Why does Labour have an abuse problem?

Labour has an abuse problem. Or it has a problem with stories about abuse, which are exaggerated for partisan reasons then publicised by a hostile right-wing media. Or it doesn’t have a problem with abuse, which is the problem, because abuse is tolerated and tacitly encouraged from the very top of the party. Tell me which of these positions you hold, and there’s a good chance I’ll be able to work out your political orientation: Labour moderate, Corbyn loyalist, or Conservative supporter. Regardless, by this point the words “abuse” and “Labour” have appeared in conjunction often enough to demand some kind of response, whether you think that response should be to expose and ostracise the perpetrators, or to debunk the charges and defend the accused.

For the habitually embattled left, the sudden interest of Theresa May and the Mail in exposing political invective is highly suspect. Many on the left have questioned whether the incidents defined as abuse truly merit the tag, and where they accept that abuse exists, they have argued against defining it as a specifically left-wing issue. To this strand, “Labour abuse” is a smear tactic being exploited by the right and the centre to malign Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters. They are absolutely right that viciousness in politics did not begin in 2017. Nor did it begin in 2016, when Labour MP Jo Cox was murdered outside her constituency office by the far-right extremist Thomas Mair, although at the time that felt like the end of the world to me.

When she was killed, I wasn’t particularly aware of or invested in Cox. That would change as I heard the tributes from those who knew and worked with her, and spent time reading her speeches; but before I felt a personal loss, I felt the extraordinary violence of an MP assassinated in the course of the unglamorous and essential business of representative democracy. It seemed that the febrile hostility of the referendum campaign had reached a breaking point – “breaking point”, of course, was the slogan on the hideous anti-migrant poster Nigel Farage had unveiled that morning – and nothing could be the same after this.

That afternoon, I was watching my daughter perform in a school concert celebrating migration – a coincidence which seemed horribly excessive, but then not a coincidence at all really, because surely the EU referendum had inspired the concert theme as well as inspiring the poisonous mind of Mair. I was sitting next to another mum who I didn’t know particularly well, who listened kindly when I explained why I was crying and held my hand. Normally I would feel humiliated crying in public, but you can make an exception at the end of the world.

Except of course the world doesn’t end: it just reshapes itself to accommodate the new truth. I thought in 2016 that the new truth might be a rejection of violent and dehumanising rhetoric across politics. Instead, the new truth is that brutality and abuse are a part of our political lives, a bright edge against the skin of our institutions. In November, a Mail headline declared senior judges “enemies of the people”; in April, it urged May to “crush the saboteurs”. The verdict in Mair’s trial, which made explicit the connection between his politics and his violence, was slipped in far from the front page.

But perhaps I’m wrong to emphasise novelty here. MPs have always received death threats, and indeed frequently been subject to attacks, sometimes fatally. During the Troubles, of course – but then the Troubles were long over. Perhaps I should have felt the same intimations of apocalypse in 2000, when Robert Ashman murdered Andrew Pennington, who was acting as an assistant to Liberal Democrat MP Nigel Jones, the target of the attack – but then Ashman did not seem to be politically motivated (he was, however, reportedly abusive to his wife and daughters, which is typical of men who commit acts of terrorism).

Then in 2010, Labour MP Stephen Timms was stabbed by Roshonara Choudhry, a 21-year-old student who, having been radicalised online, sought to kill Timms for supporting the Iraq war – but Timms didn’t die, so I felt relief and then allowed myself to forget it. Maybe it was easier to forget because at the time I was closest to the anti-war left, and being against war meant seeing myself as part of the forces of goodness arrayed against a murderous, oil-expropriating evil. To find myself on the same “side” as someone who stabbed an MP in the stomach was hardly an affirmation of my ethical stance.

But the murder of Cox was an explicitly political assassination which achieved its fatal ends, and I think this had two consequences: firstly, politicians feel more alert to the substance in the death threats and intimidating communications they receive; and secondly, those people issuing the threats have a ready example to make their terrorising intent concrete. Cox has become a grotesque shorthand. When Nimco Ali was campaigning as a WEP candidate in the 2017 election, she received a threat signed “Jo Cox”; Stella Creasy MP was told “hopefully you will join that woman Cox”; Cox was a theme, too, in death threats against Karin Smyth MP. And when Angela Eagle challenged Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership shortly after the EU referendum, her Facebook tributes to Jo Cox were hijacked by Corbyn supporters, who flooded the comments with “#voteCorbyn” messages.

Was that threatening or merely cruel? Had I been in Eagle’s position, I’d certainly have found it frightening – the implication that all these people are against you, tied to the raw and personal loss of a colleague to political violence. But those making the comments, I imagine, would deny that any threat was intended, so perhaps it was “merely cruel”. How cruel? An act of coordinated trolling that negated Eagle’s intimate grief and reasonable fears. (Eagle also received at least one explicit death threat, from a Corbyn supporter named Steven King, as well as slurs about her lesbianism.) A cruelty, in short, that amounted to a denial that Eagle had emotions, or that those emotions merited the dignity of recognition; a cruelty that was explicitly dehumanising.

Cruelty has a conflicted place in the Corbyn project. His first speech to conference as leader, on 29 September 2015, included his famous invocation of a “kinder, gentler politics.” But he made this speech at least partly in response to the abuse of female candidates during the 2015 leadership campaign (something which Yvette Cooper had highlighted three days earlier, in her own speech to the women’s conference); and he also used a formulation that was conspicuously neutral about who was doing the abusing, and who was being abused. During the campaign, Corbyn-supporting figures including the MP Rushanara Ali and John Prescott had accused Labour moderates of being abusive themselves towards Corbyn’s base by characterising them as zealots, fools and entryists. “Kinder, gentler politics,” then, could sound like a very different proposition depending on which ears it landed on.

To those who had been targeted by Corbyn’s most aggressive supporters, it suggested a leader acknowledging the problem and directing his followers to lay off; but to Corbyn supporters who saw themselves as the victims of a smear campaign by a lofty PLP, it was validation, and a sign that Corbyn would not tolerate attacks on his loyal footsoldiers. As political rhetoric, it was in a major sense useless, because everyone who heard it believed it was an instruction to their opponents and not to themselves. But it was also useful, because (and I am not claiming this was intentional, but it was the effect) it distanced Corbyn himself from the issue of abuse without alienating his base.

This, by the way, is a consistent trend in Corbyn’s interventions on abuse: when asked to comment on a specific form (for example, misogynist attacks on women MPs or anti-Semitism within the Labour Party), he has often responded in universal terms (condemning “all abuse”, or commissioning an inquiry into “antisemitism and other forms of racism”). While formally taking a stance against abuse and bullying, such answers subtly negate the criticism of structural biases against specific groups within Labour. Corbyn’s supporters are not implicated in “all abuse” or in “other forms of racism”: rolling such broad frameworks into the responses serves only to dilute the original complaints.

Corbyn’s associates and supporters have not, it must be acknowledged, shown a universal commitment to either kindness or gentleness. There is, for one thing, the debatable matter of the “kindness and gentleness” of the members of Hamas and Hezbollah whom Corbyn welcomed as “friends”. Then there’s long-term Corbyn ally and shadow chancellor John McDonnell, who is what people call a “bruiser” because bully sounds like such an ugly word for a politician: in 2015, he was accused of saying “lynch the bitch” with reference to Conservative MP Esther McVey (his unimpressive defence was that he was simply repeating someone else’s words, and that the B-word in question was actually “bastard”).

On the point of abuse from Corbyn supporters, the standard defence is that he can’t be held responsible for everyone who is drawn to him. (The other defence is to deny everything. Yes, there are still brick truthers out there.) Yet at what point do we look at, say, the homophobic and misogynist abuse aimed at Angela Eagle by Corbyn supporters, or the anti-Semitic and misogynist abuse aimed at Luciana Berger by Corbyn supporters, or the harassment of Yvette Cooper (including the publication of a surreptitiously taken photo of her on a train) by Corbyn supporters, and say: this is a trend, and one that doesn’t seem to be matched by followers of any other politician? “Thy sin’s not accidental, but a trade,” as outraged Isabella says in Measure for Measure when she realises her whoring brother Claudio is trying to prostitute her to save his own life.

Some Corbyn supporters have even been quite explicit about the fact that abuse is a “trade”, or at any rate, a tactic. This is from an article on the Corbyn-supporting website New Socialist called “Pragmatics for Pragmatists”, about the irony-couched language of insults that Corbyn’s online fans have adopted to barrack centrists:

“Why would you call someone a ‘melt’? Because it is hilarious. Because insulting those who condescend you [sic] is exhilarating. Because you are following a Stalinist tactic of linguistic dehumanisation of your opponent. Many answers have been proposed. Another one might be, ‘why does it matter?’. Only the latter is totally and unambiguously useless. Language is always important. Language is not just who we are, it is what gives us a fabric in which to be ourselves, and be with others, in conflict or in solidarity.”

