Incessant denouncement of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership points to Westminster’s anxieties surrounding Chilcot
Tony Blair. How tragic that in 2016, in the midst of a post-referendum national crisis, the name of the former New Labour prime minister crawls out of the woodwork. Yet in this is also a strange prophetic harmony; that as a tense, broken Britain reels from the destruction wrought by one prime minister, another prime minister is resurrected for reckoning over his own destructive actions. And thus must it be, for Baghdad has imploded once more. Iraq – no stranger to the sound of death and the flow of blood – continues to shudder from over a decade of unprecedented chaos since the Britain-backed invasion of its borders in 2003.
The pale-faced former leader nods with jittery confidence in response to two words put to him on Sky News this past weekend: War. Criminal. He pauses before answering. “I’ve said many times over these past years that I’ll wait for the report, and then I will make my views known, and express myself fully and properly.” The timing of the Chilcot report could not be worse – yet, perhaps, could not be better for Blair. For the current Labour leader, who is set to “crucify” Blair over his position in the war on Iraq, has been thrust into a political war of his own party’s doing.
Jeremy Corbyn, the uncompromising, consistent and committed anti-war veteran MP, has proved jarring for political and media establishments since becoming leader of the Labour party last September. Elected with an unprecedented mandate, Corbyn has offered renewed hope to thousands of disillusioned voters who were ready to see a return to the soul of Old Labour: a party that fights for working-class Britain and financial equality. This has been of predictable discomfort to the Tories, who have spent a dirty year enforcing austerity while concealing their own tax havens in Panama. The time was prime for Labour to take to the podium as the alternative to a detached, damaging and unpopular Tory government.
Yet, it is Corbyn’s own Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) that has thrown the majority of its weight against the elected leader in the name of “unelectability”. Labour’s shadow foreign secretary, Hilary Benn, the son of Corbyn’s ideological lodestar Tony Benn no less, was sacked in the early hours of Sunday 26th June upon admitting to plotting a coup against Corbyn. What followed was orchestrated, synchronised and staggered resignations and a 172-40 vote of ‘no confidence’ from the PLP. The theatrics have sustained the news cycles of a ravenous and irresponsible media at a time when attention is desperately needed towards a government in disarray. Our Tory prime minister has failed and his political party has forced the nation into an uncertain future amid economic shock and global disgrace.
Throughout this battle, Corbyn’s genuine achievements have been overcast with seemingly blind dismissal. His leadership has seen Labour’s membership more than double. Internal threats against Corbyn and his democratic election – and threats, indeed, they are – have resulted in 60,000 new members joining the party in the space of a week. This alone is about half of the entire Tory membership and takes Labour to 450,000 members – far higher than its last peak of 405,000 members seen under Tony Blair. In a mere nine months as leader of Labour, with little establishment support from the outset, Corbyn has led his party to win every single by-election, in some instances, with vastly improved majorities. Labour also won every single mayoral contest, including Sadiq Khan’s celebrated London win, a result heavily influenced by Corbyn supporters. When pundits were expecting Labour to lose up to 150 council seats, Labour lost only 18 and made vast strides into councils otherwise not expected to perform well. And for all the criticism surrounding the EU referendum campaign, 63 per cent of Labour voters chose ‘Remain’ – a mere 1 per cent less than pro-EU SNP at 64 per cent and only 7 per cent less than the stubborn Europhile voters of the Liberal Democrats. Meanwhile a dismal 42 per cent of Conservatives voted to remain. That the PLP cites Corbyn’s ineffective campaign as cause for ‘no confidence’ is, therefore, deeply questionable.
Corbyn’s effectiveness as leader is reflected in his record. The onslaught, one of the most deplorable internal revolts of recent times, is disingenuous in principle, undemocratic in nature and painfully untimely in context. The glaring dichotomy of Labour ranks is thus exposed: that of the PLP on one side, and the union and party members on the other. This coup effort has been a long time coming; Margaret Hodge was expected to instigate a ‘no confidence’ motion against Corbyn weeks before Brexit. The shrillest cries of Corbyn’s supposed unelectability comes from quarters that were the very architects of the New Labour car crash that saw 5 million voters desert Labour.
Jeremy Corbyn, overwhelmingly elected, must not stand down and must not be expected to. To do so would undermine the core democratic principles on which the Labour party functions. In the event of a leadership challenge, as now seems likely, the outcome must be fully respected and the party must work through the major breach of trust that the past fortnight has exposed. With his mandate and record of electability, it is no longer obscene to suggest that Corbyn can win the next general election, but this must be planned imminently with a party at harmony with itself and its leader. His leadership contenders will carry quite a different record, including Angela Eagle who voted in favour of Blair’s war in Iraq in 2003 under New Labour, a matter that will come to light when the Chilcot report is released.
Which returns us to the nub of the matter. As Alex Salmond has compellingly argued, the attempted political lynching of Corbyn at this moment indicates an effort to stifle the anti-war leader before he can take action on the findings of the long-awaited report. Chilcot must not be drowned in the din of political opportunism and an imbalanced media landscape. As one resigning prime minister is rightfully relegated to the disgraced records of history for failing a country, another disgraced prime minister must face his due reckoning before the jury and scribes of history. We await the verdict.
Since this article was published a few hours ago, Huffington Post UK has reported that at least 100,000 people have joined Labour since the EU referendum.
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