by Rob Marchant
So much has been made of Jeremy Corbyn’s honesty and freshness, that it is high time for us to probe it. After ten months of “straight talking, honest politics”, this weekend’s long and detailed Observer interview turned out to be rather insightful.
- “People should have the right to take part” in the leadership election campaign (having just joined the party). Now, apart from the fact that the Court of Appeal said that they shouldn’t (i.e. that the NEC is sovereign), historical precedent says otherwise. Major political parties have always had freeze periods for membership before they can vote, for the simple reason that it helps prevent manipulation and entryism. As various members have commented, you have a freeze date of 6 months just for selection of a council candidate, how on earth can you justify having a freeze date of zero, for something as important as the party leader?
- “That is what democracy is about” – no, that is not what democracy is about. Democracy is about having free and fair elections, not ones which are open to manipulation. That’s why we have freeze periods. We might also note that until recently Corbyn was not averse to appearing alongside good old Lutfur Rahman, the now-disgraced former mayor of Tower Hamlets, convicted of election fraud in 2015.Talking of election fraud, it is interesting to note that one of Corbyn’s key supporters in Momentum, Marsha-Jane Thompson, also has a conviction for it. Perhaps unsurprising, then, to find out she led the unsuccessful appeal to the NEC when Rahman was rightly deselected as Labour’s mayoral candidate in 2010. And Christine Shawcroft, suspended for defending Rahman and now not only back in the party but elected to the NEC. This is the respect for “democracy” which we are dealing with in Corbyn’s Labour, and that is why Labour HQ rightly fought back against it.
- “At no stage in anyone’s most vivid imagination are there 300,000 sectarian extremists at large in the country who have suddenly descended on the Labour party…sorry Tom, it is nonsense.” But that’s a straw man, isn’t it, Jeremy? Because Tom Watson was at pains to point out that his concern was not all new joiners. He identified, correctly, small minority of Trotskyites who nevertheless had a disproportionate influence on the new intake, because of their skill in organising. Exactly like Militant before them. That’s how they roll.
- “We have a very strong and very large party membership who joined for a reason. They want a different kind of society and a different kind of Britain.” Most of them, perhaps. But not all want the same Britain. We have also admitted a number who believe in revolution rather than democracy, who therefore do not fit with Labour values at all and for whom Labour is a means to an end. There are others, as we have seen, who are openly anti-Semitic.
- “Tom’s letter appeared to be a rehash of a book Michael Crick wrote 20 years ago about alleged entryism into the Labour party.” It was not a “rehash”, it was a direct excerpt. Why? Because the tactics are exactly the same and they are being used again. Make local party meetings boring. Disrupt. Shout down sensible comments. Because when those people leave in disgust, the stage is clear for you.And as for “alleged” entryism, how dare you try and mislead the public. It is a historical fact that Militant entryists nearly destroyed the Labour Party, and only painstaking work by organisers managed to cleanse the party, years later. But there is a reason why you, even now, disingenuously cast doubt on it. And that is because you, Jeremy, were instrumental in organising Labour opposition to the expulsion of Militant.
- “Has there been any entryism?” “I haven’t noticed it.” Note the absence of the answer “no, there has not”, because that could be contradicted by hard evidence. The same evasion as when asked about anti-Semitism in the party. Members of other parties have demonstrably been joining, although thankfully the party staff have been working hard to detect and stop them. But to try and imply there is none, without actually saying it, is just misleading.
- “Is there a problem of people joining from other parties, including those who supported the Socialist Workers party?” “If someone has developed their politics to be members of the Labour party even though they were once members of the Lib Dems, or Greens or something, fine. Welcome aboard.” What Corbyn is cleverly doing, is trying to equate the Socialist Party or the SWP to more benign parties. But those other parties do not have a history of entryism. It is comparing chalk and cheese. And, tellingly, note that there is one party glaringly absent from the list. Heaven forbid that we should countenance the idea of converting people who were once Tories.
- “Do you have total confidence in Iain McNicol?” ”I have been happy to work with Iain McNicol since I became leader.” Not exactly a statement of support, is it? In fact, Corbyn fails on two separate occasions during the interview to back his General Secretary. He also says that there will be a report on the contest demanded of McNicol and, ominously, “let’s look at that when the new NEC takes over.” If that is not an extremely thinly-veiled threat to McNicol about his position, is difficult to see what is. Kinder, gentler politics.
- “The RMT strikes, do you support them?” “I understand why they are doing it. Absolutely. Because in the case of Southern the company has not fulfilled its obligations as far as I see it.” “Do you back the strikes on Southern and Eurostar?” “Yes, because I understand why they are doing it.” But this is really a post-hoc justification, isn’t it, Jeremy? The fact is that you have never, in your entire life, been against a strike of any kind. You see it is your duty to support a strike, justified or not, because you are a socialist, and that’s that. And yet you don’t even say you support them, because that might give a bad headline, but that you “understand” them. How are those not weasel words?
- “How are you going to reach out beyond the core to a wider electorate?” “We have done our best to get our message out. It hasn’t been helped that prominent people in the Labour party – Labour MPs – have spent the last 10 months actively being unsupportive of our policies that have been generally agreed and supported.” Meaning: it’s all those dreadful MPs’ fault, not mine. Never mind that a rebellion of 80% of the PLP has never happened before in the history of the party – hardly dyed-in-the-wool Blairites, most of them. They are merely average Labourites at the end of their tether. And who, pray tell, have these policies been “generally agreed and supported” by? By you and a few mates? Certainly not by the National Policy Forum, Labour’s sovereign policy-making body. Or most of your MPs. Who?