Dehumanisation of opponents, then, is an explicit object of this abuse. So too is forming intra-Corbynite links: saying “salt the slug” establishes an us-against-them, where “we” are doing the “salting” and “they” are the slugs. This is simply a banal description of how language represents in-group and out-group relationships, but it’s interesting to see it acknowledged so frankly from a pro-Corbyn perspective. Abusive language dehumanises, and the dehumanisation licences further abuse, or as you might put it, “the melts were asking for it”. (How were they asking for it? By being melts, of course: it’s a perfectly sealed system.)

The fact that “slug” and “melt” sound essentially silly is a benefit: you’ve already got the jump on your opponent if they have to start out by trying to wrestle the conversation into seriousness. As Sartre wrote of anti-Semitism: “Never believe that anti‐Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti‐Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert.”

Intimidating and disconcerting your opponents works. Eagle dropped out of the leadership challenge: it is hard to believe that the vandalism of her office and the homophobic and misogynistic abuse she received did not play into this decision, or that members of the PLP did not regard her victimisation as a mark of weakness when they were assessing the relative merits of candidates. And here, depressingly, we see how men as a class benefit from attacks on women as a class, because while Owen Smith did not commit or condone the abuse of Eagle, and as far as I know there’s no evidence that his supporters participated, Eagle’s withdrawal under pressure from harassment left the field open to him. When women are stigmatised, men prosper by default.

Before the general election, I interviewed Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire, who told me that abuse was “absolutely” deterring women candidates. Speaking out against abuse, then, would seem to be the obvious course. It isn’t: it can simply paint a target on you, as happened to Cooper after her recent speech to the Fabians. “Lots of women, including myself, have had abuse for reporting abuse,” explained Debbonaire. Perhaps equally painfully, she added, increasing awareness of abuse may only help to intensify its effects: “I don’t really like talking about harassment because I don’t want to put women off.” Exposing the problem without working towards a solution is in the interests of the abusers, not the victims – which is one reason to be suspicious of those (often male) commentators who lasciviously document the harassment they say Corbyn should be held accountable for, without asking those targeted for an opinion on what ought to be done.

Abuse circumscribes the kind of speech that is permitted. “Isn’t the greatest freedom in the world the freedom to be wrong?” asked Chris Krause in her novel I Love Dick. One of the major themes of the apologias and debunkings of Labour’s abuse problem that have come from the left is that certain groups (centrists, feminists, Jews) have it coming to them because they have been “wrong” (about Corbyn, about trans rights, about Israel), and their wrongness has incited “legitimate anger”. The pressure for anyone in a vulnerable group then becomes to disassociate oneself from the “wrong” attitude. This is how former Corbyn advisor Joshua Simons described being Jewish in the intensely anti-Israel atmosphere of the leader’s office: “As a Jew, I had a special obligation to criticise Israel’s settlement policy, but when I did, it was never quite believed.” When you have no freedom to be wrong, you are always on sufferance.

Embedded in the idea of justified abuse (which is then categorised as non-abusive, because justified) is the idea of “punching up”: aggression aimed at someone deemed “privileged” in comparison to the aggressor is seen as a legitimate expression of class fury. But not every oppressed class gets the same dispensation. As Phoebe Maltz Bovy has noted in her book The Perils of “Privilege”, both Jews and women – despite what one might think was incontrovertible evidence of oppression experienced by both groups over millennia – are seen as characterised by advantage, not disadvantage, in contemporary leftist discourse.

In the case of gender, there seems to be a connection here to intersectionality theory. As originally formulated by the legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw in her paper “Mapping the Margins”, intersectionality describes the way varied oppressions can intersect on one person, with a particular focus on the way black women can be excluded both from a feminism characterised by majority white interests, and anti-racist movements that naturalise male dominance. Somehow, as this idea was popularised within the left, it drifted from being a correct assertion that many women do not only experience oppression as women, to being a claim that women are not oppressed as women – which is a fundamentally anti-feminist position. Or as Bovy writes: “Being someone who ‘merely’ experiences misogyny has gotten recast as a position not just of relative advantage (as is completely accurate), but of objective, tippy-top privilege.”

