are right and everyone else is wrong. In fact, in the view of the Corbynistas, some of their opponents are more than just wrong, they are malevolently so, and their intentions are accordingly wicked.

The Labour Party’s broad church principle meant that in the past the party leadership always made the effort to make the tent as wide as possible. By contrast Corbynistas have defined the boundary of the tent in a very limited way and you either join (in whole, not in part) or you are outside. There are no lessons to be learnt from anyone outside the tent, and any opposition to them is either malice or conspiracy. It can never be genuine as to admit that would be to admit that there might be more than one version of the truth. Here the Labour Party has been complicit, by allowing the myth to develop that the far left are the conscience of the party, the keepers of the flame of what Labour should be. The Corbynistas took that foolishness and exploited it.

And so, just like Donald Trump, the response is devastating hostility if you cross or criticise, if you ask awkward questions, if you challenge the racism or the sexism, or if you cast doubt on their true levels of support. Jeremy is “best leader Labour has ever had”, McDonnell is somehow “the People’s Chancellor” and the likes of Long-Bailey, Burgon and Rayner are inexplicably “rising stars”. And when a Corbynista is exposed to the disinfectant of sunlight the collective behave in exactly the same way as the individual narcissist – deflection, denial and whataboutery. This is narcissism – practiced by the collective in exactly the same way as by the individual.

Narcissus’ demise came, essentially by his own hand. Drawn to his reflection in a pool of water he gazed upon himself until he died, ignoring the real world around him, entranced and enchanted by his own reflection. He will have decayed before his own eyes, yet unable to see his decline. And so the same fate will befall the Narcissistas, as they become increasingly focussed upon their own reflection. It’s not too late to break free of them.

We are our choices

By Jake Wilde

Some of the choices that we are required to make in our lives are deeply important and the decision making that surrounds these significant choices is generally, and often rightly, a source of debate, argument, fractiousness and angst. Whether that choice is about Britain’s membership of the European Union or the direction of your own life then the impact of such a decision always falls upon more than just you alone.

Similarly whether the choice is who the leader of the Labour Party should be or, as will be required of 150 million Americans in a few days, who will be the most powerful person on the planet, these are real choices that affect the lives of millions of other people.

What interests me is the response to such a choice once it has been made. I’ll use the examples of the EU referendum and Labour leadership election, both of which have produced outcomes I personally didn’t want.

In the case of the vote to leave the EU there are those who wish the referendum to be re-run. Others genuinely want to ignore the result, and more still are trying to impart a layer of meaning not contained on the ballot paper, such as that it somehow excluded the principle of freedom of movement.

Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election as Labour leader, a year after being first elected, illustrates the folly of this thinking. One of the principal objections from Corbyn supporters to the 2016 election was that it was inherently undemocratic to even hold it. That to ask the same question a year after first asking it, and expecting a different outcome, was disrespectful to both the people who voted in 2015 but also to the underlying principles of democracy.

I think they had a point. If you make what you know is a significant decision then you are entitled to have that choice respected unless there’s a clear and demonstrable change of circumstances. The suggestion that people who voted to leave the EU, or for Jeremy Corbyn, didn’t know what they were doing, or were ‘mistaken’, has no place in democratic discourse. That extends to those who will vote for Donald Trump on 8 November. These are choices that people make, and they have weighed them in just the same way as those who choose differently.

We all know that a key part of any vibrant and successful democracy is the continuation of debate and discussion. But this must manifest itself in the form of finding new questions to ask, of accepting the decision that has been made and looking at how to move that debate, that discussion on. Otherwise you risk being no better than the rape apologists of the SWP, on the streets objecting to the outcome of free and fair parliamentary elections.

Here both the Remainers and the anti-Corbyners share a common problem. Both are stuck in wanting to replay the question until the ‘correct’ answer is given. In the case of Brexit the debate needs to quickly shift to how we mitigate the economic impact of ceasing to be a member of the EU, rather than in finding ways to pretend it’s not going to happen.

