The unwanted dinner guest: why Corbyn is bad news for Labour

by Kenny Stevenson

We’ve all been there. The family functions with that one relative who can’t handle a drink. The staff parties where the co-worker everyone hates turns up. The pub trips with friends where a killjoy won’t stay out past 12.

The clan or team or squad often run preceding debates centred on the question:  should we invite them? But the Yes side – a coalition of the accused’s counsel and do-gooders too nice to defy the whip – always wins. Nothing ever changes. All post-party analyses are the same – we won’t invite them next time. And so the shit-night-out cycle continues.

So on Monday, when MPs acquiesced and invited Jeremy Corbyn to take a place on the leadership ballot, Labour’s refusal to repel the party’s far-left dragged on.

It took them to the final moments, but Yes to Corbyn managed to muster an alliance to get their man on the panel. Corbyn is not without ardent backers. Owen Jones, the most popular left-wing blogger in the country, backs him and argued a Corbyn-free ballot would have denied the party and country ‘a genuine debate’. He also enjoys enthusiastic support among his peers – Dennis Skinner and Diane Abbott among the most prolific.

But there were also plenty of do-gooders like Sadiq Khan, Emily Thornberry and David Lammy who could not bring themselves exclude Corbyn, despite having no intention of supporting his leadership bid.

I’m being a bit mean by caricaturing Corbyn as an unwanted dinner guest. The man has given his life to the labour movement, spent over 30 years as an MP (and is a thoroughly good one, as I understand it) and is held in high regard by party and trade union activists.

The issue is not with Corbyn personally, but with Labour’s far-left as a whole. Substitute Corbyn for Jones, Skinner, Abbott, McDonnell, McCluskey or Livingstone, and the party faces the same problem.

According to this sect, Labour lost in May because we weren’t radical enough; or because we didn’t defend working-class interests sufficiently; or because we didn’t present a credible alternative to austerity.

Whatever the excuse, it translates from politico-speak as: we weren’t left-wing enough. It’s depressing being a member of a political party in which stalwarts decades my senior have as much political judgement as NUS teenagers with Chavez t-shirt collections.

I won’t waste words arguing why electing a leader to the left of Ed Miliband would be a disaster. Rather, I want to stress the importance of this leadership election.

A starting point for members is to grasp just how bad our current 2020 electoral prospects are. The Electoral Reform Society (ERS) recently published ‘research’ into the 2015 result, concluding the outcome was ‘the most disproportionate result in UK history’. After attending a recent talk by Professor John Curtice, I can say the ERS has it wrong and this election has added nothing new to the pro-PR case.

To give just one example, in 2005 Labour won 55% of seats on 35% of the vote, while this year the Tories won 51% of seats on 37% of the vote. I mention the ERS report because party members must understand how we lost in May. Yes, some policies were popular with voters – the living wage, energy price freeze, 50p tax rate, etc – but the party was not the victim of first-past-the-post anomalies.

We have a Tory government because Labour lost battles on two fronts. First, the well-documented SNP siege left us with only one comrade standing in Scotland. In England, the party failed to inspire former Lib Dem voters as the Tories bagged the majority of seats held by their former Coalition partners. Assuming SNP support holds strong, Curtice reckons Labour will need to lead the Tories by over 12% in 2020 to form a government.

Labour does not win elections without convincing Tory voters to back the party. Given the state of play in Scotland, it is more vital than ever we elect a leader who can appeal directly to England and overturn the Tory lead.

That is why the upcoming hustings series is so important – or rather, was. Let’s put aside Corbyn’s lack of credibility (indeed, one could argue none of the candidates are particularly electable) and focus on how his inclusion may upend the hustings’ formats.

A three-person line-up, with participants of varying shades of pink, would have anchored the debates to the centre ground and allowed for common-sense discussions on why we lost and how we win again.

MPs, however, could not resist including a token red on the panel. Corbyn, rather than offering objective critiques of the party’s policies and electoral performances, will provide populist soundbites that appeal only to his followers.

So when the other candidates attempt to discuss the deficit, Corbyn will simply call for an end to austerity.

