Nobody in the Labour Party comes away from the shadow cabinet reshuffle looking very good. But particular anger should be reserved for the supposedly mature moderates and centrists, whose claim to be more dignified and trustworthy than the Corbynites has been utterly destroyed
When it comes to the conduct of Labour MPs during the so-called “revenge reshuffle”, LabourList’s Emma Burnell is very much of a “plague on all their houses” mindset.
Of Jeremy Corbyn and his intemperate supporters, Burnell writes:
“On what planet is it a good idea to start briefing about a reshuffle and it’s potential casualties over the period more commonly dedicated to peace, goodwill and a slow news cycle?
On what planet is it a good idea to then hold that reshuffle on the day your activists got up super-early, in the cold and the rain to leaflet stations across the country thus stepping all over your own fares campaign?
On what planet is it OK to brief the potential loss of your Shadow Foreign Secretary, then brief he’s staying, then brief he might be going after all, then keep him? I’m sure the public is completely convinced of your faith in him and the job he’s doing. Anyway, not like it’s an important role…
On what planet is it even slightly a good idea to take four days to reshuffle what turns out to be a derisory number of posts?”
Valid questions, all. The way that Corbyn conducted this reshuffle can be most generously described as bumbling and naive, but the aggravating words of some of his supporters and loyalists – including John McDonnell and Diane Abbott – make it seem downright vindictive and vicious.
To take just one example, it helps nobody that Labour’s shadow foreign secretary now clings on to his job a diminished figure, drained of authority after days and weeks of speculation that he would be sacked. If Jeremy Corbyn wanted to get rid of Hillary Benn because of their opposing views on Syria, that is his prerogative as leader. But to leave Benn twisting in the wind for days on end was not just personally cruel, but also very poor party management.
Of the Corbyn-hating moderates, Burnell writes:
“You are not entitled to a Shadow Cabinet position. When you get sacked, take it like a grown up and act with some dignity. Particularly if you know in your heart you’ve given the Leader every reason to do it. Yes, the crowing on the left is hideous. Don’t fight hideous with hideous.
If you want to coordinate a revolution, it will take more than three junior MPs with similar politics. If Corbyn is as unelectable as you think and should be got rid of, stop bloody serving in his Cabinet. Don’t idle up to saying so, resign and get it on a bloody t shirt. If you aren’t going to do that – en masse – then shut the hell up.
Stop blaming everyone else for your woes. “It’s the Soft Left’s fault” “It’s Ed Miliband’s fault” “It’s Andy Burnham’s fault” “It’s Tom Watson’s fault” “It’s Lord Collins’ fault”. It’s your fault. You lost an election and riled the selectorate so badly with reheated, rehashed out of date Blairism. I’m not talking about Liz Kendall’s campaign (though there was far too much Blair there) I’m talking about the last 20 years. Years of disengagement, disrespect and downright dishonesty towards a membership who chose to have their revenge after suffering fools with only seething resentment for too long.”
Amen. I’ve been saying the same thing since Jeremy Corbyn was first elected as Labour leader – and even earlier. The self-entitled centrists of the Labour Party are currently willing to blame anyone and everything for the rise of Jeremy Corbyn other than the fact that there exists only a rotting abscess where their own sincerely held policies and positive vision for Britain should reside.
When Labour Party members, affiliates and supporters cast their votes in the Labour leadership contest, they were asked to pick between Jeremy Corbyn, two bland machine politicians (Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham) and one unapologetic Blairite (Liz Kendall) whose political bravery could not make up for the fact that she was seen as too similar to the present centrist Conservative government (not that David Cameron’s hysterical critics are willing to accept the fact that the government is centrist).
Given the soul-sapping choice faced by Labour supporters, it is entirely understandable that many of them embraced Jeremy Corbyn, a man who is no Tony Benn but at least maintained the courage of his socialist convictions through long years of unpopularity in the political wilderness. Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy awoke something in the hearts of thousands of people (and not only those on the Left) who had slowly come to realise that for all the calculated bluster there was actually vanishingly little to choose between Labour and the Conservatives, or the bland centrist consensus which captures both parties.
Corbyn’s restive critics within the Labour Party seem to think that Jeremy Corbyn is theproblem when in reality he is only the symptom. They think that by continually undermining their leader and forcing him from office they can make everything well again, when in reality they will still be no closer to answering the existential question facing them: what does the Labour Party of 2016 actually stand for? At least Jeremy Corbyn is able to answer the damn question without resorting to focus group approved platitudes – and that’s why he is now leader.
So who is more to blame for the “revenge reshuffle” chaos? I agree with Emma Burnell that neither the Corbynites nor the centrists-in-exile covered themselves in glory this past week, or even these past three months. In fact, the petulant, childish public behaviour exhibited by both sides has been utterly depressing.
Ultimately, however, one has to reserve special criticism, scorn and disappointment for the supposedly calm and rational Labour moderates, including those unremarkable prima donnas who flounced out of Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet this week.
Remember, the socialist Left of the Labour Party has not tasted power or influence for well over two decades, in which time their ideas have been marginalised and their ranks depleted. If we are to forgive anyone for acts of political naivety or excessive zealousness these past few months, it should probably be the people who have no living experience of official opposition, let alone government.
Jeremy Corbyn’s centrist critics, on the other hand, have no such excuse for their behaviour. They cannot blame their undignified public temper tantrums on a lack of experience – their wing of the party has been in the ascendency for years, and they know what it is to live and work under the sensationalist eye of the Westminster media. When they feed their foot-stomping anti-Corbyn screeds to the newspapers, they know exactly what they are doing.
Right now, the only claim to legitimacy held by Labour moderates is the rapidly fraying notion that they are the mature, sensible ones in this debate – that unlike the partisan extremists of the Corbyn wing, they are well versed in the art of government and compromise, and can be trusted to provide a rational, serious alternative to the Conservatives.
That claim is currently being shot to pieces, and all because a ragtag group of thoroughly unexceptional moderate Labour MPs are kicking up such a stink about their brief exile from the halls of influence that they would sooner bring the Labour Party crashing down around their heads than suck it up and accept that Jeremy Corbyn gets to call the shots until such time as he loses the support of his party membership.
If an older family member picks a fight with a younger sibling, one typically sides with the child on the basis that the adult should know better, being possessed of so much more maturity and life experience. We would rightly hold the adult to a higher standard.
At present, Labour’s moderates and centrists are holding themselves to the same desperately low standard of behaviour as the most partisan of Corbynites. And it is increasingly difficult to tell which side are the adults in the Labour family, if indeed there are any left at all.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty