New Labour’s Attacks on Jeremy Corbyn: Don’t Believe the Swipes

Today’s Guardian reports how New Labour’s old guard is piling in on “left-winger” Jeremy Corbyn, the MP currently leading the Labour Party leadership race. Rattled by recent polls showing him leading of the rest of the field, it is clear  the Labour right-wing fear their stranglehold on the party is loosening. What is noticeable, however, is how Corbyn’s “Labour” critics lack of any substantive arguments, but rely instead on anti-left tropes and ad-hominum attacks. Indeed, remove the paternal tone, and in content these attacks could come from the Tories. And this is Labour’s problem.

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn speaks to protesters following a march against the British government's spending cuts and austerity measures in London on June 20, 2015. Thousands of demonstrators staged an anti-austerity march in London today, in the first major public protest since Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron won a general election. AFP PHOTO / JUSTIN TALLIS        (Photo credit should read JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP/Getty Images)

Jeremy Corby speaks out against Austerity

To paraphrase the criticism, Tony Blair, David Miliband and Labour’s big money donors are screaming “you need new ideas not old ones”, “history” tells us, and “common sense” dictates that “you are a ´heartless´ ´moron´ if you vote for Corbyn (and disagree with me)”. These scarcely constitute arguments in the traditional sense but one-liners commonly used by the Daily Mail. However, given the attention and support they have elicited from the press, they warrant debunking.

  1. Always be suspicious of people claiming definitive lessons from history; almost all historical events can be interpreted to support multiple positions. Moreover, Foot is not Corbyn, the Soviet Union is no more, and the UK state controls a fraction of the economy it once did. The comparison with the 1980s makes little sense. But if we must derive lessons from history, there is no reason why the right of the Labour party cannot sit disgruntled on the backbenchers like the left of Labour has these past 25 years. However, knowing what happened to the SDP and the ideological vacuum of most New Labour politicians together with their careerist culture, it seems more likely that those MPs currently criticising Corbyn, will quickly change their tune should he become leader.
  1. Common sense is frequently wrong: flying is safer than driving, you should tilt your head forward when you get a nosebleed,  but just limiting common sense to public knowledge about UK politics, most people are wrong about most things. But regardless, common sense is culturally shaped; if you live in the New Labour bubble you will have New Labour common sense (“Corbyn is dangerous left winger”); similarly if you hang out with the KKK you will consider segregation common sense. New Labour’s common sense has gone untested for 25 years. It is surely now time to test it, I suspect we will not witness apocalypse now.
  2. Tony Blair – the war criminal – thinks you are heartless you are almost certainly doing something right.
  1. Labour “needs new ideas, not old ones”? You can hardly call privatisation of the NHS, or the squeezing of the poor new ideas. But anyway, this argument has little to do with the utility of the ideas nor their old age. Rather, this is a function of how the election defeats of the 1980s haunt the party establishment. Indeed, the age of an idea says little about its utility. For example, re-nationalizing the railways: keeping natural monopolies out of the hands of business is an old idea and one that almost all economists (and the public) would still agree with. That the Labour establishment cannot stomach the debate about the role of the state is testament to how well the Tories have disciplined Labour into internalising the idea that anything leftish is automatically electoral suicide.

Ultimately though, the policies that Corbyn suggests, far from being marginal, are supported by the majority of voters. Indeed, the democratic popularity of his proposals is noticeably absent from the barrage of criticism Corbyn now faces. While his critics argue Corbyn’s willingness to rebel against the leadership should count against him, many of the policies he opposed – the Iraq War, Student tuition fees, for instance – in retrospect seem to illustrate a talent for prescience.

What is remarkable about the attacks underway is how the Scottish Labour leaders – the same that oversaw electoral disaster in the face of a “left-wing” party – feel able to criticise Corbyn. In fact, let’s look to Scotland to draw a lesson from history from 2015: if you want to mobilize the dormant, disillusioned electorate, the Labour party needs to stand away from the Tories, not with them.

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About Paul Beaumont

Occasional journalist, part-time socialist & full time International Relations PhD student. Available for hire - but never in the morning. Academia page: https://umb.academia.edu/PaulBeaumont
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2 Responses to New Labour’s Attacks on Jeremy Corbyn: Don’t Believe the Swipes

  1. Kash says:

    Hey Paul,
    Fully agree with your point concerning the nature of the attacks on Corbyn; puerile, intellectually feeble and in some cases, rather nasty. But that doesn’t mean that Corbyn would not be an electoral disaster for Labour. His politics are way to the left of the majority of people in the UK – even much of his own party. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest his election could see the Labour party split between Blairites and old-school socialists. The result would be an opposition comprising of New Labour types, Old-Labour types, Lib-Dems, Greens, and SDP. In theory no bad thing but imagine what the Tories would get away with in the mean time. Cynical? Perhaps but politics is the art of the possible and Corbyn makes Labour’s return to power nigh on impossible.

    • The thing is that I think there is a gap between between what the public thinks socialist policies would mean – a miners strikes and overflowing bin bags and a Soviet invasion – and what they would mean in practice under someone like Corbyn: rolling back of some* privatisation, investment in social housing, and much more effort to catch tax evasion. I suspect these policies would prove popular (they poll well), but the Conservative (and New Labour supported) short-hand for these policies “socialist” “return to the 1980s”, scares the electorate.

      None of this really contradicts your point that he is unelectable, but I do not believe the public is in policy terms as right wing as you suggest. Rather, that the negative 30 year old discourse around those policies has successfully conditioned the electorate to believe they are crazy/loony lefty.

      While I agree it would be difficult to fight this, I think we can expect the Tories to offer a big target to attack; now they have a majority we are already seeing them getting ahead of themselves (Osborn’s plans for 40% more cuts). I think this would offer and opportunity to someone like Corbyn (or someone else with a bit of charisma) to exploit. Meanwhile, I New Labourites, trying to criticise from a marginally left position will just frustrate the labour base, and seem opportunistic and trivial and pointless to the rest of the electorate.

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