As I write this, there is a battle taking place over the future of the soul of the Labour Party. The conflict consists of those who long for the days of Corbynism to return, and those who wish to move forward; those who will defend a man who is now just a controversial backbencher, over the leader of the UK’s only viable left-wing party. These discussions, debates and arguments are still ongoing. Although, ultimately, I think it’s important that we address what is being fought for and why, I think, those who are defending Corbynism, have chosen the wrong hill to die on.
I became a fan of Jeremy Corbyn, in 2016, not long after he became the leader of the Labour Party. Regardless of your feelings towards the man politically speaking, he does not strike you as a ‘politician’, in the sense that he does not look glossy, nor does he talk accordingly. Jeremy Corbyn always came across as a community organiser, an activist, a councillor who fell into frontline politics; an honest man, whose priorities are truly with the working people. For a young person at the time, with a left-leaning but unmoulded political conviction, Jeremy Corbyn was an inspiring force. I would explain his popularity amongst younger voters in one word: accessibility. He spoke to voters like a kind teacher or a wise family friend; not talking down, but engaging. He engaged those who already felt an affinity for the left and made them dream of a better world.
Politics isn’t a fairy tale. You don’t get swept off your feet by a politician, who promises to solve all of the problems you see in society. He will not duly be elected into office in a landslide, for you live happily ever after, in a blissful political utopia. That is just not reality.
No, the reality is that sometimes, you back the wrong horse. In this case, I put all of my eggs in the Corbyn basket, only to sit through perhaps the most humiliating and humbling political massacre imaginable, the 2019 General Election. When something like that happens, when a man like Boris Johnson, a bumbling fool with literally zero political conviction, beats the guy you had invested in, you sit back and reevaluate where you stand.
Following the election in December 2019, I took a good few months to reflect on my political priorities. What remains non-negotiable? What am I willing to compromise over? What did I previously hold as a core belief, that I now am forced to reconsider?
Corbynism was relatively far-left, certainly for Britain. It relied on creating a series of non-negotiables, like large-scale nationalisations and a complete overhauling of the economy – if you weren’t wholly on board with these policy proposals, you were against them. Altogether, Corbynism offered the electorate an ultimatum, which conclusively backfired.
An ultimatum between oneself and an alternative, suggests that the person proposing the ultimatum sees themselves as the evidently superior option, and thus knows that by forcing the hand of the other in an ‘it’s them or us’ contention, the individual’s affirmation is guaranteed in your favour. Alas, that is not what happened.
Following the election, Corbyn announced that although the Labour Party didn’t win the election per se, they did win the argument. From the strangling the electorate via an ultimatum to a self-proclaimed victory in defeat, the sad reality of the Corbyn project is that by the end, it had become an exercise in vanity and purity, rather than politics and pragmatism.
Winning the argument
Few phrases better demonstrate the mindset of the die-hard Corbyn revivalists in the current, Starmer era, than the Labour left’s obsession with winning the argument. Following the 2019 General Election disgrace, Corbyn announced that he would be stepping down following the Labour Leadership Elections. Whilst traditionally, leaders will resign upon confirmation of the election defeat, Corbyn decided to stay until a new leader was found for the party, to guide the party through a phase of regrouping and rethinking.
The party’s membership elected Sir Keir Starmer, a decorated barrister and former Director of Public Prosecutions for England & Wales (more here), as the new leader. Starmer, although having served in two Corbyn Shadow Cabinets, is far more moderate than Corbyn. In terms of pure ideological difference, it is akin to the differences between Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden in the U.S.’s Democratic Party. And the similarities don’t stop there, in fact, you could argue that like Biden, Starmer is much further left than his detractors on the left seem to think. You see, because Starmer and Biden are not Corbyn or Sanders, they’re called moderates, centrists or neoliberals (occasionally, Blairites in the U.K.). But, if you look at the words and actions of both Biden and Starmer, you’ll see men who are by no means socialists, but certainly not neoliberals either.
While the similarities between Biden and Starmer don’t end there, I will focus solely on Starmer in saying that he is consistently attacked from the left because he is not pure enough for the party’s left-wing. Perhaps the biggest difference between the left and the right, aside from actual policy points, is in the mindset of each wing. Where the left is fundamentally utopian, the right is not.
