Looking-glass Labour: what happens next

by Rob Marchant

On Monday, a smiling photo was published of the first Cabinet meeting. A plucky attempt at “business as usual”. But business is now anything but usual, as the disarray at his first parliamentary meeting showed.

As John Slinger wrote at Uncut back in July, we are now in the realm, not of New Labour or Blue Labour, but “looking-glass Labour”. A strange, almost psychedelic parody of what chimes with the public and wins elections for Labour.

Just like with Alice, from the other side of the mirror things look as if the looking-glass side is exactly the same. But it is only when you get through to the other side of the looking-glass, that you see the parts which you could not see so easily before. The bit behind the mantelpiece. The part through the parlour door. They are different.

This is not a prediction. Things will happen at different speeds, and perhaps some will not happen at all. But, according to well-travelled historical precedent, the following is what generally happens in this party, when it develops a critical mass from the far left, as it did in the 1980s; it is essentially the manner of warring factions and coups on which the SWP runs. It is effectively what is happening now within Labour.

One. Corbyn is not a leader. The people around Corbyn now hold the power, he does not. The kitchen cabinet. They are likely to start to agitate early on, in terms of policy and running the party machine. When we talk about the leadership, we therefore mean the leader’s Office, trusted hard-left MPs inside and outside the shadow cabinet, selected members of the NEC and the main trade union leaders, particularly Unite. These people will collectively call the shots, not Corbyn.

Two. There will be an attempt to take over party machinery, as there was a more modest attempt under Miliband: the NEC and the party staff. Many of the party’s longest-serving staff are Blairites and Brownites, and may well be forced out.

Three. Policy will, at the beginning, be a disorganised free-for-all. After the new cabinet have spent some months looking like a rabble, things will settle down, as sensible voices are drowned out, side-lined or reshuffled out, to give way to reliable hard-left thinking. As to the direction of policy, the death of public-sector reform, fairy-tale economics and isolationist foreign policy is probably a good bet.

Four. Deselections and selections. Party conference next year, if not this year, will be asked to make constitutional changes to allow easier deselection of MPs, if they appear to be sufficiently ideologically impure, in the eyes of the leadership. Loyal activists in local parties will find that people they do not recognise turn up at key meetings, as already happened in a number of selection meetings in the last parliament (see: Falkirk selection).

Five: outlawing of moderate factions. The hard left already tried, in 2012, to oust Progress from the Labour family, crying, without irony, “entryists!” They will surely try again, and this time it will be harder to stop.

Six: allying the party with extra-party organisations. We should not forget that Corbyn is still, as far as anyone knows, chair of the Stop the War Coalition. Who share many supporters with Respect and the People’s Assembly. These parties and pressure groups will not only bring ignominy on the party, but will encourage their members (many of them SWP activists) to join, or rather, infiltrate. George Galloway, apologist for despots and dictators everywhere, has already expressed his desire to rejoin.

Seven: the party will become so obsessed with the idea that smart management of the media is an evil, that there will be a preventable, negative story about Labour on a daily basis. There will also be unpreventable ones, stemming from the whole churchyards-full of skeletons contained in the closets of Corbyn, McDonnell and other prominent figures. CCHQ already think that all their Christmases have come at once, and would be well advised to save some money by giving their Attack units a year off. The stories will write themselves.

This is what we all have to look forward to over the coming months while this leadership lasts. Not so much through the looking-glass, but through a glass, darkly.

What to do? It is not necessary to accommodate mad ideas just because a majority of the party voted for them. You do not need to accept them and neither do I. The more and the longer they are accepted, the harder it will be for the party to recover.

Sensible voices must win the debate, but not by pretending everything is fine and “fighting from the inside”. That way lies madness, and also taints the current crop of Labour politicians with the stain of inward-looking, navel-gazing failure which will be the inevitable endgame of Corbynism. Like Churchill’s wilderness years in the 1930s, the fight must come from the back benches.

It is difficult to see another option but to resist with all one’s might the sharp decline of our party currently under way. And that is because, looking at that same early twentieth-century history, the Liberal Party of the 1910s did not. That is why it is now the third party and not the second and why, in 2010, it leapt desperately at its first chance of power in eighty years. At that point, it had a history of over two centuries as the main opposition. The Labour Party has been existence for just over half of that.

