Cooper vs Corbyn is our Healey vs Benn

by Jonathan Todd

Yvette Cooper versus Jeremy Corbyn is our generation’s Denis Healey against Tony Benn. In September 1981, it wasn’t just the deputy leadership at stake. The party’s future was too, as it is now.

If Benn had won, more Labour MPs, councillors and activists would have joined the SDP, who’d have usurped Labour as the second largest party. If Corbyn wins, he’ll struggle to find enough MPs to serve as his shadow ministers, which isn’t the position of a party on the verge of government.

MPs only demur from advancement, bringing with it PLP disunity that they invariably seek to avoid, when genuine differences exist.

Corbyn says attacks upon him are unedifying “personal attacks”. But the differences that Labour MPs have are not personal. They are not about his sartorial style. Even if it’s a stretch to see this as screaming “prime minister”. The differences are political.

“He has shown,” Ivan Lewis writes, “very poor judgment in expressing support for and failing to speak out against people who have engaged not in legitimate criticism of Israeli governments but in anti-semitic rhetoric.” “I know,” Liz Kendall notes, “there are many people who have concerns about where Jeremy Corbyn has stood in the past on” Northern Ireland. Not personal, political.

When Anne Applebaum describes Corbyn as “one of many on the European far-left as well as the far-right who appears to have swallowed wholesale Russia’s lie that war in Ukraine has been created by NATO,” and when David Aaronovitch reminds us that for Corbyn, “it is always, always, always the West’s fault,” these are not personal criticisms. They are political concerns shared by many Labour MPs, who see in Corbyn’s foreign policy what Healey once saw in Benn’s: “deserting all of our allies at once and then preaching them a sermon”.

Then, as Paul Richards has reminded Uncut, Healey experienced “orchestrated attempts to howl me down by extremist mobs of Trotskyists and anarchists, whom Tony Benn did nothing to discourage or condemn.” Now Kendall condemns the cyber-bullying of Corbynites.

Neil Kinnock thought he was getting his party back with Ed Miliband. Now Richard Scorer reports on Uncut of those expelled from the party by Kinnock feeling that they have their party back. Miliband wanted to rewind the clock on New Labour. Former members of Militant see in Corbyn an opportunity to rewind much further. In opening the door to revisionism on New Labour, Miliband and Kinnock arguably rolled the pitch for the more brutal and wholesale reckoning with the past that Corbyn seeks.

But now is not the time for mainstream Labour to allocate blame. It is time for us to pull together. I don’t want to castigate Kinnock. I want to applaud him for expounding upon the reasons that so many Labour MPs are worried about Corbyn. Everyone with any capacity whatsoever to pull Labour back, from making leader a politician wrong about so much, ought now to speak out.

It was the influence of the trade unions that, against some expectations, helped save Labour from Benn. Many on the right of the party were then agitated that affiliated unions and societies held 40 per cent of the vote, as compared to 30 per cent each to the PLP and party members. However, if parity of voting power held between the unions, the PLP, and party members, Benn would have won. The extra 10 per cent and trade union pragmatism were decisive.

As the bulk of union effort in this race focuses on helping Corbyn, pragmatism will need to come from different sources. It will need to come from Labour leaders explaining precisely why they disagree with Corbyn. Not just proclaiming that their crystal balls foresee no Prime Minister Corbyn but specifying the many principled differences that they have.

Cooper did this in a brave speech. Given Andy Burnham’s cold feet about doing similar and the poor polling of Kendall, this established Cooper as the pre-eminent anti-Corbyn candidate in a race that has become all about stopping Corbyn. This act of leadership should be reciprocated by all who wish to save Labour from Corbyn.

That means not only senior Labour figures setting out why Cooper is right and Corbyn wrong but Labour members looking into their hearts and asking themselves whether they’ve got a point. You’ve got to really dislike the last Labour government to conclude that every Labour leader from this period is wrong. So much so that I doubt any Labour member feels so. And, of course, no one is voting who does not share the values of members.

It is a bitter irony that Miliband’s introduction of a voting system widely applauded by Blairites threatens an outcome that will drastically curtail the influence of this part of the party, potentially via means that imperil the integrity of the whole process. If Miliband does not like this or other aspects of Corbyn’s platform, he should say so.

