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Thursday, August 13, 2015 

The road to Jeremy.

"There is something fascinating about watching a party wrestle with its soul."  So goes Tony Blair's explanation as to why Jeremy Corbyn's campaign has "sparked interest".  What Blair really thinks is far clearer: this isn't just people rubbernecking, who don't want to look at an accident but can't find the willpower not to, but the actions of those whose first instinct is to reach for their smartphone and "join in".  To Blair and the still true believing Blairites, Corbyn doesn't so much as offer creative destruction, but just destruction: everything they achieved is under threat.  To them, the reason Labour lost the last two elections is because Gordon and Ed abandoned their "values", didn't remain that "radical centre".  Everything else that's happened since Blair stepped down is irrelevant.

As has already been pointed out approximately 392 million times, the lack of self-awareness is quite extraordinary.  It doesn't seem to occur to Blair that perhaps, just perhaps, the decisions he took while leader might have something to do with Labour's predicament now.  For argument's sake, let's dispense with the Iraq war, the way you can only push a party around for so long by arguing the only way to win is through triangulation, with the constant taking on of your own backbenchers, and accept the Blair argument that while not perfect, he left the party in a good shape.

The fact is he didn't.  The TB-GBs, the infighting, the broken promises, they left a party that while never united in its history, and has as the left is wont to do, often accused its leaders of selling out, substantially weakened.  Moreover, Blair and Brown had dominated the party for so long that once the pair themselves were out of the way, it left the crop of leadership candidates we saw in 2010 to pick up the pieces.  The Blairites had always thought themselves far more talented than they were in actuality, as could not be more evidenced by Hazel Blears and John Reid to name but the two most egregious examples.  Not that Brown's acolytes were much better on the whole, but give me Ed Balls over almost any of the now vastly diminished gang of Blair groupies any day.  Brown's election or rather ascension was swiftly followed by the spitting out of the dummy by such leading lights as James Purnell, now of course of the BBC.  Fact was that Labour was doomed by the crash, anyway; how different things might have been had Brown had the courage to call that early election, and ignore the polls suggesting he would only scrape back in.

This process was then repeated following Ed Miliband's election.  It was David's birthright!  Ed stabbed him in the back!  Ed's a hopeless loser!  And who knows, maybe, just maybe a David Miliband-led party would have performed slightly better.  Rather than wait for a second opportunity though, or hell, even stop sulking and do his darnedest to help his brother out, Dave fucked off to New York, and with him went the Blairites' last realistic hope.  Leaving who?  Chuka Umunna, who couldn't so much as handle the slightest amount of press intrusion that Ed dealt with and fought back against from the start?  Liz Kendall, who bless her is trying but hasn't worked out you can't just deliver insults and lectures and expect a depressed yet still hopeful party will snap back into line?  Rachel Reeves, who makes Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson look interesting, and in any case has now hitched her wagon to the Burnham train?  Speaking of whom, isn't it indicative that excluding Corbyn, the two other candidates either ran previously and came second from last, or are the partner of someone also rejected?  Isn't that perhaps an insight into just why someone as unelectable, as backwards, as old school as Corbyn has reached the parts they haven't?

No, it's not their fault.  At the very heart of the modern Labour party is a contradiction: it claims to be the people's party, to represent those from all walks of life, and yet when those very same people decide they would like to vote for the next leader, the reaction is one of horror and paranoia.  It surely ought to occur that only a tiny number of the 121,000 who have registered as supporters can be Trots or Tories, and that for a party that lost so badly to have signed up that number in such a short space of time, not to include those who've done so through their union, is something really quite special.  To end up with an electorate of over 600,000 gives the lie to the idea that mass party membership isn't possible in the 21st century.  It ought to be embraced, celebrated.  The number will without doubt fall back significantly, but it still means that a huge number of people in this country are looking to the Labour party, not to any other organisation, grouplet or flash in the pan activist group to lead the opposition to the Conservatives.