I do not expect those who voted for Corbyn to change their minds any time soon. But perhaps they might reflect on looking-glass Labour and the fate of the Liberals.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left


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36 Responses to “Looking-glass Labour: what happens next”

  1. John. P Reid says:

    Many people who are councillors in marginal areas,or have previously been in that position, know enough of history, or are old enough recall the 1980’s, maybe they blame council election defeats of 1982, and the general elections on the Falklands, maybe they take credit for Andrew Mckintosh winning the GLC for livingstone in 1981 ,maybe they feel we lost in 1979 as it wasn’t left wing enough,
    But they voted Corbyn and won’t accept that we will lose by a mile in 2020 with him, even if we get half as any votes in the council elections over the next 3 years, as before,
    Various things can be done, Blue labour needs to work with Labour first, like compass before them, anti neo liberalism, felt Blair lost his way after his first 6 years, Yes progress has a large following and ability of resources ,but since 2007 it’s been redundant

    After the London mayor election,and the 2016 NEC elections, if the hard left get back, and Christine Shawcroft returns and gets Lufthur Rahman back, we will have to watch it, Do George Galloway, Mark Steel,mainly Bragg, Derek Hatton, Peter Tatchell all try to return?

    Financially we’re screwed,unions like FBU may try tore affiliate,but as in the 2014 EU election we had no money we wont have any money for the 2017′ 2018 council elections except for in safe seats

  2. john pearson says:

    The MPs have the power here, if they have the backbone to use it. They need to stop this insanity before it does irreversible damage to the Labour party.

  3. Dan says:

    “Seven: the party will become so obsessed with the idea that smart management of the media is an evil, that there will be a preventable, negative story about Labour on a daily basis.”

    This is already happening a mere five (5) days into the reign of Jeremy of House Corbyn, first of his name. I’ve just watched a charming clip of one of Corbyns aides chinning a cameraman, which obviously Doesn’t Look Good.

    Interesting podcast on the times the other day where Kamm said that it’s not a palace coup by knife-wielding Blarites that’ll bring Corbyn down, it’ll be his own incompetence. Bit too early to make such a bold delcaration imo, but the early days aren’t promising.

  4. Loosehead says:

    Unfortunately the swing to the left is not because anyone in the party, or the country, actually believes in it. It is being adopted because “its not what we did the last time”. The Labour party needs to try this experiment yet again, to prove to itself that it doesn’t work, and only then will it swing back again. I just hope it does not find itself in power, after the referendum fails and UKIP splits the Tory vote in 2020, before it swings back into sanity. Still, at least we can still go live cheaply on a Spanish Costa for 5 years.

  5. Bruce says:

    If you can’t accept the democratic vote of the majority of Labour members then leave, if the PLP bring Corbyn down against the wishes of the membershop then start looking for new jobs because they will take revenge at the ballot box and the party will truly be finished and not just in Scotland.

  6. paul barker says:

    Labour centrists are still in denial, this is not a repeat of the 1980s, Benn never even stood for the Leadership, he stood for Deputy & lost. The flood of new members over the last week are overwhelmingly coming from Corbyn backers, they are people who didnt join before because Labour werent Left enough & they will push Labour farther Left. The Far Left are in a much stronger position now – they control The Big Unions & their money & they are not going to let themselves be pushed out again.
    If the Far Left cant keep their control of The Labour Party they will destroy it. Labour moderates who want to fight from inside The Party will be worn down & picked off, one by one.

  7. Twinkle says:

    Looking-glass Labour: what happens next?

    Labour becomes a laughing stock for electing Worzel Gummidge as leader.

    Every day is a field day for a media presented with unlimited opportunities.

    Labour is totally trashed in 2020 as the marginal voter rejects Corbyn and Corbynomics as drastically more unelectable than Miliband and his policies.

    As usual the far left will be telling themselves they are on a winner.

