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Wednesday, January 06, 2016 

Do they have an aim other than MAD?

It apparently takes a Labour reshuffle to fully highlight the deficiencies of the new journalism.  Live blogs, tweeting, rather than add to insight they provide the opposite, keeping hacks from doing what they normally would have done, which is actually talk to the people involved.  We had nigh on two days of no one having the slightest idea what was happening, whether anything even was happening, and not all of that can be blamed on the slowness of Jeremy Corbyn making his decisions.  This piece by Chris Mason rather sums it up: it's not entirely fair to pick solely on him or the BBC for this, but reading it anyone would think we're more interested in his experience of the reshuffle as a reporter rather than what happened and what it means.  Instead it was left to Paul Waugh, of the otherwise execrable Huffington Post, to finally throw some light on proceedings this morning.

Whether Waugh's account can be relied on fully is unclear, as reading between the lines it seems to be informed directly by both Hilary Benn and Corbyn, or at least someone on Corbyn's team.  Contrary to all the speculation, Benn's position was never so much as threatened by Corbyn, nor has there been any grand deal between the two whereby Benn has been "muzzled".  Apparently agreed instead was Benn will not go out of his way to pick any fights, with Corbyn having overall control of foreign policy direction.  The discussions and reshuffle itself took so long as both men wanted to sleep on what they had talked about, only to find themselves tied up most of yesterday by urgent questions in the House.

As said, whether you believe all that is up to you.  Whether it always was the case the likes of Seumas Milne and others by Corbyn's side were arguing for him to dump Benn and briefing that to hacks, while Corbyn himself had not made up his mind or had no intention of doing so, we don't know.  Equally, we don't know whether Corbyn was persuaded against moving Benn by the potential for a mass shadow cabinet walkout, or if it was just another reason as to why he was always going to ignore the advice given him.

Certainly unhelpful to the arguments of the sacked Michael Dugher and others within Labour that this all links back to briefing by Milne or others within the Corbyn team though is Andrew Sparrow's assessment.  He denies he received any lobbying from the Corbyn team about "revenge reshuffles", while acknowledging there was always a plan for some sort of move in the new year.  Indeed, he points to the first major article talking of a "revenge reshuffle" originating in the Observer at the beginning of December, where the sources for the piece were clearly those "fearing" just such a move.

Enough anyway with the surmising.  The end result of the reshuffle is two shadow ministers sacked, and the shadow defence secretary moved sideways to fill the gap left at culture with Dugher gone. In other words, more shadow ministers have resigned over the party leader having the audacity to you know, act like a leader, than were dispensed with by the leader.  No one can decide whether this is weakness, strength, Corbyn attempting to take control of party policy or in fact still being too hapless to do so, or whether it matters in the long term.  We have nonetheless had the usual apocalyptic warnings of how all this means Labour is doomed to defeat, how Dugher, Pat McFadden and Kevan Jones were the finest of their generation, and so on.

What really offends is the disingenuousness, the outright obtuse behaviour of McFadden and his allies.  How could you possibly object to what I said, he wailed, along with Ian Austin, Liz Kendall, et al.  Yes, how could Corbyn possibly have thought McFadden's question to Cameron during the debate on the Paris attacks was directed at him?  After all, McFadden was merely asking 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".  He only asked the question despite a certain Ian Austin making almost exactly the same point, despite others on the right of the party also standing up during that session and all but saying Corbyn was a dangerous lunatic, who in the words of Ben Bradshaw wasn't so much as sure if he'd "shoot dead genocidal fascists".

Context is everything, which is precisely what McFadden and the others don't want to consider or discuss.  McFadden is perfectly entitled to criticise Corbyn for his views on foreign policy; when however he did so in the Commons, and at the same time as others in the PLP all but declared open mutiny, then to feign surprise when it finally catches up him with him is facetiousness of the lowest order.  McFadden was making a straw man argument of the kind that led directly to Cameron deciding he could get away with calling Corbyn a "terrorist sympathiser".  It would also matter less if McFadden's rhetorical flourish was as compelling as he thinks it is.  The attacks in Paris were obviously not the West's fault, and the responsibility does solely lie with the terrorists responsible.  It is not to infantilise those responsible however to make the argument, as Corbyn did, that the past 14, soon to be 15 years of war have far from making us safer and the Middle East a better place had the opposite effect.  Agree with it or not, it's an entirely permissible view which is not to blame victims or do any of the other scandalous things those so disgusted by Corbyn's consistent view on foreign policy insist it implies.