Similarly the anti-Corbyners need to be contemplating how to mitigate the worst effects of the Labour Party being led by Corbyn into a general election, and preparing for the inevitably much-changed environment on 8 May 2020.

The reason for this is because it is impossible for either the Remainers or the anti-Corbyners to persuade anybody beyond themselves of the merit of their arguments if they don’t accept the outcome of the original decisions. So in much the same way as Corbynistas are rightly ridiculed for not wishing to attract a single ‘Tory vote’ it is unsustainable for Remainers not to attempt to appeal to those who voted for Brexit.

Similarly those who support Corbyn do so for, from their perspective, good reasons. It’s doubtful that these include clear or firm policies other than being opposed to Trident and austerity so most who support Corbyn do so because he is their choice as a leader, albeit an unlikely (possibly accidental) one. So the uncomfortable truth is that the only way to counteract this is with an alternative leader. We all know that the reason for Labour’s success in the 90s was Tony Blair, not Blairism. We ought to admit that and set about finding the next one.

Here’s where there is a convergence between the two issues. The approach from the current Labour leadership is already clear; they will just regurgitate the Lexit arguments they secretly wanted to make during the referendum. This won’t help anyone, and it will have no impact upon the national discourse about the terms of Brexit. But there is room for an opposition politician to marshal the Remainers and make strong arguments that reach across the majority of voters who were not dogmatically fixed to a firmly held view: to find a Brexit to please Remainers.

It’s wrong to ask a question over and over because we don’t like the answer that we get, but more importantly it doesn’t address the world as it is, changed by the choice that people have made. We cannot avoid the consequences of significant choices and whether we agree with the outcome or not is, ultimately, irrelevant. Instead we must adapt to the new reality that exists, discover the next significant choice that must be made, and prepare for that. Because there is always a next one.

“Success supposes endeavour”

Thirteen months ago I wrote a short piece just ahead of the announcement of the result of the 2015 Labour Party leadership contest. The eve of the 2016 result seems like a good day to reflect on what has changed in that time.

You can read for yourself my warnings about what Corbyn’s supporters would try and do, of what the atmosphere in the party would be like (and the comments below the line on them) and decide how wide of the mark I was. The most important development though has been the fruition of my hope that there would be unity amongst the anti-Corbyn camps, and that has been shown throughout this year’s leadership campaign. It’s no secret that not all of us who oppose Corbyn would necessarily have started with a shortlist of Owen Smith and Angela Eagle, or chosen Smith as our candidate. Nor would anyone suggest that all of Smith’s policy proposals have been supported by those of us who oppose Corbyn. But what is important is that we have done what the Corbynistas have done, and unite around both the candidate and the cause.

The contrast with the 2015 contest couldn’t be starker and precisely demonstrates the approach that is required to win general elections. The competition to succeed Ed Miliband was partly a narrow ideological debate and partly a test of soppiness. What started as a ballot of how many of the party’s members supported the four identifiable strands of thought turned into a flood of desire to feel better about things. Corbyn won in part because the differences between Burnham’s soft leftism, Cooper’s Brownism and Kendall’s Blairism (none of those labels are particularly accurate) were indistinguishable by comparison to his simple anti-austerity message. But he also won because a large number of party members were fed up with being sensible about things and went with what felt nice.

In the late 1990s Tony Blair did not have the support of everyone in the Labour Party, but (nearly) everyone in the Labour Party was fed up with opposition and wanted to win the next general election. Members then also wanted to feel nice about things by actually being in power and recognised that uniting behind Tony Blair was the way to do it. In 2016 we have the odd situation where large sections of the party are either unfussed about winning the next general election or actively don’t want to. For while there are certainly Corbynistas who would rather retain their principles over gaining power there are also some of us who think that a Corbynista government would be extremely dangerous. In any event a significant number in the party, including the overwhelming majority of MPs, certainly don’t think that uniting behind Corbyn will win the election. I would go further and say that Labour has a better chance of overall success as a party in a general election if individual parliamentary candidates make it clear to their constituents that they oppose, or at least don’t particularly support, Corbyn.

