Ends and means

Social democrats have every right to reject Corbynite guilt-tripping

Even by its prodigious standards, the hard left is being aggressive to ‘centrists’ this week. For the Twitter-uninitiated, these days ‘centrist’ includes everyone from actual centrists through to socialists on the radical left who oppose the Corbynites on democratic grounds. In particular, the hard left are accusing ‘centrists’ of enabling Boris Johnson and telling us all we have to rally behind Jeremy Corbyn to stop him.

After years of being told to fuck off and join the Tories, I suppose we could see it as refreshing that the Corbynistas want our votes again. But consider what they’re telling decent social democrats to support. They demand anti-racists vote for a leader with a lifetime’s history of anti-Semitic tropes and views, who with his allies reduced Labour to being investigated by the Equality and Human Rights Commission over institutional anti-Semitism. They expect reasonable people to support a leader whose every instinct — even when British people are killed on our own soil at the behest of a foreign power — is to excuse our enemies and decry our allies. They want democrats to set aside the records of extremism and the deep-rooted nastiness of the hard left.

And of course, they want pro-Europeans to support an incoherent mess on Brexit. I wanted Labour to seek a soft Brexit compromise and then, as the options narrowed, I wanted MPs to vote for the deal on the table. Most Remainers rejected meeting the other side halfway long ago. But Labour hasn’t even argued for a coherent compromise. And even now, when it’s calling for a referendum it mumbles. Labour won’t sing Remain or Leave’s tunes or stand up for meeting people halfway. It is of no use to anyone.

In return for moral collapse and strategic ineptitude, we are expected to be grateful for a domestic policy pitch rooted in nostalgia and a benefits policy to the right of the Liberal Democrats. So, out of arguments to persuade moderate social democrats their project isn’t toxic, of course the Corbynites seized on Johnson’s premiership. The hard left delight in being able to tell social democrats the hard right have captured the Tories and so they’ll just have to get in line. Sadly for them, other people have principles too. I regard Corbyn as a dangerous threat as well as Johnson. I want both of them gone, and failing that I want both of them kept in check in Parliament.

But there’s a cold strategic as well as principled logic to withdrawing support from Labour now. In my view, it is now clear the median Labour member won’t reject Corbynite politics because they’re wrong. I recognise the current median Labour member is probably still on the pro-Corbyn bit of the soft left, not the true hard left. I’m sure they wish anti-Semitism weren’t an issue in Labour ranks. I imagine they probably think the hard left sometimes has a point about foreign policy, but I don’t think they actively want to throw the Baltic states to Putin. I don’t think they like the viciousness that comes with Corbynism.

They just don’t see it all as a red line. Not really. Certainly not if it doesn’t lose Labour enough votes or overlap with something they really care about personally. (Which is why Brexit causes Corbyn so much more trouble internally than anti-Jewish racism.) I don’t think they ever will. Worse, I think plenty will minimise or excuse it to suit themselves. And I don’t think they’ll really and truly believe it costs enough votes for them to draw the line unless a general election proves the point.

As a citizen, I therefore have one weapon left: my vote. If Labour wants it, it will have to actually take anti-Semitism on, not deflect headlines and protect the Corbynistas’ friends. It will have to assure me that, in office, a Labour Prime Minister will take our NATO obligations seriously and in good faith. And it will have to convince me that the people it puts into Number 10 are committed parliamentary democrats.

Self-evidently, none of that will happen so long as Corbyn, McDonnell, Milne and Murray run the show. Nonetheless, Labour, that’s my price. I will not be guilt-tripped into lowering it. You can pay it or not as you see fit.

This post was originally published on Medium.com on 28 July 2019.

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