For Jews, of course, the origin of the “privilege” charge on the left tends to stem from assertions that Israel is a uniquely powerful entity which must be condemned (or even destroyed, as in one of the memes which Labour MP Naz Shah rightly apologised for sharing). This is entwined with quasi-Marxist conspiracist claims about the wealth of the Rothschilds or George Soros, who are said to act as corrupting supranational influences on politics. As Bovy points out: “The belief that Jews are unusually privileged is not a fringe strain or obscure facet of anti-Semitism. It is anti-Semitism.” Neither being female nor being Jewish is sufficient to claim the benefit of “punching up”. And because the only way to atone for privilege is to “check” it, both women and Jews are required to scrupulously disown their own collective politics in order to wholly belong on the left.

There’s also a place for MPs and the media within the “punching” framework currently adopted by the left. Both are seen as “privileged” groups, and treated with extraordinary hostility. If you want to see the kind of regard the media is held in, simply search one of the alt-left blogs (say, Skwarkbox or the Canary) for Laura Kuenssberg’s name. Meanwhile, in discussions of the “McDonnell amendment” (a proposed change to leadership contest rules, which would lower the threshold of nominations for leadership candidates from 15 per cent of the PLP to 5 per cent), a recurring theme of proponents is that diminishing the “gatekeeping” function of MPs would be a good thing, because MPs are distrusted as careerists and reactionaries.

The only exception to this loathing of MPs is made for Corbyn, and those considered loyal to him. And here it’s worth pointing out that Corbyn’s support behaves less like a typical party faction, and more like a fandom, with an intense emotional attachment to their leader and a furious drive to defend and protect him. Watching people pressing up against barricades to touch him, or even just see him, the thing I’m reminded most of is footage of tween girls losing it over One Direction. The only thing close to the intensity of hatred shown towards “enemies” of Corbyn is the maenad-like pursuit of, say, Perrie from Little Mix when she was blamed for Zayn leaving 1D. The Corbyn fandom, like any decent fandom, even has its own argot, as discussed above: he’s the “absolute boy”, beset by the “slugs” and “melts”.

The kind of abuse that “counts” is of course political. The Mail’s interest in left-wing abuse is a transparent attempt to discredit Corbyn. The left’s rebuttals are, conversely, an effort to protect Corbyn – and at the same time, discredit those they see as centrists who would use left-wing abuse to undermine the Labour Party leader. (Curiously, Corbyn-supporting columnist Owen Jones never wrote about the harassment of Angela Eagle, despite the fact that his twin interests in Labour politics and gay rights would appear to make attacks on a lesbian candidate for Labour leader an irresistible subject matter.) Many centrists who are now exercised about anti-Semitism in Labour would do well to ask why Ken Livingstone was not expelled from the party under Tony Blair, or even why Corbyn himself was permitted to remain a member while consorting with groups who held explicitly genocidal intentions towards Jews.

But regardless of who chooses to see abuse, and who chooses not to, it exists. The left holds no monopoly on hate, but what it does have right now is an explosive combination of factors: fandom-like devotion to a leader, an investment in the frameworks of “privilege” and “punching up” that licences extreme viciousness towards designated groups, a deliberate embrace of “unseriousness” which detaches the left from even nominal respect for civil norms, and lastly, a consistent failure of the current leadership to condemn abuse committed by its own base.

The cross-party nature of abuse is often used as an argument against focusing on the left-wing problem. This is strange thinking: the inability of violence to stay inside the factional lines should make us more, not less, alarmed. Thomas Mair stabbed and shot Jo Cox in his right-wing fury, then Steven King’s left-wing rage inspired him to tell Eagle “next time you see me I’ll be with a real gun or knife cutting your life to an end”. King’s defence was that he was “letting off steam”. After all, within the Direction of Punching Framework of Aggression, he can be understood as the maligned party, a shop worker expressing his understandable anger against a powerful woman who was trying to frustrate a beloved representative of the working class. Hate has been welcomed into politics, dignified with theory, given a home.