- “Lilian Greenwood MP, in explaining why she was resigning from the shadow cabinet, said [that] you announced a reshuffle on the day that the rail strategy that she had worked on for months was also being announced, and as a result it got buried by the reshuffle.” “Listen, choreography of news is not always the easiest thing to achieve.” Meaning: we messed it up like we have messed up management of the media from the start, in a way that would have been unthinkable during the time Labour was in government. We are hapless.
- “So…it’s perfectly reasonable for MPs, who are taking soundings from voters, to say they are unwilling to support you as leader because they don’t see you as being electable as a prime minister.” “Of course it is perfectly reasonable.” But hold on, you don’t think that, do you Jeremy? It’s clear that you think it’s perfectly unreasonable, otherwise you would not be threatening them all with deselection. Mendacity.
- “But why do you keep calling them out for their disloyalty?…you voted 438 times against Labour.” “No, I was standing for what I thought were very important principles…I did not ever take any personal abuse or issues with anybody on the frontbench. I have never done that sort of politics, I never have.” Meaning: I am a victim, not a perpetrator. I never take pot-shots at anyone. Well, apart from the one I’ve just taken at Tom Watson.
- “No, but if these MPs feel as though their constituents will not be served by a Labour party that is not electable then it is a principled position for them to take, isn’t it? “They can take a position, and they have done. And they are welcome to make the comments that they do. But I just remind them that we are all members of the Labour party…And recruiting 300,000 people in a year has never ever been achieved before…I would say to them, let’s understand that the mood out there has changed…There is thirst for real political change…People have had enough…of the politics of endless inequality.” Subtext: you may go against me, but I and my new members are coming for you. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
- “You seem far more energised by this leadership campaign than by the European Union campaign. You have done 19 rallies in the leadership campaign. You did 10 in the EU referendum campaign.” ”I did more media appearances than the whole of the shadow cabinet put together in the referendum campaign.” Meaning: sorry, yes, yes, it was 10. I forgot to mention that my campaign team originally said I did 122 appearances in the referendum campaign, and that that figure was a complete and utter fabrication. My pants were totally on fire.
- Do you want to take public ownership? “No it’s about participation and partnerships … the straight public ownership we want to look at is the rail system, which these days has universal support in the Labour party.” So if you want a mixed system elsewhere, Jeremy, why do you dogmatically oppose absolutely anything which involves private capital, calling it “privatisation”, even if it is perfectly well regulated by the state? What “partnerships” are these you are looking for exactly, which do not involve full public ownership?
- “This campaign is turning a little nasty. There was a lot of booing at the event last night.” “People should treat other with respect. I don’t do abuse and I don’t think that anyone else should. Whoever they are.” Of course you don’t, Jeremy. I mean, what politician could argue with that? But your people are doing abuse – just step onto Twitter and you can see it – and the worst thing is not that you are abusing people yourself, but that when others do it in your name, you barely react.All right, if someone says something openly anti-Semitic, the party machine will act, as it is their job to do so. But when you are actually there in the room and someone heckles a Jewish MP, using the age-old “Jews control the media” trope, it is not that you do not react. You do: you laugh nervously, or the more unkind among us might call it a smirk. And then afterwards you chat with said heckler of whom, for some strange reason, you seem to have the mobile number. What message do you think that sends, exactly?
- “The charge is that over the last 10 months a nastiness has grown in the Labour party…Do you think it has increased?” “No. I am not sure it has.” So Jeremy, it seems you have been living in a place other than Britain for the last 10 months, because it is all around you. Bricks through windows, attempts at intimidation at meetings and online, anti-Semitic conspiracies, misogynist abuse.Let us not forget that a Labour MP was murdered a few short weeks ago: not to do with this leadership campaign, of course, but we are left with a general zeitgeist feeling, that MPs are fair game for all of our life’s frustrations. Female Labour MPs looking for police protection. Your reaction: “I receive more abuse than anybody else”. But you are not a woman; you are generally surrounded by your aides and your imploring your MPs to “ignore it” does not, in the end, cut very much ice, does it?Amidst that atmosphere, you seem to have no way of controlling your fans, who roam the internet, usually failing to debate the issues, because their source material is so flimsy. So insults and threats are an easier way for many of them to go. Your only contribution has been a vague Code of Conduct.Now, whereas the party machine can discipline members, it has no right to discipline non-member supporters from Momentum. So, unless the Corbyn campaign team takes action against such supporters, they will keep going. And where they are party members, there is little evidence that the campaign team is passing perpetrators’ details to party HQ (in fact, as we have seen from Corbyn’s comments on Iain McNicol, the party machine is viewed with utter suspicion).
- “Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump? Well I can’t be with Trump, can I? I can’t be with Trump so obviously with Hillary.” Now, while we wouldn’t expect Corbyn (or any other UK politician, for that matter) to say anything different, the answer is a fascinating insight into how his mind works.Instead of thinking about what he aligns with, he first thinks about what he is against.In other words, he starts with what he sees as unconscionable and then decides his allegiances from there, by a process of elimination. In this case, he comes up with the only sensible answer – Hillary Clinton – but if you understand his distaste for everything Western foreign policy stands for, you can also see why he ends up often aligned to Vladimir Putin or Fidel Castro. It is not that these people are good. It is that Corbyn despises America, Israel and anything connected with them. So those that also despise America and/or Israel are preferred options. My enemy’s enemy is my friend. In whoever’s company that might put you. That is policy a la Corbyn.
Taken as a whole, you can see in this interview quite an insight into Labour’s leader and the way he thinks. But it also shows, to be frank, recurrent mendacity, not-so-hidden threats and outright misleading. These things must be called out, because straight talking, honest politics it is not. It is really not.
Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left