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Wednesday, November 18, 2015 

Idiot(s) with a cause.

Ken Livingstone is a prat.

He is also, sadly, about the only person who can be relied upon to defend Jeremy Corbyn in the media.  That he invariably in doing so says something daft that further riles the Anyone But Corbyn ranks makes the venture pointless, but so it goes.  If he genuinely didn't know that Kevan Jones had gone public with his battles with depression, then it's odd his remarks were so pointed and specific.  He didn't merely say Jones should consider psychiatric treatment, or that he was mad, rather that he should seek help from his GP for depression.

After a couple of hours of equivocation and no doubt after being told to make a proper apology by Corbyn's office, sorry did stop being the hardest word.  Ken's remarks were unquestionably offensive, prejudiced and stupid, but the idea he owes everyone else offended an apology is a nonsense politics needs less of.

Appointing Ken to the party's review of defence as co-chair with Maria Eagle was itself a provocation, albeit one with a point.  If any further evidence was needed that a sizeable number in the party are prepared to do everything other than declare open mutiny with the leadership, then yesterday's performance in the Commons was the final confirmation.  It wasn't just Ian Austin, Emma Reynolds, Chris Leslie and Ann Coffey who all expressed sentiments clearly directed at Corbyn, there was also Pat McFadden, shadow minister for Europe.  He asked the prime minister to "reject the view that sees terrorist acts as always being a response or a reaction to what we in the west do".  Cameron duly obliged, praising McFadden's "moral and intellectual clarity".  As opposed to Corbyn, who wasn't even sure if the police should be shooting dead "genocidal fascists", to quote another Labour MP, Ben Bradshaw.

There isn't much Corbyn can realistically do in response to such challenges to his authority, other than put the few supporters and sympathisers he does have into positions where they can temper the policies of his opponents or if nothing else stare them down.  Parachuting in Ken, as dumb and self-defeating as such a move is, still makes a kind of sense.  After Maria Eagle all but agreed with General Sir Nicholas Houghton on Andrew Marr, Corbyn read the riot act to the shadow cabinet, as he had every right to.  It's one thing to brief journalists or have disagreements in public, both of which are on-going; it's quite another to have your defence secretary all but accept her leader is a threat to national security as he won't incinerate everyone should the balloon go up.  As is obvious, Corbyn's attempt to restore something approaching order has been ignored, as his opponents seem to have decided that if their leader won't sign up for mutually assured destruction, they'll take the party down with them anyway.

This clearly cannot go on.  If anything, David Cameron today went easy on Corbyn at PMQs for the reason that the opposition leader's real enemies are all seated behind him, a situation he can no doubt empathise with.  He didn't as much as mention the Ken farrago because he didn't need to, leaving a final comment on "shoot to kill" for the last answer instead.

If the point has already been reached where any slim confidence some Labour MPs had in Corbyn has gone, then they should make that clear.  They're fully entitled to take the view that as Corbyn was a serial rebel they can do and say whatever they like, but they ought to reflect on the damage it is doing and will do to Labour as a whole.  Atul Hatwal, despite advocating the exact same steps as his paranoid colleagues accuse Momentum of planning, is right there is no unifying alternative to Corbyn and not the slightest appetite for any move as yet.

Should a majority in the PLP really want to get rid of Corbyn, then they have to box a lot cleverer than they have so far.  Criticising their leader in parliament, to their journalist pals and over such idiotic things is not going to win them any new friends, and only encourage the keyboard jockeys like me to call them out.  Instead, let Corbyn do their work for them: many more interviews as catastrophic as the ones on Monday, if not necessarily for the reasons they believe, and it will become ever more apparent that he isn't improving as he should be.  Rather than plotting in public and complaining about Corbyn supporters daring to criticise them, they need to get organised, coalesce around an alternative who can appeal to both left and right and start the process of preparing the ground.  At the moment all they're doing is putting the equivalent of two fingers up to the 60% who voted for Corbyn, and no amount of sneering at the "selectorate" is going to make their actions more palatable.

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