GE2017: The humble pie post

6905623122_4a5d980ff5_o.jpg
Photo via Flickr

Since May declared the 2017 general election, I’ve been routinely waking up stricken with fear for the Labour Party. Every morning, a different MP with an endangered majority would cycle through my thoughts – Rupa Huq! Kerrie McCarthy! Wes Streeting! Jess Phillips??!!!?? – until I held the panic down. My general emotional life felt not unlike constantly trying to catch balloons under a blanket on a very windy day.

When the exit polls came in as I was headed to the Bath count (I was acting as a counting agent for Labour), my first reflex was relief. My second was embarrassment at being wrong, again; but to be honest, I’m inured to my badness at political predictions now. Political writing is not fortune telling and anyone who puts their money where my mouth is, is frankly a fool to themselves.

I’m interested in why I’m so bad at predictions, though. People who are really into politics are at a weird disadvantage when it comes to understanding what’s going on in the country as a whole, because our experience of politics is so unlike most people’s. We know more, but what we know colours our perception in unrepresentative ways. Stephen Bush’s point, that elections are won and lost in the news blips that punctuate music radio and the headlines of the Six O’Clock News, is a really important one. So, here are some thoughts on where I was wrong:

I was wrong to think the public wouldn’t take to Corbyn

The things that formed my opinion about Corbyn are things that simply don’t break through to the electorate as a whole. They haven’t watched the excruciating Vice documentary or read the miserable accounts of his botched leadership. They’ve seen his sparkling campaign performances, and heard clear consistent policies.

None of Labour’s manifesto commitments were as antagonistic as the Tories’ attempts to bring back fox hunting, or the “dementia tax” – May’s decision to pick those fights now lying among the most bathetic rubble of her hubris (although, it’s strange times when using surplus capital to pay for old-age care is the bad Tory policy, and free food for middle-class kids is the good Labour one).

Another thing: I’d got used to assuming that the public had accepted austerity, but it’s only relatively recently that cuts have started to really affect a big demographic of voters. (For example: my main local library was threatened with movement to cheaper, inferior accommodation this year. People were not happy.) That matters, I think.

Corbyn was key to this success, but the whole party earned it

Labour’s gains this election are phenomenal, especially bearing in mind the “floor” that the local election results suggested. What changed? More Theresa May in public, for one thing: she nosedived astonishingly from being the Tories’ perceived main asset to being barely visible, cancelling appearances and looking deeply uncomfortable when she did show up. But also: more Corbyn, and Corbyn at his best.

I don’t know how far voters were voting for him as a potential PM, and how far they bought the line (used by many Labour candidates on the doorstep to defray anti-Corbyn sentiment) that Corbyn was so far behind, backing a Labour candidate did not risk putting him in Number 10. Either way, Corbyn was not the drag I feared he would be; he was an asset. But – and I think this is important – the electorate did not vote as Corbynites. Majorities went up regardless of an MP’s Corbyn-orientation.

Harriet Harman, hate figure of the hard left for reasons that are nonsense if you understand parliamentary procedure (see point above about knowing politics skewing your view): up. The Traitor Phillips of “stab him in the front” fame: up. Thangam Debbonaire, whose account of trying to serve in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet while being treated for cancer was one of the most damning of the leadership contest: up. Failed challenger Owen Smith: up. Liz flipping Kendall: up. The party has a mandate to pull behind Corbyn. Equally, all MPs are owed the leaderships’ (and memberships’) support.

Corbyn got non-voters voting

I thought turnout would be down in this election; instead it was up. That’s something I’m very happy to have been wrong about. He also pulled in a young vote – although I’d like to see the “triumph of the youth” analysis cool its boots until the actual figures are in, because it’ll be interesting to see how much swing there was among older voters shaken up by the “dementia tax” stuff. Also, Labour seems to have been the main beneficiary of Ukip’s collapse, which again is not quite the demographic Corbynite dreams are made of.

Corbyn is a proper politician now

The election campaign wound out with Corbyn going to town on Theresa May over police cuts. That’s Corbyn, who has never previously given the impression of being a law-and-order candidate. More than that: his supporters, including those from the all-cops-are-bastards tendency, went with it. In other words, Corbyn – and Corbynites – have got the hang of opportunism. That’s good, because no one ever got anywhere in politics without playing the main chance. But it’s also another step away from the “different kind of politics” narrative.

