If at the beginning of 2010 I had predicted that by mid-2017 the Prime Minister would be Theresa May, Britain would leaving the European Union, and that the Leader of the Opposition would be Jeremy Corbyn, this would have been generally dismissed as a fantasy, especially the latter. And yet here we are. It may be useful to chart what might be described as the irresistible rise of Jeremy Corbyn.
Apart from those who follow politics, it is highly unlikely that most people had never heard of Jeremy Corbyn. This is by design. As a parliamentarian, Corbyn seated himself in the chamber as far away from the Speaker’s chair, and thus the front bench, as he could. Jeremy Corbyn is a product of the fact that the Labour Party has been more or less permanently split since 1945. On one side there have been the social democrats, who wish the State to intervene for the common good. We know them better today as Blairites. On the other side there are the democratic socialists. However, this is the word “democratic” as used in the former country the German Democratic Republic, or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the one run by Fatboy Kim.
Corbyn hails from this Marxist wing of the Labour Party MPs. In the 1970s, this wing formed the Campaign Group and coalesced around support for Tony Benn’s vision of economic dictatorship. The interesting feature of Corbyn’s political activity is how unacknowledged it is by his peers. Tony Benn’s diaries, dictated and transcribed for posterity, mentions him in passing as being at meetings, and little more. Ken Livingstone’s autobiography, a massive tome, mentions him exactly once, and says very little. Unlike the other two, Corbyn achieved nothing. Prior to his current elevation, he held no major office.
So, what did Corbyn do during the 32 years before he became party leader? It appears to be constant networking with various groups whose ideas are too unpopular to be afforded representation. Corbyn spent his time championing ideas that failed the democratic test. He made representations in Parliament in much the same way that a Conservative MP would petition the government on behalf of a local business. The difference is that while the latter was concerned about creating wealth in his community, Corbyn was the parliamentary spokesman for those that would destroy human life or hope. Corbyn’s parliamentary constituency may have been the ultra-safe seat Islington North, but his real constituency was any left-wing or extremist group that would have him.
Corbyn has shared platforms with numerous people whose views are generally regarded as unacceptable. Terrorists, Stalinists, and anti-Semites have all found Corbyn standing shoulder to shoulder with them. This raised barely a murmur from commentators when he was doing it, still less from the Labour Party. It was just Jeremy being Jeremy. It has been regarded as part of a functioning democracy to be able to accommodate differing views however disgusting these may be. It is either that, or the consequence of a Labour Party rule book that is badly drafted and barely enforced, rules being ignored for political reasons.
To understand the context of Corbyn’s “friends”, imagine if Nigel Farage had attended rallies and shared a microphone with Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik, Holocaust denier David Irving, and a fully-hooded member of the KKK.
There is a myth propagated that Corbyn was on the “right side of history” for opposing Saddam Hussein way before anyone else did. This is pure fantasy. Corbyn opposed Saddam Hussein because Saddam Hussein was opposed by Iran. Of the two countries in the Iran-Iraq war, only Iran had its people chanting “death to America!” after Friday prayers. Corbyn was against America liberating Kuwait, a complete reversal of his previous anti-Saddam stance. Corbyn is a friend to anyone whose an enemy of the USA. He is an enemy to anyone who is a friend of the USA. This explains and informs all of Corbyn’s associations.
When Russian bombers were destroying hospitals in Aleppo, Corbyn’s said virtually nothing and certainly did not attack Russia. When the USA bombed a Syrian airbase whose aircraft had dropped chemical weapons on civilians, Corbyn was on our screens attacking the USA before you could say knife. As Vladimir Putin threatens the Baltic states, Jeremy Corbyn opposes any defence of these NATO countries. While the media are awash with Donald Trump’s alleged collusion with Russia, nothing is said over Corbyn’s decades-long affinity with Moscow.
While associating with various groups, Corbyn has been very passive in his advocacy. This means that while his fellow-travellers George Galloway and Dave Nellist were both expelled from Labour, Corbyn has successfully navigated himself away from any disciplinary process. He does this by adopting bland universalist phrases, being against all that is bad while at the same time associating with some of the baddest guys. For some reason, Labour never believed this brought the party into disrepute. Labour mistook collaboration for engagement. Corbyn exploited the politics of the “broad church” for his own ends. The hard truth is that to be a party of any meaningful size, Labour has to accommodate some very extreme opinions whose mirror-image would be unacceptable in British politics. Labour is actually a coalition of minority opinions, some terrible, who have to get on together or perish separately.
Corbyn also represents the trajectory of the Labour movement in Britain. As this movement has diminished with the collapse of communism in the east, it has paradoxically become even more extreme. It is also now concentrated in the state sector. This is appropriate; socialists do not understand the concept of profit. The consequence of this decline is that moderate opinion has been squeezed out of trades unionism; the best and brightest do not work for the State. The unions are now more interested in promoting a socialist one-party republic than they are in the welfare of their members.
So how is it that Corbyn got the top job when his fellow-traveller and former squeeze Diane Abbott failed five years previously? It may be down to the traditional misogyny of socialist parties. It is notable that during the Cold War no eastern European country ever had a female leader. While preaching equality in theory, senior socialist politicians cannot countenance being given orders by a woman. Len McCluskey of Unite backed Ed Miliband over Abbott. Corbyn’s rise could also be down to the despair of losing two elections in a row and losing support on the way to minority or regionalist parties.
Corbyn also benefited from a split vote and rule changes in the 2015 leadership election. Had a single candidate, Yvette Cooper or Andy Burnham, stood against Corbyn instead of three, it is likely they would have won in a vote amongst the members. However, changes to party rules following a ballot-rigging scandal meant that Corbyn would still have won due to Labour’s profligate affiliations policy that meant various socialist groups have the same voting power as members. The party also allowed anyone who paid £3 to vote. Anyone. The management of these electoral colleges to ensure eligibility has been shielded from public scrutiny. Put simply, there was a surge in eligible participants in the vote that could not be properly vetted in the time allowed. This must have led to a far-left feeding frenzy. Virtually all the barriers to entryism had gone.
Labour now boasts it has the largest membership of any political party in Western Europe. However, this surge in members took place over a very short period of time. The only reliable report of the body that polices the membership, the Compliance Unit, indicates it only has six members of staff. At the time the party’s membership was surging, the staff could only afford to spend about one minute verifying the application of each new member if they wanted to have toilet, cigarette, and lunch breaks for a period of several weeks. It is highly likely that thousands of under-scrutinised left-wing extremists are now members of the Labour Party following this mass charge at the bureaucracy. Some of these people have senior positions on Corbyn’s staff and are poised to take over the party machine at a national level.
The Labour Party has been the victim of a communist revolution at the top. Corbyn, with the backing of various groups, stormed the moderate and bureaucratic barricades when Labour could not provide a meaningful answer to the financial crisis that was much different from the Conservatives. Corbyn brings a return to two-party politics in this country. It is to be hoped that he also brings a return to Labour’s traditional multi-term exile from government as well.
(Image: Chatham House)