  8. Forlornehope says:

    Corbyn has just gone through with his new PMQs looking quite fetching in a suit and tie. He managed to bowl Cameron a succession of easy balls which allowed the PM to give set piece plugs for Tory policies. It looked like a not very promising pupil bowling to the games master in the nets and being treated quite kindly so as not to hurt his feelings.

  9. George S says:

    a long time labour supporter, I’ve already been told that i wasnt wanted at a recent meeting.
    … because I am centre left or ‘fascist scum lite’ by people literally at their second meeting.
    I’ve quit the local party and wont be working for the constituency as I have for the last 16 years. I simply dont want the abuse

  10. Madasafish says:

    I see the left wing thing that 250k voters for Corbyn mean they can trounce 9 odd million voters for Labour MPs..

    Just like Militant – but without the intelligence.

  11. Mike says:

    Bruce – the majority of long time members did not vote for Corbyn. It was 49% for him from existing memebers. From members who have been in the party 5 years it was 44%.

  12. TC says:

    You know, Andrew, it’s been 4 days since Corbyn was elected and you, like many others on the Labour right, instead of contributing anything constructive, have continued with your attacks on him. You ought to consider that ‘those who voted for Corbyn’ – in the most democratic Labour leadership election ever, lest we forget – comprise 60% of those who did, including 49.59% of members and a clear majority of affiliates and registered supporters. Like it or not, he has a mandate.

    Perhaps instead of making these dire predictions that you’ve made over and over again and crying about people voting the ‘wrong’ way, as you did in your Independent article, you would be better off asking questions of yourself and other Labour rightists/centrists about why your message was so ineffective and why you couldn’t convince people. A long hard look in the mirror would do you no harm.

    Another thing that you, as someone who wastes no opportunity to profess his love for the Labour party (funny way of showing it…), could do is show some respect for the members who voted for Corbyn, and all those who joined during and immediately after the leadership election, and try to work with them and others to build a Labour party that can challenge the Tories in the coming mayoral elections, the SNP in Scotland next year and nationally in 2020. We’re supposed to be on the same side, so why don’t you stop the moaning and sniping and work with us.

  13. steve says:

    Perhaps the kitchen cabinet should spend more time making Corbyn and watson’s sandwiches so that they don’t feel the need to steal their snacks

  14. Henrik says:

    You know, I think I’d be OK with a far-Left Labour Party if it actually developed some policies and achievable visions which might appeal to the majority of the country – that is, if it showed any signs of actually wanting to gain support, rather than entrench itself in some minority constituency, from which it could throw bottles at the grown-ups trying to, you know, actually run the country.

    There is room for a strict Marxist analysis of where we find ourselves today and for the articulation of an attractive Marxist vision of how Britain might be (hint here, not a decayed workers’ state). That’s not going to happen, of course.

    Comrades, please get this nonsense over with as soon as you can and then get back to being both HM Loyal Opposition and a credible alternative to the current government. You still won’t win in 2020, but you might in 2025.

  15. P Spence says:

    “It is difficult to see another option but to resist with all one’s might the sharp decline of our party currently under way”

    You are in a very small and paranoid minority who hold the view that the Party is in “sharp decline”: the very opposite is true.

    And invoking the SWP as in any way influential in all of this is frankly ridiculous in the extreme.

  16. John P Reid says:

    There’s many a person who may have joined the party in the last 5-7 years who had been against us up to 97′ some the Student, angry young men and women of the 2000’s ,wouldn’t have ever voted for us before then, they saw Ed miliband as away of us swinging to the left, because they read of his socialist utopia, of everyone having enough money, when they were at university and saw it as away to have a world where there was no sexism, because if they were in charge, they could stop the nasty old state oppressing us, as they know what’s best ,and can define when sexism,homophobia ,anti semeticism doesn’t exist,and if a white male is subject to prejudice, they know he hasn’t because no such thing exists,

    They’ve also read how it was the SDPs fault that people given the choice who to vote for in 1983 didn’t vote for us because they were misguided into thinking that the SDP, despite having different policies to labour, would be an alternative government, they could vote for,plus ilabour wasn’t left wing enough.