Besides, McFadden can hardly say he wasn't warned.  Corbyn made clear to the shadow cabinet after Maria Eagle all but agreed with the Tories' tame general on Trident that he wanted an end to the disagreements in public.  In turn, Corbyn has removed the two ministers who most egregiously flouted that request, and shifted the minister who made him issue it in the first place.  Who here is being unreasonable exactly?  Let's remember how brutal Ed Miliband was with Emily Thornberry over her "snobbery" tweet, the kind of over-the-top act of media management which most agree turns ordinary people off from politics.  Few at the time stood up and said hang on, this is ridiculous and downright silly. They went along with it.  Now, when a shadow minister who implied his own leader had to readjust his entire world-view in a question to the prime minister no less is sacked, we have others who resign in protest, calling it "vindictive".

Which poses the question, what exactly do these Jonathan Reynolds, these Stephen Doughtys, these Kevan Joneses and all the rest think they are achieving by resigning to inflict the maximum damage possible, by carrying on the briefings, by making accusations that can't be substantiated, by doing interviews with more than sympathetic hacks, delighted that the feuding continues?  Do they really believe it will help Labour in the long term?  Do they genuinely think it will lead to Corbyn being deposed sooner rather than later?  Do they honestly imagine the Labour membership will realise their mistake and elect someone more to their liking should they succeed?

Let's put it this way.  I joined Labour as a registered member and voted for Liz Kendall.  I don't in my heart of hearts believe Corbyn can possibly win in 2020.  I think his performance in general has been barely adequate so far, and both he and his wider team have been woeful at the times they needed to radiate strength.  I thought I'd reached the point with the stupidity of the McDonnell Little Red Book stunt and the fact the party barely responded at all to the autumn statement/spending review where I couldn't really defend Corbyn and co any more.  The histrionics over the Syria vote, the obsession with Stop the War, which as we've seen today is still going on, the contempt for those daring to lobby Labour MPs over said vote, and now the reaction to what is the most meagre of reshuffles imaginable, it makes me, far from a "Corbynista", want to go on giving him the benefit of the doubt.  Not least when there is still no alternative and those on the opposing side are so petty, so intractable, so fatuous.  If that's what I think, what do the "Corbynistas", what does the wider membership, what does the public?  It's reached the point where some genuinely want their party to fail, imagining that by bringing it down, through the equivalent of mutually assured destruction if necessary, the party will be better off in the long run.  It won't.  Stop believing it will.

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It was especially funny that, back in 2015 when McFadden made his comments, everyone said that it was a clear attack on Corbyn.

Now, in 2016, all those same people are saying something along the lines of 'how could anyone have interpreted that as an attack on Corbyn? I'm shocked, shocked!'

And yet these people are still the ones viewed as intellectual titans who would be able to triangulate their way to victory in a general election...

As usual an excellent post.

I think Flying Rodent said after Corbyn's election, that the wailing and frothing at the mouth would have to subside as it's impossible to go any further on the "bat-shit crazyometer". But they have.

I have to ask if they are actually conscious of what they are doing? Do they actually believe that perpetuating the infighting is the best thing to do, because it's exactly what the press and the Conservatives want: Infighting and tantrums that destroy any credibility of being a serious party of government. It's one of the reasons why (forgive me) Tony Blair wasn't seen as a threat back in 97. Compared to the paralysis faced by John Major's government, Blair gave the appearance of competence, that he was a safe pair of hands.

They can't seriously think that these amateur dramatics are for the best can? Can they?

I think we're beyond the point where it's possible to discern what they think is for the best. When it's writers from the right-wing press that are defending Corbyn, like Tim Stanley here, you'd think they might step back for a moment and reconsider. But they seem set on whatever it is they think they're achieving.

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