When immigration crops up, Corbyn will claim bankers and tax avoiders are the only social ills. When an activist from the floor inevitably asks the candidates if they would describe themselves as a ‘socialist’, Corbyn will give an affirmative one-word response to the delight of his followers.

In short, his candidacy is a distraction: audiences will be populated by clapping seals; other candidates will be on the back foot; and the proper debate the party desperately needs will be stifled.

Corbyn’s inclusion was not, as Sadiq Khan implied, necessary to ensure a good ‘democratic process’, as a proper democratic process would have allowed our elected representatives to nominate candidates on their own accord. The decision to include Corbyn only legitimises the party’s discredited far-left and gives credence to the nonsense it can contribute constructively to Labour’s electoral strategy.

And so the vicious cycle wheels on. Maybe it’ll take just one more battering  before we realise certain comrades should be left off the invite list. Then, and only then, can the party begin.

Kenny Stevenson is a Politics PhD student studying UK immigration policy and public opinion. He is a member of Glasgow Cathcart CLP


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26 Responses to “The unwanted dinner guest: why Corbyn is bad news for Labour”

  1. Mike says:

    Good article. The wonder is why people like Corbyn, Meacher et al don`t leave the Labour party and go to the Socialist party, TUSC or some other left wing group. Maybe they are not as principled as first thought since Labour provides the opportunity for power.

  2. Dan says:

    Yep, couldn’t agree more. Good article.

    I do wonder if anyone will bring up Corbyns years of arse-kissing of various nasty groups (yer Hamas’ and yer Hezbollahs), or his slobbering over Hugo Chavez and the idiot who replaced him who is currently running Venezuela into the ground.

    That should be reasons enough why he shouldn’t be allowed to sit at the big boy table. FFS, these late middle aged Wolfie Smiths are an embarrassment.

  3. Madasafish says:

    Labour does not win elections without convincing Tory voters to back the party.

    Try saying that on Comment is Free or LabourList… They’ll tell you that Tories are evil and it would be a betrayal to adopt policies designed to seduce Tories to vote Labour.

    I think a Jeremy Corbyn Leadership would be just what Labour needs: a cathartic near death experience.. followed by an arising from what are likely to be a lot of ashes…

    At present there are too many Labour supporters living in a land where the money tree grows and “one more push” is the answer ,no matter what the question.

    And any party which has 35 MPs prepared to support an Leader like Mr Corbyn would be is frankly unfit for Government.

  4. Sam Dale says:

    Good article. Unwanted dinner guest indeed.

    History of the Far Left in Labour leadership elections

    1981: Tony Benn ran for deputy leadership. They lost.
    1983: Michael Meacher runs for deputy. They lost.
    1988: Benn challenges Kinnock for leadership. They lost.
    2007: Meacher & John McDonnell ran for leader. They lost.
    2010: Dianne Abbott ran for leader. They lost.
    2015: Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot. ???

    Every time they are there, every time they are hammered. How many times do we need a “broad debate”?

  5. Tafia says:

    Corbyn is not far-Left. 30 years ago and more he would have been quite moderate.

    What most people in Labour refuse to admit is that they are no longer a party pf the left – they are a centre-right party. The tories of Ted Heath and John Major were more left wing than Labour are now.

    Your Mr Blair destroyed the Labour Party and all that remains of it is the name.

  6. Forlornehope says:

    Many, many years ago, I too was a member of Cathcart CLP. I left when I realised that, firstly, just about everyone else there was a public sector professional and, secondly, that they were all so corrupted by machine politics that they didn’t even realise it. Labour’s wipe out in Scotland came as absolutely no surprise whatever, indeed my only surprise is that it didn’t happen sooner.

  7. John P Reid says:

    Surely Lammy must nominee, either Eagle or Bradshaw, the latter preferablay for the deputy job,

  8. Matt Brown says:

    Thank you for an excellent article which clearly demonstrates not only some of the reasons labour lost so badly in 2010 & again last month, but equally shows why we urgently need reform and a change of agenda in British politics.