    Now after the right of the party were burnt out in 2010′ the centre left getting Ed miliband in, we thought, well he’ll fail, but at least when he does we can go away from this student 6th firm nonsense get a sensible,moderate unifier in, and then Jeremy’s people convinced the party it’s either better to swing far left and lose, a moral victory,no we can be bad within a few years afterwards, despite the boundaries finance and talent of volunteers being at a low, if we lose with Corbyn, it’ll take a generation to get back, all three of those problems, or if we lose with corby it’ll be the electorates fault for not voting for us, it’ll be there loss,and it’ll be the right of the parties fault for not agreeing with what Jeremy says, or having previous links with the Tory press,who’s readers don’t agree with Corbyn,

    Trouble is any chance of building a string Centre/centre right of the party, around Blue labour, Cmpass, Labour first would take those who voted Corbyn to realize, they gave no idea, about canvassing finances, or how to win over middle ground voters, they won’t care,and will blame those who use to run the party, for not being in a position to help them when they needed it.

  17. Richard says:

    “If you can’t accept the democratic vote of the majority of Labour members then leave, if the PLP bring Corbyn down against the wishes of the membership then start looking for new jobs because they will take revenge at the ballot box and the party will truly be finished and not just in Scotland.”
    I think this is just about 100% correct Bruce, thank you. It is this strategy that will make the Labour Party like the Liberals at the beginning of the last century as the consequences will go further than the ballot boxes, it will extend to the withdrawal of support of the unions.
    But the likes of Mr Marchant are not distressed at this I think, after all, how long have they tried to reduce the influence of the unions?
    This attack appears deeply ideological, it seems the left that are hated buy the likes of the author above, not any supposed un-electability. It must be ideological as he appears to be prepared to risk the Labour Party to fight the left.

  18. David Walker says:

    Rob, you have made a lot of predictions there. Can I politely remind you of one you made in June?

    ‘The PLP… has strengthened the voice of its most extreme wing far beyond its genuine representation in the Labour Party (if you don’t believe this, wait and see how Corbyn actually polls in September, or recall Diane Abbott’s dismal poll in 2010).’


    Can you also find me the winner, in the 4 o’clock at Ayr tomorrow? It’s one of those tricky ultra-competitive handicap sprints, where a blanket can usually be thrown over the entire field as they approach the winning post and I’ll take all the help I can get!

  19. sammy gravano says:

    ‘Fairy-tale economics^

    I wouldn’t dignify it with that term.

    1, Take over a country.

    2. Raid the vaults of the Central Bank.

    Straight out of the ISIS playbook that one. It’s bad enough ‘associating’ with terrorists, but things have come to a sorry pass when you start taking economics lessons from them.

  20. Janice says:

    Interesting, and a plausible description of what is likely to happen. The only hope now is that Corbyn is going to be such a disaster and its going to be obvious so quickly that a lot of his more naive supporters within the party will realise they have made a serious mistake.

    Then he is removable once support for him starts to fall amongst the membership. Though it does require the mps to have a bit of courage, which they didn’t show over removing miliband. Still their careers are threatened in a completely different way now so they may realise how much is at stake and show a bit of bravery.

    This will either make or break the party, my money is on breaking, but its not impossible that the corbyn leadership to a fast end, and the damage is limited as a result, and that it could come out stronger.

  21. FubarSaunders says:

    Interesting theory and it might well come true.

    What it doesnt account for is Tom Watson’s role in all of this and whether he and the unions (he is an awful lot closer to the major unions than Corbyn) will allow things to go this far before he launches a union backed bid to depose Corbyn.

    Or whether Corbyn’s powerbase within the PLP will grow to the point that Watson’s threat will be neutralised.

    Given Watson’s part in the Curry House plot and how he has behaved since then, I have my doubts that he will go quietly, no matter how much it might grieve the activist base who are all over Corbyn like a rash at the moment.

    Interesting times, as they say.

  22. John PReid says:

    George S,where’s your constituency I know. A few left wingers who are socially conservative were accused of being Tories because they agreed with Doane Abbott on discipline on schools

  23. Madasafish says:

    That well known Tory paper the Daily Mirror says:

    “Corbyn is doing such a good job for the Tories I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he’s a double agent taking instructions from Margaret Thatcher’s ghost via a ouija board.”