The further to the left one travels, the more you begin to sense that there is a feeling of preciousness over the ideological means to which an end is achieved. At the extreme, you will find that there are Marxists who believe in adhering to Marx’s writing as a Christian fundamentalist would the bible. Nevertheless, there is certainly a gravitation towards purity the further left you go.
This is no better demonstrated materially than in the case study of the post-Corbyn Labour Party. We now see Corbyn revivalists actively attempting to troll Starmer supporters by donating to Corbyn’s legal fund (a fund which is meant to fight a case of alleged antisemitism in court). In the past 48 hours alone, I have seen a trend of Corbyn revivalists who have tweeted that they refuse to vote for Keir Starmer now that he is Labour leader.
To anyone of the left’s political adversaries, this will be music to their ears. The Labour Party is imploding again.
As I said in the introduction, I was a supporter of Corbyn and Corbynism. I thought he could and would bring about the change necessary for the U.K. to become a more just and equitable society. The electorate did not agree. Unfortunately, such is life. We live in a democracy, and the people choose, not the hard-line Corbyn supporters.
My plea to the Corbyn revivalists comes in five parts:
1. Understand that Corbyn was never that popular, well-liked or trusted.
It is easy to fall into the online echo chamber that tells you that millions upon millions stand for the same things you do. When you see a tweet get over 50k RTs, that does not equate to 50k votes for Corbyn. Here is some opinion polling that compares Corbyn to Starmer, which will make for some pretty hard reading, but I implore you to fully educate yourself before choosing to die on this hill.
2. The antisemitism debacle is still ongoing.
I do still maintain that I do not believe Corbyn to be an anti-Semite. He has consistently proven throughout his life, through a variety of campaigns, marches and demonstrations, that he abhors all forms of racism. That said, under his leadership, claims of antisemitism, under the disguise of anti-Zionism, has grown substantially. Groups like the SWP have long faced claims of anti-Jewish racism, and Corbyn associated with those groups. There is no grand conspiracy to take down a backbench MP, there are now only complaints and statements made by Jewish Labour Party members. Your virtuosity does not carry if you continue to allow antisemitic hatred to brew within the party.
3. “I’m not voting for Starmer”
Listen, no one can force you to vote for Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, but be aware that you don’t make up the portion of the Labour Party’s voting base you think you do. You cannot be both the maligned minority group within the party when it fits your arguments, and the overwhelming majority too. Indeed, you’re a moderately sized faction of the party which has waned further since Starmer’s leadership. You can vote Green if you like, or form a new party, but our current electoral system dictates that you will likely gain no seats – only serving to move Corbynism to the peripheries of British politics, no longer even able to influence the second-biggest party in the country. Not a smart move, but one made from grandiose delusions.
4. Politics isn’t a fairy tale
As I alluded to at the top of the article. You don’t get your way all of the time. Sometimes, you’ve got to take a loss on the chin and change. That was the great failure of Corbynism, it outright refused to listen to the public, but instead told the public what it wanted them to vote for – which they refused. Now we have Johnson, a terrible Tory cabinet, we have lost our traditional stronghold in the north, and you still convince yourself you’re right and virtuous.
5. Look around you.
I have been wrong about a lot in politics over the last few years. None bigger than believing that going further left would defeat Trump (links here and here). The only way to win an election, in the face of populists, is to build coalitions of moderate and swing voters. In the U.S., Trump is currently underwater in the polls, because as he continues to sink deeper into his own delusions, Biden continues to quietly build coalitions on the left, centre-left centre and centre-right. Now, Starmer is building support from the centre-left, centre and a decent level of support on the centre-right, as well as rebuilding support in some of the Lab-Con swing seats. Do not undermine this, because, without control of Scotland, we need a tremendous number of seats - as many as we can get across the country. The Labour left's whining about ideological purity does nothing to aid in this task.
You don’t have to be happy with Starmer, you can criticise his policy positions and the routes he takes to achieve certain objectives. However, what is wrong, is to actively undermine the leadership because it does not entirely align with your politics. The Labour left do not have a divine right to positions of power in the party, we have to be better than we were under Corbyn. That is coming from someone who is not massively different to the Labour left, ideologically speaking – only I am now willing to cede some ground in order for the party to achieve electoral success. It’s about time the Labour left did the same.