Incompetence, not internal plotting, is damaging Jeremy Corbyn

by Kevin Meagher

‘Infamy, infamy, the PLP have all got in it for me!’ This seems to sum up the mood in the Corbyn inner circle, certainly judging by the leadership’s now infamous list ranking Labour MPs on their relative loyalty and disloyalty.

The author – still unconfirmed but reported to be Corbyn’s political secretary Katy Clark – really shouldn’t have bothered. There’s really no need for lists of friends and foes because Labour MPs are utterly rubbish at coups.

Unless all his detractors can agree on who should replace him (which they can’t) it’s hard to see how the mechanics of a successful insurgency against Jeremy Corbyn will ever come about. John Woodcock’s plaintive cry to his colleagues that ‘We can’t go on like this,’ will remain unheeded.

The initial thought was that May’s elections would see Corbyn’s Labour crash to the ground once electoral gravity hit his ‘straight-talking honest politics’. Yes, there will be a collision, but the fall will not be as precipitous as first thought.

May’s elections to the Scottish Parliament are already factored-in as a wash-out. Labour will win both the Brightside and Hillsborough and Ogmore by-elections without breaking sweat, while Sadiq Khan will romp home in London.

Plus, the party will do well enough in his heartlands in the local elections to please activists and reassure most Labour MPs they are not facing electoral oblivion in 2020. Labour will struggle in battleground seats, particularly in the south of England, but ‘not winning’ is much less damaging than ‘actually losing.’

So, yes, there is feverish plotting, but most Labour MPs are the political equivalent of Adele fans. They will settle for lowest common denominator mush. They will go with the flow and offer no threat to Jeremy Corbyn out of a mixture of reasonableness and indolence and dare not fall out with their local activists. They will put loyalty to the party ahead of intellectual principle (assuming they have any) every single time.

Some may even respect Corbyn’s electoral mandate and believe he has the right to make a go of it, even if they have reservations about where this leads. Some are even quietly relieved he is offering a blast of the old religion after being starved of ideology and belief through the New Labour years.

The parliamentary party is a mixed bag and there is little prospect of galvanising them behind a different proposition while a snaking line of leaders-in-waiting make elliptical noises from the sidelines, hoping someone else will do their dirty work for them and trigger the circumstances where they will then make a seamless rise to greatness.

Unless, that is, Corbyn continues to self-immolate with a string of bad decisions and weak performances and openly invites a coup. Unfortunately, his entire leadership is doused in gasoline and he has a box of matches in his hand.

Just look at his record so far. He’s not made a single interesting speech since becoming leader of the party. His decision-making borders on chaotic and he clearly resents the disciplines of the 24/7 media. At the root of it all, he still hasn’t reconciled the fact that he’s the leader of a hierarchal political party committed to constitutional politics and can no longer be the guy on the platform in Trafalgar Square basking in the activists’ adoration.

Corbyn would create much more space to set out a bolder policy platform if he reassured his colleagues with displays of basic competence. Yet even his greatest supporter would have to concede there’s room for improvement.

It’s often simple things like ensuring someone pens the odd gag for Prime Minister’s Questions so he doesn’t keep getting caught out by Cameron’s zingers, offering up that withering, constipated expression every time he becomes the butt of another joke.

His backroom staff hardly seems equal to the task either. In all fairness, it’s hard to get traction when your boss is dead set on inverting all the lessons of modern political leadership. Even ridiculously small decisions, like joining the Privy Council or wearing a shirt and tie, are dragged out and converted into tortuous, self-defeating psychodramas.

If he kept his politics narrowly focused around opposing austerity, he would have more luck. A lot has changed since 2010 and the shine has rubbed off George Osborne’s explanations as to why he can’t get the deficit down and economic growth up. But instead of pressing the advantage, we get self-indulgent gesture politics. Like his beloved kebabs, we are presented with lumps of reheated policy gristle to consume, like unilateral nuclear disarmament.

Party management is reduced to dealing with a steady stream of activists and councillors exposed as enthusiastic anti-Semites and ISIS sympathisers. Hardly surprising given a good chunk of the new members are clearly raving mad, having spent years trying to destroy the Labour party from outside.