    You see we live in a sort of democracy where everyone gets to have a say and there are 21,000 supporters on Jeremy Corbyn’s dedicated Facebook page that disagree with you and a large number on twitter, all of whom who have campaigned hard to get Jeremy Corbyn on the ballot for the leadership campaign. Whether you, I or anyone else in the nation disagrees with Jeremy’s policies is irrelevant, those who support him have a right to have their voice heard.

    If as you allege this is not about Jeremy Corbyn as an individual, why do you feel the need to attack him personally? With statements like “It’s depressing being a member of a political party in which stalwarts decades my senior have as much political judgement as NUS teenagers with Chavez t-shirt collections.” clearly you do not believe in democracy, so why be a member of a political party at all?

    The labour party are down and out, as demonstrated by the recent election results. Few would argue it needs to take a long hard look at itself and think about what it stands for and where it wants to be. Therefore in a democracy, there are no good reasons why all members and interested parties should not be represented in the debate that will ensue. You clearly don’t agree with Jeremy’s policies and that is fine, your voice and opinions will be every bit as valid as anyone else’s. But to say that members who support Jeremy Corbyn are now welcome at the debate reflects badly on both you, the state of the labour party and British politics as a whole. The voices and opinions of those who support Jeremy, have an equal right to be heard and to participate in the debate as you and those who agree with your political opinions.

  9. John P Reid says:

    Forgonehope, I know Cathcart,and some of the Catholic south Sides Of Glasgow, funny you could be describing my constuency of Hornchurch,in Essex ,corruptive ness of machine politics being more Ina case of bald men fighting over a comb, it’s not only that many people dint recognize it it’s the fact that region don’t realize it puts members off,
    Which leads me onto
    Madasafish comments ,about labour list,looked on it yesterday for the first time in years,
    The attitude of ,one more push,and Ben bradshaws appeal to the South,not being needed,as ‘we just need to get over mythical left wingers who didn’t vote for us until we pretend to listen anymore’ shows how badly labour is in trouble,

    but the Lets go with Corbyn, get. Destroyed,then win back voters a few years later idea, won’t work, there’s probably as many ‘we lost as it wasn’t left. Wing enough ‘people now as their was after the 1987 election,when I first attended conference ,and we had to have serious battles the next 3 years ,to get anywhere near, being popular,

  10. David Walker says:

    I think the Labour Party might need to elect a leader like Corbyn and give him 5 years. How else will the rows between the centre-left and far-left ever end?

    Give him a shadow cabinet in his own image and allow him to make the 2020 manifesto read like Marx’s letter to Santa.

    Labour isn’t going to win the next election with any of the other candidates, anyway. Nobody is going to moan that all politicians sound the same, when Corbyn’s Labour take on Boris Johnston’s Tories.

    At least Corbyn believes in what he says and it’s painfully obvious that the other candidates don’t speak with any genuine conviction.

    Corbyn would probably promise an end to both tuition fees and student loans. Outstanding student loans would be written-off and he would bring back student grants. If the under-30s won’t get out and vote for that, then the party may as well give up.

    The 2020 election might be even more disastrous for Labour than 1983, but it’s hard to see how the party can move forward until the ‘not left-wing enough’ debate is properly put to bed.

    If a Corbyn-led Labour got thoroughly trounced, the centre-ground would be largely unoccupied and a Blairite-type candidate could beat Johnstone to it in the following parliament. It might even be a one-horse race.

  11. William Rubin says:

    As a Tory voter who just paid £3 so I can vote for JC I am ecstatic. All we need are 50k others like me to ensure he is elected party leader. If Clarkson can get 1000 000 votes in 3 weeks I am sure the Tories can get JC 50 000 in 3 months lol.

  12. richard mackinnon says:

    Kenny Stevenson is confused. It doesn’t matter whether JCs name is on the ballot or not. Labours problems run deeper than who their next leader is. Kenny thinks that if Labour has a proper election between what he thinks are real serious candidates then a ‘saviour’ will appear.
    In fact, because the underlying issues with Labour run so deep, I would suggest the candidates that have put their names forward so far show such an alarmingly poor level of judgement in that they think that the job remit is deliverable, cannot therefore be considered for the post.

  13. Mike Homfray says:

    Of course he should be allowed to stand – a Labour party consisting of nothing but almost-Tory Blairites would be pointless.