My view hasn’t changed over what those of us who oppose Corbyn and his supporters need to do. We must hold our nerve and continue to expound the reasons why the electorate should choose to support a party led not by extremists like Corbyn and McDonnell, but by those who share the view that Labour is the party of work, of success, of growth, of modernity, of equality and of international democracy. I’ve argued in other articles about the need to draw a clear distinction between us and what Corbyn represents. We can articulate that difference within the party. MPs can articulate that difference in Parliament. And the next challenger for the leadership can articulate that difference in 2017. In 2016 the opposition to Corbyn has been able to unite people behind a broad coalition of views that includes soft left, Brownite, Blairite and even some Corbynite opinion, and behind a single candidate. In other words the Owen Smith campaign has, happily, proved that a broad church strategy is still possible.

 

 

 

Labour isn’t Europe’s biggest party

By Paul Canning

Reproduced by kind permission from the author’s original posting on his blog.

It is one of those little things that illustrates something bigger. For some time I have seen Twitter posts on Labour’s membership numbers claiming it is now the biggest political party in Europe.

labour europe

The oldest tweet saying this which I could find came from a nasty antisemitic account in January:

Some of these tweets, most notably from Momentum’s James Schnider, have described it as ‘biggest left of centre party’. Others have described it as ‘biggest party in Western Europe. But now this has progressed to a meme and I’ve had enough.

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This is not true, on several levels.

Wrong, spin, ignorant

The biggest political party in Europe is United Russia**, the ruling party in the Russian Federation, set up by Vladimir Putin in 2001. It’s membership (2013 figures) is over two million.

It is spin because in a first past the post (FPTP) system almost all left members of political parties are in one party, rather than in several. In the rest of Europe, the spectrum of views represented in UK Labour are covered by more than one party because they have various forms of proportional representation.  So the Social Democratic Party of Germany has around 450k members and Die Linke 60k and Alliance ’90/The Greens another 60k. Plus there are other smaller left parties.

I am not suggesting that all those members of other parties than Germany’s Social Democrats would join them under FPTP but that those numbers point to another problem with the ‘Europe’s largest party’ claim: the UK is coming off a very low base; proportionally most other European countries have higher memberships in general of political parties.

These are the most recent figures I could find (from 2013)*. As you can see, even with Labour’s membership growth the UK still has much lower numbers than most other countries.

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I could not find membership numbers for parties such as Greece’s Syriza but this graph suggests it would be high. Parties of the left in Italy have a membership total over half a million. Spain’s Podemos has around 450k members in a country 70% the size of the UK. Proportionally Podemos is as big as UK Labour and there are another 190,000 Social Democrats.

The election for UK’s Labour’s Leader also has a paltry participation rate compared to elsewhere. In the 2011 French Socialist Party presidential primary around 2,700,000 voters participated in the first round, and 2,900,000 voters in the second – a fact which beggars the question what the outcome would be if a similar democratic event were to happen in UK Labour.

Wake up call

What these facts highlight the most – and this is how a little thing can illustrate something bigger – is the con job behind this spin from Corbyn supporters, led by Momentum. Namely that even if you are ‘Europe’s biggest party’ it does not matter how many members your party has, what matters is how many people will vote for you. The experience of other European parties tells us this. As they dare cite Europe they simultaneously ignore Europe.

One could add (because rally size is often cited alongside membership by Corbyn supporters) that it does not matter how many people you get to your rallies either – have you seen the scale of some of the rallies for European left wing parties?

This is a rally of tens of thousands for Spain’s Podemos two months ago. They went on to lose the election to Spain’s conservatives and got 21% of the vote.

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*Another paper showing figures up to 2008 from across Europe.

** It has been pointed out to me (cheers Roger McCarthy) that Turkey is also in Europe, including a huge amount of its largest city, Istanbul.  As of May 2008, the Justice and Development Party (AKP) reportedly had 3,688,761 members.

 

Editor’s postscript: Since Paul published his article Jeremy Corbyn seems to have stopped making his false claim. Let us know if you know otherwise.