For the left, the risk is that Corbyn is squandering his – their – political capital through basic ineptness. The significance of last year’s leadership contest was not just Corbyn’s victory, but the fact fewer than one in twenty members and supporters opted for Liz Kendall, the neo-Blairite option. The party’s grassroots voted with their hearts for a more meaningful, principled and radical politics than the New Labour ancien regime was offering.

This was an extraordinary moment for the left in British politics and a chance to take their message mainstream. However it is being frittered away, and while there is no inherent conflict between adopting more radical positions on a range of issues and displays of basic political competence, Jeremy Corbyn seems determined to prove there is.

For all the talk of coups and challenges and breakaways, it is, ironically, the one thing in Jeremy Corbyn’s gift that will determine whether anything happens or not: his own personal performance in the job.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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14 Responses to “Incompetence, not internal plotting, is damaging Jeremy Corbyn”

  1. The achievements of the Blair and Brown Governments were fully supported by all members of the present Shadow Cabinet. Some of them opposed other aspects of those Governments’ programmes. That opposition has been vindicated by events.

    Jeremy Corbyn has brought world class economists into the British political debate for the first time in 35 years. He has ended the hegemony of neoconservative foreign policy. He has forced the media to include the left-wing critique of the European Union. He has broken the silence around the “renewal” of Trident, which was not discussed in England at the 2015 General Election. He has exposed this Prime Minister’s ties to Saudi Arabia, the centre of global terrorism.

    Under any of last year’s other Leadership candidates, Labour would not have opposed the cuts that have caused Iain Duncan Smith to resign. Tom Watson’s Deputy Leadership makes Corbyn’s a balanced ticket. Corbyn’s Britain would be a significant counterweight to the America of Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.

    No wonder, then, that the BBC repeated as fact a list of Labour MPs that the Conservative Party had obviously made up. Anyone would think that their efforts were co-ordinated. And anyone would think that, for example, John Woodcock was in on it. Entryism? Parties within parties? The very idea!

    The Government needed to distract attention from the fact that Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation, which I for one take entirely at face value (and if you have become even more cynical than I am, then you need to have a word with yourself), had caused it to abandon its proposed cuts in disability benefits.

    Labour opposed those cuts only because Corbyn won the Leadership. Under any of the other three candidates, it would have been whipped either to abstain or, quite conceivably, to vote in favour. A handful of MPs, including Corbyn, John McDonnell, Diane Abbott, and probably also Watson, would have broken that whip. But that would have been what they were doing: breaking the Whip.

    The hypocrisy of Yvette Cooper is particularly galling, as is the media’s fawning over her. She abolished Income Support. She introduced the Work Capability Assessment. She would have led Labour into the Division Lobby for this. The wrong one of that couple lost his seat.

  2. Mike Stallard says:

    And then there is the EU which is the place where the decisions are increasingly made. Ministers go to Brussels to hob nob with their opposite numbers there and to discover the latest Directives from the bureaucracy. What kind of people are these? Certainly not the traditional type of Minister of the Crown.
    They are remote, secretive, arrogant and they have their own group-think.
    Meanwhile we out here in the back of beyond feel let down and unrepresented. That is because we are.
    Mr Corbyn is the Labour answer, and he does not fit. Too old. Too out of touch. Representing less and less the folk who elected him – the ones who phone up LBC with their opinions.
    Mr Cameron/Osborne is the Conservative answer. Two completely out of touch elected dictators destroying their ancient party from within.

  3. Timmy says:

    It is not only Corbyn’s ineptness that is on view and damaging the Party.
    The PLP are proving that they are incapable of organising a change of leader, yet they want to be seen by the public as an alternative Government once Corbyn is gone. This lack of basic management skills will be being noticed too and will have long term consequences of it’s own. John Woodcock’s (accurate) sniping only serves to highlight the ineptness of the PLP group as a whole.

  4. Ryland1 says:

    Morning Kev…

    any chance the members can have a say in all this leadership stuff?

  5. paul barker says:

    What Mr Meagher sees as incompetence is actually a complete lack of interest in Mainstream politics & that goes for the mass of the membership too. Labour MPs unhappy with that had better Retire or look for a new Party.

  6. Tafia says:

    Timmy “The PLP are proving that they are incapable of organising a change of leader”

    You’re proving you have no idea about the procedure for challenging an incumbent leader – and more importantly, the ramifications should you fail. Automatic disciplinary, almost certain expulsion of the failed challenger and probable expulsion for the challengers nominees.