    The best thing would be for Kendall to come fourth, and then finally it might make the Blairites decide to leave and join the Tories, where they wouldn’t have to alter any of the principles they already hold

  14. MacGuffin says:

    I’ll just say this now, before even reading the rest of the piece: Khan and Lammy nominated Corbyn in order to ingratiate themselves with Ken Livingstone’s hard-left faction within London Labour, which will be helpful (they both hope) to their mayoral bids.

    For shame.

  15. Keith says:

    A three-person line-up, all of whom are ex-Spads, and done nothing outside of the Westminster bubble, probably speaking to stage managed Labour member audiences, who will go through the motions of asking them easy questions is hardly conducive to an open, frank debate either. At least Corbyn offers the possibility of ruffling a few feathers and discussing issues that the others would rather avoid.

  16. Noel says:

    The tone of the article is very depressing. It is as good as saying Labour cannot be the vehicle anymore to advoacte public ownership of services and to confront inequality and excesses of the free-market. It also seems to object to democratic process – the time has arrived for Labour to give a voice to everyone and see how perspective is spread. I object more to Kendall’s stance but I welcome very much her subjecting her view for scrutiny because Laobur is at a crucial crossroads and I cannot see why a view would be so blinkered to not want Corbyn to do the same. I really, really despair, because the line is to tell people what view to arrive at in order to upkeep the dominance of the right in the Party – that is why we are in turmoil because too much control for too long. And is particularly concerning because a scathing attack on left-minded Labour seems more acceptable than embracing democratic solution.

  17. swatantra says:

    J**** C*****! Give me strength!

  18. Duncan says:

    This is just another “shut up and deliver the leaflets” article. Thanks.

  19. Dave Roberts. says:

    I agree with just about everything said above but could we have a change in the format of the site where we can reply to individual comments. Other sites have it and I find it leads to a more constructive debate. What do other people think.

  20. nimh says:

    When someone’s concept of a constructive, democratic, “proper debate” is explicitly one that limits itself to “three shades of pink” – not to mention precluding bothersome “activists from the floor” from asking inconvenient questions because it would only create distracting enthusiasm (“clapping seals”) – then you know that something is seriously wrong.

    Anyone outside a fairly narrow cultural stratum of (aspiring) political managers knows that a debate between “three shades of pink” is not much of a debate, and isn’t going to engage anyone beyond their own ranks.

  21. nimh says:

    Thanks to Tafia for that link – it’s not just quite funny, it’s also a pretty good reality check about the nature of what this post defines as a “proper debate”.

  22. What on earth are you worried about? If Corbyn and what he stands for are such irrelevancies, if his policies can only appeal to his followers – and he doesn’t have many; he’s never built a personal base – then all Kendall & co need to do is engage him in open debate and he’ll be routed straight away. I’ll look forward to it.

  23. Blairite says:

    The fact that we need someone who embraced the IRA, praised George Galloway and is “friends” with Hamas and Hezbollah on the ballot in order to have a ‘broad debate’, rather than picking a suitable candidate for PM, shows what kind of party we’ve become. Will Tory voters in Battersea, Basildon and Basingstoke vote for Corbyn? Answer’s obvious.

  24. mike Homfray,under the current rules Andy burnham would have come last in 2010, and at the Time he was the most Blairite candidate, why do you want people to leave, you left yourself, i’ve been canvassing in the partry for constantly 30 yewars, and have more of a right to be in it that you, but yes,if some people left and joined the tories we’d do even worse in the eelction is that what you want,

    i hardly think the, left drivng the right away ,like they did in 1981,is similar, then people like tony benn were blaming the electorate for not voitng for us when we last in 1983, the only perosn who i’ve heard blame the electorate for not voting for us last month, was that kid who swore at Andrew Oneil on the daily politics

  25. john P Reid says:

    come to think Mike Homfray, not only did you leave once before ,and said,you would if Kednall won, now I’ve read your comments where you’ve pointed out the electoarate were wrong in the past not to vote for us, I’m starting to think you’re like those tories who’re registering to pay the £3, so they cant vote for Corbyn and destroy the party

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