Members and supporters should know what they are voting for. Given the intervening decline of pragmatic trade unionism, voting Corbyn is a vote for even sharper Labour decline than a vote for Benn in 1981. If endless Tory government is fine with you, go ahead.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

13 Responses to “Cooper vs Corbyn is our Healey vs Benn”

  1. Janice says:

    yvette Cooper is no Dennis Healey, what a joker. Still, my time was not completely wasted reading this, as it so absurd it will keep me amused for the rest of the day, during dull moments.

    Yes Cooper made a speech, but it was a completely stage managed attempt to persuade people she could take on the corynistas, but anyone can see she can’t, she would be a disaster as leader with all these new corbyn members, she wouldn’t be able to handle it, do her a favour and let her lose gracefully.

  2. paul barker says:

    The other big differences with 1981 are that Benn never felt strong enough to challenge for the Leadership & he didnt persuade 100,000 extra members to join. The Labour moderates are much weaker now & this last-minute fightback isnt going to help. With Burnham applying for a job in Corbyns shadow cabinet & Kendall , Cooper & Madleson plotting to sabotage The Election any solidarity among the anti-Corbyn forces is falling apart.

  3. Dan says:

    Decent article – nothing that any non-headbanger would disagree with here.

    But, I fear it’s too late. Looks like it really will be Corbyn, barring a unlikely last minute surge for Burnham (who’s a bad candidate who has run an awful campaign).

    Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the opposition. Jesus wept.

  4. Luke says:

    Jonathan you’ve really lost a lot of credibility with this piece. The attempt to talk Cooper up as the alternative to Corbyn risks handing the party over to the hard left. Andy is clearly the candidate best placed to win back some of the Corbyn votes that we as moderates need to stop corbyn being elected. It’s a real shame that you and Liam Byrne are failing to see this and misleading people about the consequences of their votes

  5. Sam says:

    What a load of hot air. The party has been let down by so-called moderates who should have rallied around the strongest candidate for beating Corbyn – polls have consistently shown it to be Andy Burnham. Instead we get people pushing Cooper and really risking a Corbyn victory. Well on your heads be it. Sam

  6. John P Reid says:

    Paul barker, militants, what Gaitskell had not allowed in had been joining for decades before, had Benn won the deputy ,he would have ousted Foot and been leader within a year, this article is also wrong to assume that had Benn won,some of those who were backing healey would have joined the SDP, a lot would have left labour, but left politics altogether, this article is rubbish

    Janice is right, Sam, a lot of Cooper supporters will give Jeremy second choice, bunham supporters giving Yvette second choice,so if Yvette gets knocked out in round two, then JC could win, but if Andy gets knocked out, Yvette could win with Burnham second preferences

  7. Tafia says:

    The competition is between Burnham and Corbyn. Cooper is now an ‘also ran’ and Kendall was unseated at the first fence.

  8. Anne says:

    Good piece. I have been following the leadership contest – Corbyn is talking politics from the 1980s. Yvette is looking to the future.

  9. BlairSupporter says:

    If Corbyn wins because of a few people like Jonathan Todd then they will have a lot to answer for. Once Kendall became unviable we should have got organised and backed the strongest candidate. Instead we’ve got these people splitting the vote and letting Corbyn in via the back door. If cooper knocks out Burnham and Corbyn then wins I hope Mr Todd will come back on here and apologise for what he’s done.

  10. Tafia says:

    Yvette is looking to the future.

    Her only future is somewhere outside the Labour Party and probably outside politics. This was her one and only chance and she has been shown up for the lightweight she is. Not only that she has sealed her own passing into irrelevance by repeatedly stating she will not serve in a Corbyn front bench team. Which means if he wins she is toast – and she toasted herself.

    She is already history.

  11. Jimmy says:

    I agree it’s Corbyn v Cooper (Kendall being clearly out of it.) I don’t see the point of Burnham at this stage. His transparent attempts at triangulation have made hime a laughing stock across the party. If he wins it will be a fudge and we’ll simply have kicked the tin down the road. If we’re not going to have a grown up for leader (and clearly that’s how it looks) then I think the next best thing may be to give the left the rope to go and hang themselves with.

  12. Carol says:

    Please don’t compare Yvette Cooper to Healey. Healey was one of Labour’s missed opportunities; had he become leader in the 80s Thatcher would not have been so secure. Anyhow regrets are pointless. None of the candidates inspire me.

  13. Huge boost for Cooper for anyone who knows anything about Labour history, but given Healey s status as the standard bearer of the party s right wing I suspect it won t dissuade many Corbyn voters. All these years later and they re still slugging it out!

Leave a Reply