And yet to Blair and indeed the other three candidates this feat apparently equals annihilation.  It would of course be wrong to extrapolate from the mass sign up that the country at large is crying out for an alternative; if it were, more would have voted for Ed.  It hardly though suggests Labour is anywhere near finished, unless that is Labour itself it is out of pure spite.  The situation reminds of fans of a band that stop liking their previously favourite group once it hits the mainstream, regardless of whether or not they adapted themselves to do so.  When Labour had the 400,000 or so members it did at the height of Blairism, that was great, fantastic.  When they sign up to vote Corbyn, although that again is to surmise, the sky is about to fall.

As is no doubt clear by my fluttering of eyelashes in the direction of Kendall, I'm not Corbyn's biggest fan.  There's nothing spectacularly wrong with any of his policies, but then neither is there anything spectacularly right with them, or rather there's no reason why they should be priorities.  I quite like the idea of renationalising the railways by taking them back into state control as the current franchises expire, but when like it or not money is so tight should it be a leading pledge?  The same goes for abolishing tuition fees, which again is a wonderful, progressive policy, just one that perplexes me by how it continues to be proposed when we know just how screwed any party will be that fails to live up to the promise.  Compare them though with what's on offer from the other three, with only Kendall offering substantially anything different, and nearly always for the worse, and it's little wonder why a left-wing party has decided that if it's going to lose, it might as well lose by being genuinely left-wing.  Why carry on waltzing into George Osborne's bear traps if it won't alter the end result?

This is to fall into the belief that Corbyn is completely unelectable, admittedly.  A lot can happen in 5 years, and Blair's line in his article that the public would turn on the party for its self-indulgence is nonsense.  A Corbyn led Labour party would be many things, but not providing active opposition is hardly something it could be accused of.  The obsession with being a party of government at all times, when Labour cannot be a party of government unless the Tories lose their slight majority for 5 years is completely bizarre.  There is not the slightest recognition that Labour's victory in 2005 with 35% of the vote was no more sustainable than Tories' win with 36% this time will be.  Ed Miliband won more votes in England than Blair did in 2005, it should be pointed out.

The last roll of the dice it seems is to Yvette Cooper.  Liz Kendall is too far behind, Andy Burnham can't be trusted as far as he can be thrown, so it falls to the candidate that has said the least, has the least personality and hoped to swing it on the basis of 2nd choice votes from Corbyn supporters to carry the banner of the sensible.  Considering just how boring David Cameron is, in some ways Cooper would certainly be a worthy competitor: if that's what the British public likes most about their leaders at this point in history, then carry on.  According to the Graun though the next leader must take on "the desiccated condition of the Labour establishment", the same Labour establishment that Cooper has finally embraced with her attack on Corbyn.  I can't help but think that either Burnham or Kendall would be more capable of that task, of "harnessing young people's passion", and am frankly bemused by the sudden upswing in support for someone who has always seemed up to now an also-ran, achieving high office without ever having done anything to distinguish themselves.  Which might just have something to do with it.

In any case, you suspect it's all been left too late.  Rather than try and engage Corbyn supporters as soon as it became clear he was making headway, the approach has been to either insult him or them, or hope that by sort of agreeing with him while also sort of not that everyone would see how radical and sensible they were at the same time.  As ought to have been lesson from the Lib Dem collapse, from the nigh on 4 million votes for UKIP, it doesn't work like that anymore.  Nor are they going to take of notice of those who claim that political parochialism is a result of the crash, rather than the foreign policy disasters supported by the same people who keep on saying no you can't, and who then go on to quote the Hamas charter as to why Jeremy Corbyn while not personally an anti-semite, does stand in close proximity to them.  A Corbyn leadership might not last long, it probably won't trouble the Tories in the slightest, but Labour had better started getting used to the idea sharpish.  Hell, it could even look at precisely how it got here, take some responsibility, and make the best of it.

Yeah, right.

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