I am of a certain age where there are some films that absolutely define me. Most people could guess my age pretty accurately, given that my favourite films include Pulp Fiction, Fight Club, Jerry Maguire, Top Gun, Die Hard and The Usual Suspects. In the last of those there is a brilliant line delivered by Kevin Spacey as Verbal Kint – “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist” (If you are a young person, I would suggest watching that movie straight away, along with Fight Club).
As a member of the Labour Party, at the moment I feel a great deal of sadness and anger in terms of where my party is. I am at heart an unreconstructed socialist, who has wound his way back here via a variety of other views being tried on for size. The ongoing / stalling / necessary / evil / failed / righteous* (delete as appropriate) coup has really shown the worst of our politics on all sides. What is equally saddening has been that within the Labour Party and the wider bit of society that sees itself as left-leaning we have seen the worst of absolutist thinking and “othering” behaviour. You are either a Corbynista or a Blairite. You are Progress or Momentum. It is black and white, chalk and cheese. For god’s sake whatever you do, pick a side. Certainly you must not see anything in between (don’t worry, I am not going to use the phrase “a third way”). You are either for or against – and that view will completely and entirely colour whether something is acceptable or not – not the act itself.
It is because of this thinking that I have separately heard a wide variety of possibilities in terms of the underlying cause of the coup in the Labour Party. It is either a right wing coup orchestrated by Portland (http://www.prweek.com/article/1401004/portland-forced-deny-involvement-plot-oust-jeremy-corbyn) on behalf of the permanent political class who rely on voter apathy (http://www.thecanary.co/2016/07/02/the-real-reason-the-permanent-political-class-is-trying-to-topple-jeremy-corbyn/ ). Or alternatively, it is evidence of the party fighting back against an existential threat of Momentum Entryists trying to steal the party (http://uk.businessinsider.com/corbyn-could-split-labour-and-create-a-new-socialist-party-2016-6?r=US&IR=T). When you look at either of these theories they BOTH have an awful lot of “if and then” logic in them.
The quote from The Usual Suspects comes from an original from Charles Baudelaire. But given the above theories, if either of them prove true, it will certainly need to be changed. So, depending on where you are on that perfect duality where any behaviour is allowed as long as it justifies the ends, you can either have: “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was after failing to convince 3 MPs involved in the plot to stand aside so there was one candidate standing against Corbyn to not fully engage in the EU referendum; stop the newspapers reporting what Jeremy Corbyn was doing during the referendum campaign; stoke hatred of Jeremy Corbyn by people he works with in the House of Commons; convince almost all of his shadow cabinet to resign in a timed way one after the other (and the press to report it in that order); convince other MPs in the party that it was all his fault; pass a vote of no confidence; but be so incompetent as to botch a leadership challenge by being unclear on what the rules are; to avoid Tony Blair being impeached for war crimes”.
I am going to go out on a limb here – if you could manage to make 90% of that happen without problem then you would have been able to control the Blairite candidates, and you would have known that you could push through the coup by way of Leadership challenge. Was there anything as disappointing as seeing Neil Kinnock brandishing a print out of the Labour Party rules on the Andrew Marr show saying that Jeremy Corbyn definitely wouldn’t be on the ballot for leader because the rules could stop it? A couple of things show how silly that is – if you know you can get rid of someone through a leadership challenge you go down that route rather than publicly humiliating someone on front of their colleagues. Secondly, sane people do not walk around with a certificate to show they are sane. If you are going on air with a copy of the rules in your pocket, you are not sure the rules really support you. You are using them the same way a drunk uses a lamp post – more for your own support than illumination.
Oh yes, two possible changes to the quotation. For those of you who are Blairites (and remember – you must be one or the other) “The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing MPs who didn’t support his views to nominate him to get on to the paper; then to have hundreds of thousands of entryists prepared to spring into action and join the Labour Party (myself included); then get them all to vote for him; convince the other contenders to not drop out so their vote was split; hang on to power through both local elections and an EU referendum whilst seizing control of the Labour Party machinery; manufacture outrage within the party to create a split in the party (by way of smearing a PR company with links to Tony Blair) ; in order to get all of those people you have convinced to join the party 12 months earlier to now leave the party and join a newly set up Momentum party; convince the Union Leaders to come with you and bring their members; and on the way get an establishment judge to find that Tony Blair does have a case to answer over the Iraq War; call for and get an impeachment against him; thus destroying the Blairite Labour Party and start afresh with a clean left wing Momentum party”.