The tabs don’t rule anymore (the replacement might be worse though)

The Sun, the Mail and the Express threw everything at Corbyn. It didn’t work. The question of how much front pages shift, rather than shadow, public opinion is an old one, but what’s important here is that Corbyn could rise above because the internet gives other ways to reach voters. Great! Except, those ways are substantially comprised of a Wild West of viral Facebook content that has all the partisanship of the right-wing tabloids (in the opposite direction) combined with non-existent reporting standards. That doesn’t feel like a massive win for democracy to me.

Some facts haven’t changed

Up until the YouGov polls, all the evidence said Corbyn was leading the party to general election disaster. But – for several reasons, some of which I’ve suggested above – the disaster didn’t come. Arguments about Corbyn’s electoral toxicity are over. Other issues, though, remain.

Being a tremendous campaigner is an undeniable positive during a campaign, but he also needs to lead in parliament. His track record there is unpromising. This time, MPs will be far more ready to fall in behind him: success relies on him being able to change his style too. (And, to be fair, there have been some good signs. Remember when Labour had that decent Easter recess recently?)

Corbyn’s approach on Brexit is not as much of a tautological shambles as May’s, but we still don’t actually know what Labour’s plan is. His shrugging ambivalence has served him fairly well so far: as angry as his indolence over the EU referendum makes me, I don’t think a pro-Remain Labour leader could have made these gains. But there is a limit to shrugging, especially now Corbyn is installed at the front of a resurgent opposition.

And then, for me, the big ones. Corbyn is still the guy who has batted away concerns about misogynistic and anti-Semitic abuse. He’s still problematic on Northern Ireland. As tempting as it is to hit back with “BUT THE TORIES AND THE DUP!”, the two things don’t cancel each other out: they make each other worse.

The easiest thing in the world at this point would be to to set aside those concerns and treat Corbyn as a normal, mainstream politician. What actually needs to happen is for Corbyn to show clearly that he gets why these are structural problems and cut off the associations that give succour to them. Not only to expel Livingstone from the party, but to create the conditions where a Livingstone incident can never happen again.

Already I’ve had conversations with Labour members who are slipping into the “well he’s not responsible for every nutter” and “Livingstone is stupid but not anti-Semitic, and anyway what about Islamophobia?” lines. Not good enough. Corbyn is specifically implicated in anti-Semitism. His support for Hamas and Hezbollah led the Daily fucking Stormer to endorse him (no I’m not going to link), and if you think that Murdoch backing Blair was damning, please have a bloody think on.

Most of my prediction errors come down to me rounding up the probabilities to fit my moral tolerances. I couldn’t bear the thought of Brexit, so I reasoned that Remain would benefit from an “incumbency effect”, even though that’s not a thing in referendums. The idea of President Trump made me wake up screaming, so I told myself the close polls would resolve into Clinton victory.

This time, it’s harder to get a handle on where my biases were: horrified at the prospect of Labour being decimated, for sure, but also terrified that a Corbyn success would normalise all his abhorrent associations. The party dodged the first magnificently. Now it has to take on the second.

GE2017: In this election, Corbyn is the house, and the house always wins

18893109_10155431368448872_4143167929859774538_n

Tomorrow I will go and vote, and when I vote – for Labour – I will feel a heavy despair, and I will recite again all the arguments that got me as far as the booth in the first place. That the candidate is a solid local councillor, who I want to see do well. That I am a party member, and signed up to clause one. That Labour is a party that has brought growth and redistribution in government, the party of the Equality Act, the only party with a feminist record. That I am voting for, effectively, the party of Harriet Harman; only I’m not, because given first-past-the-post and the constituency I live in, my vote is not going to help to elect any Labour MPs.

My vote will, in the end, only be useful to one member of the parliamentary Labour party, and that’s Jeremy Corbyn. If this general election ends on a Tory victory, and if (more on these ifs in a second) that precipitates another contest for the Labour leadership, the size of the Labour vote this time will be an important part of Corbyn’s case for staying on.

At the start of this election, I was sure of two things: that Labour would lose, and that Corbyn was unconscionable as a party leader and prime minister. Now I’m somewhat less confident about the first, and still absolutely certain about the second. Since April, Labour have advanced impressively in the polls. Well, some polls. I didn’t foresee that. But then, I didn’t foresee Theresa May being as cataclysmically awful on the campaign trail as she has been. Charmless, robotic and authoritarian, yes. Frightened, flaky and often absent, no. Whereas Corbyn, of course, has been in his element: relaxed, confident, even (and this is painful to say) likeable. He can’t lead a party, but can he ever do a campaign.

