I rather agree with my left leaning friends that it’s time to put the recent Labour leadership contest behind us. I am not going to change my opinion that the election of Jeremy Corbyn will not bring success to the party in 2020 – in fact, rather the reverse – but there are a few points to bear in mind. One is Corbyn’s undoubted mandate and two is the unexpectedly consensual style the new leader and his closest ally and shadow chancellor John McDonnell have embarked upon.
One of my immediate concerns was what I thought would be the inevitable de-selection of non hard left MPs, rather like in the 1980s when the Bennite left, along with the ultra left Militant tendency, set about tearing Labour apart, making it unelectable for a generation. But McDonnell himself said yesterday, plainly and simply, “No de-selections.”
Even on some issues of policy, there has somehow been compromise from the old rebel himself. The EU debate appears to have been settled in favour of remaining in, just as I too had decided that on balance it was the right thing to do. (To be fair, it was Nigel Farage whose ugly, xenophobic and borderline racist attack on Europe last week that finally did it for me.) Trident has been put on the back burner, Corbyn has embraced the Andy Burnham line on renationalising the railways, not immediately but as the franchises expire, the unbridgeable gap between left and right is, perhaps, not as unbridgeable as we previously thought.
Having said all that, there have been plenty of things about his first 18 days in office that I have been very unhappy about. But perhaps that’s the point: 18 days. It’s not long, is it?
Today’s leader’s speech will quite probably define Corbyn the Labour leader, Corbyn the potential prime minister. Now this does sound harsh, but the truth is the general public has seen little and knows little about a man who has spent more than half his life on the Labour backbenches. Today, he will need to speak to the nation and convince them that he is a serious player. For someone who has spent a lifetime speaking to those who agree with him, it will be a dramatic change.
I am prepared to accept Corbyn at face value and to be judged on his deeds, regardless of my strong opposition to parts of his policies and huge chunks of his past. I would be a fool not to given how easily he won the leadership ballot, but there is one thing I would ask of him. Call off your attack dogs.
Whilst acknowledging that this is a sticks and stones type debate, the endless attacks from his friends on the hard left on those who do not share his view of the world simply have to stop. If Corbyn is serious about party unity – and he should be – perhaps he can get Diane Abbott to stop talking such tosh about MPs deliberately voting for a bombing campaign in Syria purely to embarrass him. Perhaps he could get it across to his comrades that those of us who are not of the far left, are not Tory-lite, Blair-lite, right wing or any of the other 57 varieties of insults they can come up with. It does not hurt, nor intimidate, but these are slurs, just like the one which says that those of us who didn’t support Corbyn should set up a new SDP. Why? I didn’t leave back in the early 1980s when the traitorous “Gang of Four” left Labour and did exactly that. I strongly opposed Tony Benn’s ruinous years that led Labour on the path to impotent opposition, but I never thought of leaving. I did think of leaving this time, but to be honest, there’s nowhere else to go for someone of the left, is there?
The real enemy remains the Conservative Party and the devastating onslaught they are about to unleash on us, especially the poor, the sick and the vulnerable. It will make the Thatcher years feel like the good old days. Corbyn has to show that he can mount serious opposition to the government and engage with people up and down the country in order to persuade them to vote Labour. In the end, electoral success, or failure, will determine whether the “new kind of politics” was anything of the kind.
Like it or lump it, Corbyn is the leader and, as the football manager always says after a thumping defeat, we just have to get on with it.