Again, stretching this a bit but maybe there are easier ways to do that. Quite frankly, the thought that a government inquiry into a decision to go to war would ever (or would ever be allowed, take your pick) to find that a Prime Minister of this country had performed in a way that could lead to criminal charges against that PM seems a long way from the truth. If it was going to do that it wouldn’t have been delayed so much. There are not enough people in Politics, irrespective of parties who want to see that happen. I realise that I am making myself a hostage to fortune by calling that before Wednesday. The whole project would be based on the outcome of other things – not a successful strategy usually.
There is a well-worn approach when considering different theories called Ockham’s razor (or maybe Occam’s Razor depending on your spelling) which isn’t proof of logic of an argument, but is a good starting point – the theory is “Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected”. In other words – the idea with the fewest parts should be your starting point. Looking at those competing viewpoints above anybody outside of the debate would be forgiven for saying they both smell a bit fishy.
What is interesting is that both sides of the argument are giving the appearance that any means is justified because their ends are just. So Jeremy Corbyn allegedly refusing to take Tom Watson’s calls (although clearly these calls must have come after the Glastonbury weekend), the public defrocking of Jeremy Corbyn in parliament which was only second to Cersei’s walk of shame in its gratuitousness, threats for mandatory reselection and taking legal advice on whether MPs can keep the Labour party name whilst splitting from the leadership are all acceptable weapons. As well as that we have entered a lockdown phase where everything Corbyn has done is right OR everything Corbyn has done is wrong. Whether this is what you think or not, it is how it is playing out in the media. And both sides are looking at their own constituencies as an example of them being right, as if this is a binary decision “we have the members on our side so we must be right – is democracy” versus “we have the voters as well as the party members to think about so we must be right – is democracy”. Yeah, because voting on things democratically has been working out so well for us in the last few weeks.
What is needed now is calm heads and moving away from that sort of thinking – and pretty quickly. We need to save the Labour party and the ideals it stands for. Unfortunately, that would mean both sides would have to learn and grow up a bit. Let’s get rid of the conspiracy theories, and stick to things that we do know or at least can agree on. There must be some of those mustn’t there? Or are we so far down the rabbit hole we can’t find any common ground. I have tried to list these in order of increasing contentiousness.
1. Leaving the EU referendum provides immediate short term risks that the Labour Party needs to be ready for
2. As a party we are better off together, looking outward rather than fighting ourselves
3. Our enemies are those who oppose social justice, fairness, workers rights, an end to poverty (look, I am trying to be cool but quite obviously that is code for the Tories and UKIP)
4. The PLP never wanted Jeremy Corbyn as their leader, and some have openly attacked him, some have been half-hearted and some have supported him
5. The membership did want him – even without us nasty Entryists, the full members of Labour voted overwhelmingly for Jeremy Corbyn
6. Having a vote of no confidence in him which carries no constitutional weight whatsoever is a clear indication that you are too nervous to run the gauntlet of a leadership election when that would have been quicker and easier. Stop pretending we are dicks who don’t get that
7. Jeremy has achieved some things – particularly government u-turns around education cuts; benefit cuts; police funding etc.
8. Jeremy Corbyn (or possibly the team around him) has made mistakes and what is clear is that something does need to change. Anyone willing to cling to their rationality could see that mentioning ISIS and the state of Israel in the same sentence was going to be a bloody stupid idea
What isn’t clear is whether the aim of the PLP is to get rid of Jeremy Corbyn (the person / the team) or whether it is to get rid a left wing agenda of policies. This is going to be really crucial in winning many of the party over to looking at a way ahead, potentially without Jeremy Cobryn as leader if that is what it takes. For many people (ie me, and trying to claim the moral high ground) we joined because we were attracted to the agenda rather than necessarily for the person. For those on the Corbyn side it may be time to accept that a new leader is needed – but one who can carry on his views and direction of travel for the party (although let’s be honest, no-one thinks that is Angela Eagle). How we handle this WILL define how we handle the upcoming months and years of turmoil in the country and the next general election. This will therefore help to decide how successful we can be in standing up for the values of the Labour Party. Perhaps, in that we can take something positive from this. It reminds me of my most favourite film quote from Fight Club, delivered by Brad Pitt “How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight”.