    If an incumbent eager won’t stand aside and allow a full leadership election, then a hostile challenge allows the incumbent to stand against just one – and only one, challenger. Now have a little think about the surge in party membership and the flip-side of the members that are leaving. Corbin will walk it. The challenger will be expelled. The nominees at the very least severely punished.

    Herein lies your problem. It’s not that the PLP are incapable, it’s that they are cowardly careerists. Who can’t stomach the consequences of staging a coup. Weak selfish people with no backbone, who put their position as the single most important thing above all else. No stomach for either a fight or the consequences of defeat. Instead they’d rather whisper and drip poison.

    And the most ironic thing is that the system for challenging an incumbent leader was designed by the Blairites in order to stop the left continually challenging them. Hoisted by their own petard. You really couldn’t making it up.

  7. Anne says:

    I think it was obvious from the very beginning of this debacle that Mr Corbyn was not up to the job.
    I do agree that it is time that the more sensible members began to speak with one voice. The best person to take on the leadership position is Alan Johnson – he has all the qualities of leadership – even if he takes the party to the next general election.

  8. Timmy says:

    I don’t really disagree with what you say (except for your assertion that I don’t understand the process and risks). Capability is more than the individual competence of MPs; it requires courage, communication skills, organisational ability…. The PLP can keep him off the nomination paper for September if they have their act together, but I doubt they are capable.

    The careerist accusation is an interesting one that is currently in vogue. In the end most of us will put the family and the mortgage ahead of other priorities if push comes to shove. Personally I will not cast that stone or criticise someone.

  9. Tafia says:

    The PLP can keep him off the nomination paper for September

    No they can’t. If he refuses to stand aside, he is automatically on the ballot and only one person can stand against him. So your problem is finding a candidate who will almost certainly lose and be expelled, and the necessary nominees who will be disciplined if the challenger doesn’t win.

    Then there is the little matter of the redrawing of the constituency boundaries or 2020 and the wave of deselection so that automatically triggers as constituencies are radically altered (which most will be) or cease to exist all together. Not a good time to rebel against Corbyn when it.s his army that is in the majority in the CLPs.

    Of course, MPs of principle won’t be put off by the fear of discipline, expulsion or reselection. But there aren’t that many MPs of principle in the CLP. So you are stuck with Corbyn. Get used to the idea. And

  10. steve says:

    ” the fall will not be as precipitous as first thought.”

    That’s interesting.

    A begrudging admission that Corbyn may not be as electorally disastrous as Blairites previously wished.

    No doubt, as Corbyn’s support firms-up, the ministerial limousine-hungry Blairites will begin to throw around words such as ‘socialism’ and ‘solidarity’ – just as the ridiculous Jim Murphy did in a last-ditch attempt to shore-up his ambitions as leader of Scottish Labour.

    The electorate were not duped by Murphy’s cynical posturing but, thanks to Corbyn’s integrity, the Blairites may get away with it.

  11. Timmy says:

    The proposed rule change for this summer that would bring into being the position that you say already exists

  12. John P Reid says:

    Timmy, if the 21 MPs go nominated Corbyn not wanting him to win,vs isn’t nominate a hard left alternative, be it McDonnell or Abbott, what would their local CLPs think of them ,if JC was ousted, the McDonnell would win

    I don’t even think if some councillors who nominated Jac lose their seats due to him being in popular over the next 2 years they’ll think they made a mistake ,voting for him

  13. Tafia says:

    Timmy, are you on about re-selections? There can’t be any yet because nobody knows the new boundaries yet – but in the part of Wales I live we know we will drop from 5 to 3.

    Or are you on about the leadership? It’s already te rules that nly one candidate can stand against an incumbent leader if they refuse to stand down.

    The Corbynistas are in the ascendency. There are no buffoons in the PLP selfless enough to get themselves expelled trying to depose him o stop being a cretin and clutching at straws. And as it gets nearewr and nearer to the Electoral Commissions formalisation of the reduction and redrawing of the constituencies, you will suddenly find an awful lot of Labour MPs – who will beautomatically facing reelection because their seat no longer exists, will suddenly become loyalists. And remeber this is re-organisation will affect Labour more than anyone else because of the in-built Labour bias which will be removed.

  14. Jams O'Donnell says:

    Right on Tafia. I must say though that with friends like Kevin, Corbyn will have to watch his back as well as the tories in front of him.,

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