by Rob Marchant
If current polls are to be believed, Jeremy Corbyn is about to become Labour leader, not just by a small margin but by a landslide.
That is, as our own Atul Hatwal pointed out on Monday, a pretty significant “if”. For a number of reasons; protest voting in polls but not in elections, “shy” voters, ease of manipulation by flashmobs of more informal polls, difficulty of accuracy polling such a select group, further change in the final few weeks and so on. Given this, it is still perfectly possible that Corbyn will fall at the ballot stage, despite Westminster’s prevailing wisdom.
But let us suppose for a moment that he is genuinely on course to win.
In this case, we are at a genuinely historical turning point – a convulsion – for the party; one of a kind it has not really experienced since Ramsay MacDonald’s “betrayal” in the 1930s.
In short, the wilderness years of the Fifties and Eighties would soon start to look like a tea-party.
In the few short weeks following the election, the psychological state of at least a segment of the party, like any person after a cruel blow, has been evolving rapidly. In this case, from initial denial; through collective tantrum, angry with the world; through to depressive isolationism and potentially actual self-harm.
And the divide over the Corbyn “insurgency” is no longer an issue of right and left. While you might expect to hear noises from the political centre at Uncut, the concern here is not merely from the point of view of his politics, disastrously out of touch with the British electorate though it might be (for the record, Anthony Painter makes an admirable fist of taking these seriously and rebutting them point by point here).
No, for many on the party’s left as well as the right, the reality is that the party is looking to take on a leader with personal credentials considerably less attractive than those of Michael Foot. If you still doubt this, read on.
We have already heard about Corbyn’s disturbing apologism for the IRA in its heyday, his “friends” Hamas and Hezbollah. Phenomena comfortably explained away by his supporters as “engagement” in the cause of peace. But in the space of twenty-four hours, two rather more damning stories have surfaced.
First, Monday night’s Channel 4 interview. Over the last couple of weeks, his campaign has sat in awkward silence over claims that he donated to, and attended meetings of, Deir Yassin Remembered (DYR), a pro-Palestinian campaign which even the highly questionable Palestine Solidarity Campaign (see here) sees as extreme.
It is run by a self-confessed Holocaust-denier, Paul Eisen. Naturally, Corbyn’s supporters – in true hard-left (or SNP) fashion – have dismissed this as a “smear”. However, as that ever-polite Times columnist, Danny Finkelstein, tweeted last weekend:
@AviG123 Avi, it’s not unreasonable to ask if the prospective leader of the Labour Party is funding a holocaust denier, is it?
— Daniel Finkelstein (@Dannythefink) August 16, 2015
When pressed in that Monday interview, Corbyn finally admitted – back, metaphorically, to the wall – that he may have donated to DYR: but it was ok, on the grounds that Eisen wasn’t an anti-Semite when he met him, it would have been cash not a cheque, and that it was years ago. Today, in response to the Jewish Chronicle’s questioning on the matter he shifted position to now say “he has no recollection of contributing” to DYR. He also says “he did attend DYR events in the past but no longer does so.”
Inconvenient then that there’s a photo of Corbyn attending DYR’s meeting in 2013. Which was not really so many years ago and, indeed, Eisen is on record as calling himself a Holocaust denier in 2012. In the same interview, Corbyn was questioned on his links to Raed Salah, the renowned hate-preacher, convicted not only of funding Hamas but of spreading the “blood libel”, an age-old anti-Semitic trope that Jews bake bread with the blood of gentiles. His answer was, and I quote: “He did not at any stage utter any anti-Semitic remarks to me”. Well, that’s sorted that out, then. He can’t possibly be anti-Semitic, I guess. As Dan Hodges, sometime of this parish, put it:
Corbyn on Raed Salah: “He did not at any stage utter any antisemitic remarks to me”. The next Labour leader actually said that. — Dan Hodges (@DPJHodges) August 17, 2015
Second: that same night, former Tory MP Louise Mensch published the rather unwelcome fact that, apart from once being booked to appear speaking on the same platform as Salah, Corbyn had in 2009 himself invited another unsavoury character to speak at Parliament. In this case, the Lebanese activist Dyab Abou Jahjah. Mensch’s piece on “Every dead British soldier is a victory” Jajah is a good read, deftly pointing out his violent anti-Semitism, homophobia and Holocaust revisionism. Nice. It was picked up by the Daily Mail and was the centre-piece of Corbyn’s slot on the World At One earlier.
These two stories surfaced within twenty-four hours. Now imagine the damage which could be done to the party inside twenty-four months.
Exactly how much more evidence of one hapless man’s inability to distinguish good people from bad do we need?
The thing is with the Corbynistas, they have missed two vital vulnerabilities about their man’s wanting to be a party leader and potential prime minister.
One: that you have to really want it, which it is certainly arguable that Corbyn does not. In order to really want it, a pre-requisite is that you have spent a large part of your political career behaving yourself, so as not to leave hostages to fortune later.
This has clearly not happened here. The campaign was a largely unplanned scramble and it shows.
Two: as I have observed before about Labour’s former Mayor of London, the age of the internet has created a cruel trap for the careless. In the blink of an eye, a blog photo or a YouTube video of you on can show the world something questionable you did a decade ago, and in a way that cannot be disputed. It is hard to misdirect the public (“look over there!”) do a soft-shoe shuffle and hope no-one notices. They will suss you.
You cannot seriously attempt to lead a party under such circumstances. Even if the polls are right, it is yet quite possible that Corbyn’s leadership bid will self-destruct well before voting is over. At the current rate of skeletons exiting closets, the campaign is fast becoming a political Night of the Living Dead.
So, lovers of an electable Labour party, as a force for helping the many not the few: take heart. There is still all to play for.
But uncomfortable truths will, and must, out. We should not be shy of speaking them.
Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left