I also didn’t foresee a situation where, somehow, Corbyn was outflanking May on security. Perhaps I should: her greatest weaknesses as a PM have always had a tight crossover with the qualities that helped her stay in the Home Office so long (controlling, combative, reluctant to delegate), so it figures that her record in Home should also be a millstone. Any security failings and police funding cuts that might have contributed to the recent attacks are on her, and there is no way to strong-and-stable her way out of it.

Yet this leaves us in the extraordinary position where Corbyn – friend of Hamas, ally to the IRA – is posturing as a bulwark against terror. Those alliances speak, too, of the ways in which he is simply unsupportable as a leader (or should be simply unsupportable, anyway: this would not be the first election where I found myself standing well wide of the electorate, clutching my ragged principles).

Hamas is an explicitly anti-Semitic organisation (or was so, anyway, until it reformed its constitution last month). He took money from the theocratic, anti-Semitic, LGBT-persecuting Iranian regime to appear on the Iranian state broadcast network, Press TV. Corbyn has failed abjectly to acknowledge the moral seriousness of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, or to assert his leadership against it. On Ireland, Corbyn’s decision to sit out the EU referendum was simply reprehensible, given the dependence of the Good Friday Agreement on open borders. There is no sign that he even now appreciates what is at risk. Why would he, when peace in Ireland is one of those New Labour achievements that we are now apparently supposed to repudiate along with everything else “Blairite”?

Labour’s history on women’s rights is one of the most valuable things to me in politics; yet Corbyn supports total decriminalisation of the sex trade that would only be in the interests of pimps and punters, allowing women to be exploited on an industrial scale (it’s all anti-capitalism till you get down to vaginas, eh). The Labour manifesto includes a commitment to make “gender identity” (which of course is not defined, because no one actually knows what a gender identity is) a protected characteristic – a piece of well-intentioned reflex liberalism that would make rank nonsense of protections now afforded on the basis of sex.

Corbyn has shown deep carelessness when it comes to women’s representation in Labour; and of course, when misogynistic abuse was committed by his supporters and in his name, his reaction was merely to “condemn all abuse”, as though he were simply a hapless bystander rather than the inspiration for it. I don’t give a hoot whether he has support from women, by the way. I care that his policies and actions have been objectively bad for women.

For his supporters, none of these things matter. They’re smears, or fake news, or tabloid distractions intended to prevent a Truly Left-Wing Leader from reaching Number 10. His high-ranking supporters have gradually peeled off, but his rallies are still vast. The devotion he inspires is still passionate in a way usually reserved for popes, or pop stars. And yet – if Corbyn’s supporters are standing in parks to catch his megaphoned words, or lining up to get a touch of his hand, who’s knocking on doors? Who’s manning the phone banks?

Away from the ultras of politics, all I have heard this election is that people would rather not be having it. The electorate is done with voting. The one pledge that seems to be a guaranteed loser this year, for both the Lib Dems and the SNP, has been the promise of another referendum. No one wants it. Meanwhile, Labour candidates report a frosty reception on the doorstep. Historically, that’s a sure sign of a bad result to come. The local election results point to the same. If so, that means a terrible blood-letting of Labour MPs – a huge injury to the party’s ability to rebuild, a huge injury to women’s representation, a huge injury to politics.

If Corbyn loses but exceeds the worst expectations (say, it’s an ’80s level defeat rather than a ’30s level one), he still wins, because he’ll stay on. If he loses as badly as the early forecasts had it, he wins – because who will be left to replace him? If he actually wins, or if he (less implausibly) wrangles a hung parliament into premiership for himself, then of course he wins, though the likelihood is he would then revert to his off-campaign peevishness, and the UK will have a leader with all the moral integrity implied by his record on Ireland, anti-Semitism and misogyny. A better leader than Theresa May, possibly. But still.

I’m not particularly good at political predictions. The only reliable intuition I ever have really is pity: once I start to feel sorry for a politician, it’s all over. Poor wounded-bear Brown staggering into 2010. Osborne, with his endearingly odd fringe and extraordinary hi-vis clad performances of what a normal person might do in 2016. Theresa May’s twitching discomfort this year. I do not feel sorry for Corbyn. In this election, Corbyn is the house, and the house always wins. For the rest of us, there’s nothing good.

i | As long as some in Labour insist all Tory voters are evil, they guarantee that their party will lose

Momentum Members Rally In Support Of Jeremy Corbyn

Here’s progress: the British left seems, finally, to be letting go of the delusion that Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is doing OK with the electorate.

