Blowback and Labour’s civil war

26 Jul
This post also features on offGuardian – a much needed antidote to the  rightward drift of once liberal media

Millionaire Labour donor Michael Foster wants to reverse the NEC decision and seeks a [high court] declaration that, under Labour party rules, Corbyn must obtain the requisite number of nominations before his name can appear on the ballot. Guardian, July 26.

I’m no fan of taking it to the wire – on my sixty-fourth spin round the sun I’ve the old ticker to think about – but here’s my fantasy: Mr Justice Foskett does rule against Corbyn and the world cries foul but he gets the fifty-one nominations and wins by a bigger margin than in September. Sweet or what? OK, I did say fantasy. For the sake of my six hours a night I want to see Foskett kick that suit into the Mariana Trench but there’s nowt surer to put a smile on the lips of simple Yorkshire folk like me than a spot of schadenfreude. All the better when pratfall takes the form of blowback.

Hoist by one’s own petard, the bard would say, but now we speak of blowbacktruly a term for our times. Like spin doctor, I first happened on it in the context of a Campbell machine so successful it was taken as read, even before Iraq, that if info came by way of No.Ten or Camp Campbell you took it with ladles of salt and a peppering of grudging admiration.

But that was then and now is now. Blair-Campbell blowback came from success, while that felt by today’s PLP rebels and party grandees is a boomerang propelled by panic. Let’s take stock. With hindsight, and neat work from the Canary, we know the coup against Corbyn was long in the making. What at the time seemed cynical opportunism – like the merging of Get Corbyn with Bomb Syria, and then with Gag anti-Zionists – now looks not only to have been more planned than first met the eye, but precursor to that chain of shadow cabinet resignations timed to the minute for media impact and maximum psychological pressure on a man whose mettle the plotters had sorely misread. And coups, as Turks will tell you, must not fail or stall lest they generate gale strength blowback. Did Labour ever look less dignified, rebels less attractive – even to their natural sympathisers?

Enter the hapless Angela Eagle, hat thrown into ring on the firm understanding the NEC would rule that an incumbent leader facing challenge must, like the challengers, secure nominations from twenty percent of the PLP. It didn’t, and she never recovered. But before she folded we had the tears (and not just hers: you could smell the onions up in Bridlington) … the sexing up of bricks hurled and meetings cancelled ‘due to bullying’ (a lie that might have stuck had the venue owners not promptly contradicted it) … not to forget the shameless playing on gender, social class and even (what – you thought pink was an aesthetic choice?) sexual orientation. Upshot? One kingsize turn off for Joe and Judy Public.

Meanwhile the grandees were doing their bit. Blair confided to the Graun last August that he “does not fully understand the forces stoking Corbynmania” – which says it all but, to be fair, neither does the Graun*. Lord Seriously Relaxed’s interventions fared no better, ditto those of Jack Get-You-Influence Straw. Then on Saturday my fellow Sheffielder David Blunkett, who twice had to leave Blair’s cabinet for malfeasance (that’s abuse of office to me and thee), chose the day Corbyn opened his campaign to rail against the man’s “fanatical supporters”. It’s a testament to Blunkett’s zeal on this front that for once he was penning not for the Mail, his organ of preference, but the rather less munificent Observer.

And let’s not forget the passive-aggressive antics of an NEC which giveth and which taketh away. Having shrunk back – in an act of rare aggregate wisdom Michael Foster is now doing his deep pocketed best to overturn – from an interpetation of the rules that would make Corbyn a challenger to his own leadership, it compensated in a way that in any other context would be amusing for its comic book villainy. After Jez and two supporters left that NEC meeting, those remaining voted on an item not on the agenda: the already infamous six months or pony up rule. Should the human race survive that long – a prognosis helped neither by Trident nor the precarity of US warheads at İncirlik as Turkey re-evaluates its friend and foes – diligent history undergraduates a hundred years hence may earn brownies by working this titbit into essays on “Factors contributing to the Labour Party Split, 2015-17”.

(But with a little help from crowdfunding friends, two can play the litigation game. Foster’s not the only one taking a grievance to court this week. 6 months or £25 may itself be unlawful.)

Have I missed anything? Undoubtedly. Do fill in the gaps with your own instantiations of dirty stunts pulled by and for “New” Labour in its war on Jeremy Corbyn. But my point is that such tricks are, for those who stooped to use them, dangerous as well as dirty. Blowback is real and anecdotal evidence on social media suggests they are proving double edged – disgusting people well beyond Corbyn’s or even Labour’s natural support base. So why use them? In the end, and for all the smokescreening and smart-arsing, the answer to such a question is always simple: desperation; the panic tinged recognition that all other options are closed.

* The ferocious media bias against Corbyn has itself generated a degree of blowback, in particular for a Guardian with many readers dismayed by its coverage. Media bias is not the subject of this post but for those interested I recommend a recent LSE report whose foreword contains this:
Our analysis shows that Corbyn was thoroughly delegitimised as a political actor from the moment he became a prominent candidate and even more so after he was elected as party leader, with a strong mandate. This process of delegitimisation occurred in several ways: 1) through lack of or distortion of voice; 2) through ridicule, scorn and personal attacks; and 3) through association, mainly with terrorism.
All this raises, in our view, a number of pressing ethical questions regarding the role of the media in a democracy. Certainly, democracies need media to challenge power and offer robust debate, but when this transgresses into an antagonism that undermines legitimate political voices that dare to contest the current status quo, then it is not democracy that is served.
LSE study: Journalistic Representations of Jeremy Corbyn in the British Press. Available here.


2 Replies to “Blowback and Labour’s civil war

  1. The biggest blowback is yet to come. After the best part of a year of poisoness media briefings, plots, a rolling coup, lies which crumble before your eyes, public disenfranchisement of members and clear gerrymandering, there is more chance of Hannibal Lector turning vegan than the ABC masonic cabal finding a sufficient number of the wider electorate willing to trust them with the democracy of this country after seeing them playing fast and loose with their own Party democracy.

    Their disdainful ‘you’ve nowhere else to go’ attitude to their own traditional base has lost them Scotland (where interestingly of the current Party leaders Scottish Labour voters believe May is doing the best job by a country mile – ), and has largely been responsible for large areas of traditional Labour voters swinging behind a leave vote in the EU referendum. Our own former SRSY being a case in point where even after a billion pounds of EU Objective One regeneration money was pumped into the area at the turn of the century the GDP per head remained below that of Greece only until the Greek crisis erupted in 2011.

    Even if the gerrymandering succeeds these people are unelectable. No one is going to trust them after the behavior they have exhibited. The point is, they know this. They would rather have Tory policies and ideas running the Country than see genuine progressive change.

    • There’s no question that many Labour MPs would rather see a Tory government than a Corbyn led one. They do have form on this, as in 1987 when Frank Field urged Wallasey to vote for Tory Lynda Chalker rather than left Labour’s Lol Duffy.

      I agree with you also on that “you’ve nowhere else to go” attitude. I think Blair actually said as much but as you point out, there are several options for the old heartlands, most obviously SNP and UKIP. Equally backward looking is the assumption that a “unifying leader” would be able to recapture both the centre ground and the old heartlands. I’m pretty sure that Blair’s wins, each on a reduced majority, can’t be repeated by anyone – left or right of the party and no matter how talented or charismatic. The demographic fault lines in Britain (and other ageing western democracies) no longer support a two party system. I’m not even sure they support democracy any more.

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