  24. Tafia says:

    Mike the majority of long time members did not vote for Corbyn. It was 49% for him from existing memebers. From members who have been in the party 5 years it was 44%

    That’s a ridiculous statement and you know it. Not withstanding that Corbyn would only have required less than 1% of second preferences – which he would have got easilty, making the other three impotent, the same argument you put forward can be used to show that a massive amount of the party didn’t vote for Cooper. Or Kendall, Or Burnham. How many of the electorate that vopted in May didn’t vote Labour – a volossal amount. Trying to use such an argument is an act of denial. Not only that (and far more importantly) the numbers joining and re-joining – almost all Corbyn supporters, eradicate that argument oin the spot. The membership itself has shifted significantly leftwards in a considerable volume.

    John P Reid , or how to win over middle ground voters,

    You haven’t been paying attention have you. Corbyn has no intention of chasing the 2-3% of swing voters who move between Labour and Tory. Hos battle plan is to get some of the 35% of registered voters that didn’t vote, and to get the other couple of million non registered to register.

    Bruce If you can’t accept the democratic vote of the majority of Labour members then leave, if the PLP bring Corbyn down against the wishes of the membership then start looking for new jobs because they will take revenge at the ballot box and the party will truly be finished and not just in Scotland.

    Is the correct answer and realism. Corbyn’s support is so strong in the ordinary membership and the trades unions that any attempt by the PLP to remove him will bring the party down. The membership wioo;; ;eave in their tens of thousands, the unions will pull the plug in the spot and the general public will be disgusted.

    The MPs have only for one choice – start backing Corbyn now or leave now. Anything else they might try either through action or inaction, will destroy the Labour party. It will be them that destroy it, not Corbyn.

    And remember, you cannot re-take Scotland without somoene as left as Corbyn, without someone as left as Corbyn your vote in Wales will continue to decline – and by 2020 the constituencioes will have been redrawn and balanced – meaning Labour would need a swing of 8% nationally and over 10% in England just to get a minority. GE2020 will be fought in new ground, with new rules and everything that went before it will be irrelevant. If you think you will be able to win an election with the 2-3% swing voters then you are not grasping the situation. It will be impossible for Labour to win without farming a significant chunk of the non-voters. Corbyn realises this yet somehow the PLP refuse to as do a significant chunk of people on here.

  25. TC says:

    It is rather amusing how several posters above, including the author, have talked about the ‘bad situation’, ‘disaster’ and ‘crisis’ that Labour now finds itself in. Just out of interest, have any of you looked at the membership figures since the leadership election started? If this is a crisis, let’s have one every year!

    Also, congratulations to Sammy above. On this board we’ve seen Venezuela, Zimbabwe and now the Islamic State invoked when talking about Corbyn’s economic policies – policies that wouldn’t look out of place in your average northern European social democratic party manifesto. Perhaps next time one of you will go the whole hog and compare them to Nazi Germany.

  26. fubar saunders – please can you clarify what you mean by the curry house plot? Not all people on this site are familiar with Tom Watson’s record

    trevor fisher

  27. “fairy-tale economics” ??

    I would say, generally, it’s the political right who have a “once upon a time” mentality to economics.

    Their tendency is to think that:

    ‘once upon a time an economic deity created all the ££ we now use and left strict instructions that under no circumstances were we to create any extra of our own. Most of the good boys and girls understood what the God of Fiscal Responsibility was saying and understood the reasons why.

    But some of the naughty boys and girls thought they knew better. They thought “yippee” why don’t we just print off lots of this lovely stuff for ourselves then we’ll be rich, rich rich! ”

    Sorry to break it to you folks but there is no such God! All our money is man made and is created either in a printing press or just by editing the digits in a computer. We have to figure out, all on our own, how much to create and spend. It’s not that hard. If we overdo it we might end up with too much inflation. If we underdo it we’ll end up with too much recession.

  28. Rob and his fellow travellers are in denial. We will have to keep pointing out to them that the Progress candidate received 4.5% of the vote against Corbyn’s 59%.