John McDonnell can still flannel about how Labour “surpassed expectations” with its catastrophic results in the local and mayoral elections, but he’s increasingly a lone voice. Even the mighty powers of Corbyn supporters’ cognitive dissonance can’t turn a crushing defeat into a success.

Here’s more dismaying news: though the hard-left is tentatively recognising the disaster for Labour, when it comes to attributing responsibility, it’s still high on self-regard and wishful thinking.

There are many reasons for Labour’s long-term decline, and Corbyn himself is a symptom as much as he’s a cause. But for the left, the guilty party is obvious. Labour has lost because of the voters.

Read the full column at the i

New Statesman | Election 2017: what should you do if you support Labour but can’t stand Jeremy Corbyn?

gettyimages-665320202

I’ve had a lot of conversations about Jeremy Corbyn with fellow Labour supporters. Well, arguments, really. A lot of the kind of arguments that devolve into apoplectic stammering, mutually hostile blinking, occasional tears and, in one case, mimes. Back during the 2015 leadership campaign, I angrily told a Corbyn-backing friend that his candidate would be an electoral disaster for Labour. In reply, he smiled and acted out setting off the plunger on a stack of dynamite. For a lot of Corbyn’s supporters, his victory was the moment to rip everything up and start again; to tear down all the apparatus of New Labour, and write a new origins story where Tony Blair never happened.

It didn’t quite turn out like that. For one thing, Corbyn the radical didn’t materialise: most of his policies could have sat comfortably in Miliband’s manifesto (if they weren’t there to begin with), and where his values did diverge from recent Labour history, they sometimes came as an unpleasant surprise to his base. Take, for example, Corbyn’s attitude to the EU, manifested in a Remain campaign to which he brought all the vigour and pep of an exhibit in Bodyworlds – no shock to Bennite old lags, but a grievous insult to the younger idealists of his coalition.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

BBC Radio Wales – Good Morning Wales | Did Jeremy Corbyn’s conference speech unite his warring party?

corbyn-still-2

After an extraordinary summer, it’s back to normal for Labour – a normal that includes a leader the MPs have no confidence in, MPs regarded as traitors by a large mass of the party, and anti-Semitism of the grossest kind voiced by an ally of the leader in one hall while that same leader declared “zero tolerance towards those who whip up hate and division” in another.

Tom Watson delivered a speech the moderates loved urging Labour to own and celebrate its Blair-Brown record, Jeremy Corbyn delivered a speech his supporters loved that included a barely-veiled attacked on Tony Blair, and Clive Lewis delivered a speech that Seamas Milne rewrote seconds before delivery to alter a key section on Labour’s approach to Trident, in a striking illustration of how loyalty to Corbyn is repaid. (If the rumours are true that Milne is about to head back to journalism with his diaries in hand, then the relief of Labour’s front bench could soon be lost in a swell of muckraking.) Owen Smith delivered no speech and is presumably just glad it’s all over.

I was on BBC Radio Wales this morning, talking through what Labour’s new normal means in the second age of Corbyn – follow the link below for the item.

Listen on iPlayer (from 00:10:26)

BBC Radio Wales – Good Morning Wales | Labour leadership election closing

corbyn vs smith

Voting in the Labour leadership election closed at midday yesterday, with it looking very likely that a Corbyn victory on an increased majority will be the result announced at conference this Saturday. I was on BBC Radio Wales yesterday morning to talk about where this leaves Labour. Does it have any prospects as a party of government under Corbyn? Can the soft left and centre hope to regain control of the party? And is Labour ever going to confront the political fragmentation of the Union?

That last is a question I’ve been thinking about a lot, partly because I think Labour’s difficulty with articulating a positive idea of statehood, and consequent vulnerability to to electoral pressure from nationalists, is probably intimately connected to the left’s susceptibility to anti-Semitism (and, given Dworkin’s analysis of the conceptual intimacy between anti-Semitism and misogyny, its sexism too). I haven’t thought this through entirely yet, but since Labour looks in no danger of pulling itself together imminently, I’m sure I’ll have plenty of time to work on it. Anyway, follow the link below to hear me on Good Morning Wales.

Listen on iPlayer (from 00:05:55)