Spectator 18 August 2015
I suppose I’d insult Jeremy Corbyn if I compared him to an American. Jews (sorry ‘Zionists’) and Ukrainians rank high in the far-left’s demonology. But Corbyn and his comrades agree that Americans are the worst.
So I should say that I mean no offence when I point out that ‘if Corbyn were American’ his campaign for the leadership of the Labour Party would make sense. In the United States, or any other presidential democracy, the winner of a party’s nomination selects his or her team from among their supporters. If they win power, they appoint their own cabinet. The executive and legislature are separate. Whatever deals they must cut with their senates or parliaments, the membership of their administration is ultimately their concern.
Hardly anyone voting for the next Labour leader appears to notice or care that Britain is a parliamentary democracy, where prospective leaders have to rely on the support of their colleagues in the parliamentary party.
I have not heard one Labour voter say that they are not voting for Corbyn because only two dozen members of the Parliamentary Labour Party wants him as leader. Labour voters are bringing a presidential mentality to a parliamentary system, and a thoroughly modern form of consumerism as well.
They want their identities validated, their preferences registered without compromise or caveat. And If Corbyn can do it, why should they care about his colleagues in Westminster. The headline on a piece by the left-wing writer Ian Martin in the Guardian said it all:
Public opinion does not matter in the Labour leadership election. I am following my conscience and Jeremy Corbyn.
Well, that type of me-generation narcissism will keep the Tories in power until 2025, I thought as I read it. Politics is, or to my mind ought to be, about compromising and building alliances that can win power. But then I reflected that people like Martin don’t compromise in the books they read, the world music they listen to, the organic food they eat, and the craft beers they drink, and nor do I. The niche markets of modern consumerism give them a million ways to follow their conscience and reject the tastes of the masses. Why shouldn’t they do it with their politics, which matter more than all of the above?
The more so when the Parliamentary Labour Party seems so contemptibly weak. Once it was the king maker. Labour rules recognised the logic of parliamentary democracy and said that if a leader could not lead without the support of MPs, only MPs could choose him – and it always has been a ‘him’ in Labour’s case, and from the look of it always will be a him in future.
In 1981 MPs’ power was constrained. An electoral college chose Labour’s leader. MPs (along with MEPs) still had one third of the votes, however – a diminished role, but still a significant one. Now thanks to Ed Miliband’s parting curse on the Labour Party, a Labour MP has the same number of votes as a delighted Tory who has paid £3 to back Corbyn and consign the party to permanent opposition, which is to say one.
John McTernan, the former Blair aide, who described the Labour MPs who lent Corbyn their vote, as ‘morons’ was being kind. The moment they decided to back Corbyn because they wanted to ‘widen the debate’,’ rather than because they shared his beliefs, they threw away their last power. In a gesture of craven self-abasement they said in effect that it no longer mattered whether a significant number of MPs supported a future leader. The fate of the parliamentary party was no longer the concern of the parliamentary party.
If the polls are right, they are about to reap the whirlwind. We will have a leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party who commands the genuine support of a mere 20 or so MPs.
It can’t last. Either the Parliamentary Labour Party will have to change or Corbyn will have to go. Something will have to give. Someone will have to be purged. And I am not at all sure it will be Corbyn.
Westminster correspondents are talking of counter revolutions and coups; of Labour MPs going underground and fighting like the French Resistance. Maybe. But you cannot just throw out a leader who has been democratically elected. Beyond that constitutional nicety there are more substantial reasons to wonder whether Labour MPs will be heroes of the resistance or victims of the new regime.
Labour is changing beyond recognition
Corbyn is at the head of a movement that is transforming Labour politics. Labour now has 610,753 members, supporters and affiliates. Full membership of the Labour Party has gone from 176,891 members in 2007, to 299,755 today.
As Michael Harris of the Little Atoms website says, the mainstream media sees what is happening but does not understand it:
‘There is a new left-wing political party in Britain. It may carry the name “Labour”, the blandly fonted red logo and a set of MPs, many of whom were elected while Tony Blair was Prime Minister, but this is not the Labour party you know. For decades, the British left has fantasised about creating a new political movement – well, it’s happened and will transform British politics for a generation’.