    First the Blairites lost touch with the public. Now they have done the same with the membership. I think Rob should be a bit more inward looking and reflect on this before criticising the left yet again.

  29. John P Reid says:

    Danny Speight,why was Kendall the progress candidate, I know Yvette only was included in Progress hustings in May ,as a affiliate, but isn’t burnham a member of progress

    44% of Corbyn supporters have been in the party more than 5 years opposed to 49% who have been in it longer,so definitely, left wingers have joined in the last 5 years with the intention of swinging us to the left, maybe this reflected the last 2 NEC results where it has gone to the left?, does this mean CLPs now have more left wing members in positions like secretary, ,does this mean we’ll soon see a higher influx of far left councillors, who knows?

  30. Helen says:

    I’m new to this site, and am wondering why the secrecy regarding who is running it, funding it, supporting it?

    It’s clear from reading the articles that those in charge are Blairites, and largely in tune with Progress.

    You are in denial of reality if you think those of us who voted for Corbyn are ignorant, or ill-informed, or deluded, or undemocratic, or Trots, or Stalinists, or Leninists, or any other bogeymen your fevered imaginations can conjour.

    I have been a Labour Party member for over 30 years, and for the first time in memory feel there is a person in Jeremy Corbyn, who speaks my mind, and represents my views.

    It is churlish and childish of many on this site to attempt to undermine and ridicule the current Labour front bench. Where is the loyalty you demanded of me throughout the Blair years? Where is the respect for the democratic mandate that put Corbyn in the leadership role?

    And instead of trashing his policies, why don’t you get involved and have your say in a consensual, reasonable way?

    Why don’t you start by trying to understand his economic policies, which today even the Telegraph has endorsed:


  31. Madasafish says:

    Helen said :
    “It is churlish and childish of many on this site to attempt to undermine and ridicule the current Labour front bench. ”

    I agree. They are doing it perfectly well by themselves..

    See latest U turn on EU vote..

  32. barrycheeseman says:

    That well known Tory paper the Daily Mirror says:

    “Corbyn is doing such a good job for the Tories I wouldn’t be surprised to learn he’s a double agent taking instructions from Margaret Thatcher’s ghost via a ouija board.”


    ….well that’s what Fleet Street Fox said. Did you actually read this? I’m kinda wishing I never really did now, that time I wasted on this, I can never get that back now, never, and I blame you personally Madasdafish. Seriously does the Mirror know this rubbish is on their website, have they got a work experience person in for the week vetting this nonsense, is that it?

  33. Historyintime says:

    Look JC won, obviously, because he was prepared to express an opinion and be against austerity. That and the serious patheticism of the Right candidates which ranged through a fudger, to a risk averse bore, to someone who thought they could win by telling the voters they were wrong in their core beliefs.

    The Right must do now is have a try to make something of the JC reign, while inwardly knowing that is a useless project.

  34. John P Reid says:

    Henrik, has I right, it’s ok other people saying he right of the party has lost touch with the public, but actually labour did pretty well in non traditional labour areas,like Essex at recent council elections
    But as Henrik says the current leadership, isn’t even trying to connect with the public, outside the student rebel base it has at the moment,

  35. Tafia says:

    but actually labour did pretty well in non traditional labour areas,like Essex at recent council elections

    But that’s the point. It did badly in traditional Labour areas. Therefore, if it did well where it shouldn’t and badly where it should, then it’s lost touch.

  36. Nick Wall says:

    Articles like this on a Labour Party site are a disgrace. Helen is right to ask where does the funding come from for organisations like Progress, and whose interests do they serve ? A quarter of a million Labour members and supporters have voted for Jeremy, 50,000 more have since joined the Party. Why are you so afraid of listening to what we are saying ? Why are you so intent on denigrating the leader and pandering to the agenda of the right wing press ? Oh, so you think Corbyn’s not a leader. What a nasty patronising remark. In fact he’s the best kind of leader. He’s going to empower the Labour Party grassroots to become a mass movement that will take the Labour case to the constituencies. That’s a true leader for you : one who can give thousands the confidence to become leaders themselves.

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