Taken hostage

Instead of profiting from a chaotic government situation after Britain’s Brexit vote on June 23rd the Labour party is about to destroy itself. Jeremy Corbyn seeks re-election as leader.

This is an updated English translation of an article which appeared in profil.

If you would be a left wing British leader of the opposition and you would want to show the world the deplorable consequences of neoliberalism, what would you do? On his way to a campaign meeting in Newcastle Jeremy Corbyn threw himself last month on the floor of a train and complained that there were not enough free seats for him and his entourage to sit on. In his view this was clearly caused by the privatization of British Railways.

The video clip of this intervention became an instant hit. Even more popular though proved to be the answer of Richard Branson. The billionaire businessman happens to own Virgin Train – and the security cameras installed in the compartments. Branson released videos showing Jeremy Corbyn cruising through a medium full train. He was seen to eventually sit down on an empty seat.

“Traingate” is only one of the many PR disasters Corbyn produced in his first year as Labour party boss. His numerous enemies in his own party concluded long ago: The star of the new leftist Labour movement – the Corbynistas – is a terribly bad chairman. Harry Potter author JK Rowling calls him a “lousy leader”. Most Labour party members agree. 60 percent told a YouGov poll that they believe Theresa May, the new Tory leader and head of government, was the better Prime minister.

But to the dismay of many old time Labour supporters the party will not be able to elect another leader. Jeremy Corbyn will most probably be confirmed in office on September 24th. Currently his supporters are voting by postal vote for the vegetarian, cyclist and former peace activist. Most of the 100.000 new members of the Labour Party who have joined since the Brexit vote on June 23rd are Corbyn fans. It does not look as if his challenger Owen Smith can unseat him.

The Labour party leadership is stuck: After the EU-referendum Jeremy Corbyn faced mutiny. He never pretended to be anything else than a EU skeptic. Although he tried to campaign for Britain to remain in the European Union because the vast majority of Labour MPs are pro-European, Corbyn never managed to do so convincingly. Two dozen members of his shadow cabinet subsequently resigned. In a no-confidence motion 172 Labour MPs voted against Corbyn. Only 40 MPs backed him. But Corbyn refused to go.

He knows that the leadership is against him. But he also is certain that a grassroots movement of young, radical supporters backs him. Some are feeling a wind of change in politics. But Corbyns backers often come from unions and extreme left wing groups like the Socialist Workers Party SWP. Under Tony Blair and Ed Miliband these socialists seemed to be long forgotten. But now they are the backbone of the “Jeez” movement. And they believe that his left wing retro politics can fix Britain. Or at least give them more power.

“What is the real case for socialist revolution?” an author asks on the SWP website. And he explains: “The argument for socialist revolution is not really a case about 'violence'. …The core meaning of socialist revolution is that working class people develop new institutions, rooted in their everyday lives, which challenge and replace the power of existing top-down authorities.”
Most moderate Labour MPs think their party has been taken hostage by left wing extremists. Deputy chief Tom Watson even spoke of “Trotzkyist entryists”. He clearly felt that he was back in another era of old communist tactics.

The danger that the party splits is real. The problem of the moderate majority in the party leadership is that it lacks a charismatic leader who could challenge Jeremy Corbyn. Owen Smith, a 46-year old former BBC journalist from Wales is very little known outside of his constituency Pontypridd. Smith has a clear pro-European agenda. He would like to block Brexit with a second referendum, once a deal with the EU partners over the exit terms has been reached.

Due to the internal situation the party cannot properly function as opposition. The newest scandal around Keith Vaz shows how wounded the party already is. Usually sleazy sex scandals are not considered to be a reason to resign. But on Tuesday Vaz, a father of two and married to a woman, did step down as chairman of the Home Affairs select committee. “The Sunday Mirror” had published pictures and audiotapes from a meeting between Vaz with two male sex workers. Besides sex they discuss use of drugs. Should this private matter lead to the end of his career? It certainly shows how vulnerable his Labour party currently is.

A proper opposition leader could capitalize beautifully on the condition of the governing Conservatives: The last Prime Minister David Cameron had to resign in June because he fought for the United Kingdom to stay in the EU which the country then rejected. The new Prime Minister Theresa May has not been elected to do the job to deliver Brexit, but was simply the last woman standing after most of the leadership collapsed faced with the consequences of their Brexit campaign.

Jeremy Corbyn does not have the personality to serve as attack dog and deliver verbal blows to the battered Tory party leadership. He prefers to talk with his soft voice about humanitarian values and democracy, but cannot manage his party in parliament. As party rules allow supporters who registered for 25 pound to vote in the leadership elections, the party functionaries will not be able to prevent his re-election. His opponents fear “cleansing” after his re-appointment on September 24th. Plus: With Corbyn at its head Labour will stay in eternal opposition. Chances to win national elections with him are practically zero.

Not everyone seems to be bothered. The reggae band UB40, which rocked the charts in the 80ties, endorses “Jeez” as leader because it sees him as an “incorruptible leader”. It is “I got you babe” all over again. Not only UB40 might get stuck with Jeremy Corbyn for a while.

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© 2018 Tessa Szyszkowitz