Those of us who are concerned for the future of the British left read with enthusiasm this week reports that the Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn intends to stand down at some point in the near future, only to have our hopes dashed when, in a rare media appearance, he popped up on BBC Breakfast to denounce the rumours as ‘fake news.’
Some expressed their annoyance at Corbyn’s employment of President Donald Trump’s infamous putdown to dismiss reports that he had discussed a possible departure date with colleagues. But was this in fact all an elaborate deception? As we all know, the information Trump denounces as ‘fake’ in fact tends to be uncomfortably true. Is Jezza implicitly trying to telling us something, in his straight talking, honest politician’s way?
One suspects not. A man who cannot orchestrate even basic PR stunts, and takes as long as he does to complete cabinet reshuffles, could not be that maniacally clever. He sat slouched on the Breakfast sofa looking as he always does, uncomfortable in a suit that does not suit him anyway, and with his hair and face giving the impression he had just emerged from bed. You should not judge by appearance, they always say, but it has always been obvious just from looking at the guy that he was not a good pick for a job that above all requires the banal qualities of efficiency and good presentation skills over a great ideological mind.
I sometimes feel pity for Corbyn. Those of us who knew his election was not the inevitable consequence of the forces of history, but in fact the rather bad outcome of a mediocre leadership election, knew also that Corbyn privately had serious reservations about doing the job. He was the last person to suspect he could win it, instead hoping to live out the remainder of his career as he has always done, as an unknown backbencher, signing inconspicuous petitions and marching on obscure protests. Such a deep longing for a quiet life is, I have always though, an odd desire for someone who purports to be a radical.
But my sympathy evaporates when I remember that he doesn’t have the common decency to accept he should go back to doing this, instead of making a hash of trying to lead the British left at a time when it is desperately needed. Had he gone before the EU referendum, a more enthusiastic leader could have swung it for the Remain camp. Had he gone immediately after, we could now have a principled opposition to the Brexit plan, rather than an undisguised willingness to go along unquestioningly with everything which Theresa May proposes.
I once heard the Labour stalwart Peter Hain say that the party was wrong to try to depose Corbyn in the immediate aftermath of the referendum, and should have instead let him fall ‘in his own time.’ His resounding victory over the uninspiring Owen Smith last autumn only bolstered his leadership, allowing him to brandish two mandates, not just one. They should have waited, Hain suggested, until Corbyn’s realised he was simply not capable of doing the job.
If the recent rumours are true, it seems he is aware of this, and will soon ignore the pleas of John McDonnell and Seamus Milne, colleagues who privately implored him to stay on last summer, and ‘do the decent thing.’ Unfortunately, replacing Corbyn with a clone of himself, such as McDonnell, would leave half the problem unresolved. The whole middle-class contrarian hard left from which these people come is so ossified in the atmosphere of the 1970s that it cannot provide answers to the rapidly changing nature of today’s politics.
By all means elect a left-winger, but not one from the same stable. Their brief time at the helm of the Labour Party has made clear they are not capable of providing dynamic leadership. For radicals, they have a peculiarly reactionary trait of only being able to be against things, and never for them. And even with this they fail sometimes, such as with their inability to take a principled stance against Brexit, the biggest political issue of our times.
You may think I am arguing for a Blairite. I am not. I believe Labour needs to be led by someone who could be described as a democratic socialist, someone who believes in a healthy welfare state and a well-regulated economy, or at least someone who can keep this idea alive through what will likely be the grim nature of a Hard-Brexit Britain.
Whenever you’re ready, then, Jeremy. As circumstances have already proven, the situation worsens the longer you stay. A swift departure may reduce the chances of electoral annihilation at the next election. It would be a step forward, certainly, but no means a panacea to a disaster which may take decades to repair.
There is just one other reason I dearly want Corbyn to step down in his own time. The anthropologist in me would love to study the reaction of his most enthusiastic supporters when their leader, for whom they have shown so much energy and devotion, lets it be known he feels nothing for them in return. It won’t be a pretty spectacle, I imagine, although at lot less ugly than a ‘we were robbed’ mantra that would inevitably emerge after a general election defeat. And we’d also be spared a lot of moaning about Blairite coups if Corbyn was to uncaringly return back to his comfortable life of placards and town hall rallies on his own accord.
I would really struggle to feel sympathy for him then, as he would leave not caring that his leadership will go down as one of the most ignominious periods for the Labour Party in its history. Costly yes, but above all a waste. A waste of an opportunity to make a solid left case for the EU, a waste of the enthusiasm evinced by his many supporters, but above all a waste of time.
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