The crux of this article is going to be explaining firstly why I voted Corbyn in the first election, and why I was so resistant to any ideas that were not pro-Corbyn.
The second part will be the basic outline of a strategy that may allow us ‘moderates’ to win over enough Corbyn supporters to make the odds in a leadership election swing firmly in our favour.
Firstly though, I was a Corbynista once. I’ve said it, I’m out and I’ve said it before. The reasons I’m about to give as to why I supported him now feel alien as I type them. Over the last year or so, my political beliefs have shifted violently to the centre. I did use to be a hard socialist. I used to look at Venezuela and think we should try to emulate their ‘socialism’. I used to look at the Soviet Union and think, despite it obviously being a disaster for those who suffered under the corrupt regime, it wasn’t out and out evil. I used to be a hard socialist.
I’m none of those things now. And that’s because I saw them close-up. I saw the far left for what is truly is when it took over the Labour party. And I realised that I’m not a socialist.
At the time though, I did believe in socialism. I did believe it was an ideology that was not only righteous, but it would actually work. I was delighted therefore when Jeremy Corbyn stood in the Labour leadership contest. Up to that point my interest in politics went up to wanting Labour to win general elections. Beyond that, I wasn’t too bothered. I didn’t really mind who became Labour leader, whether they were to the left or right of the party. But when Jeremy Corbyn got enough nominations in the last minute, it woke me up.
The reason I became more interested in politics, to the point of obsession, was Jeremy Corbyn. He was also (eventually) the reason I shifted to the centre.
When he became leader I thought I was day dreaming. Although I’ve said I previously wasn’t too bothered who lead the party, when Jeremy emerged suddenly I did care. Suddenly, I cared hugely that Labour was socialist, that Labour supported renationalisation.
That moment at conference when the result was announced felt fantastic. I thought finally, Labour was returning to socialism. I thought finally Labour was returning to its roots, and most importantly I thought Labour would finally return to winning ways. It’s like when Newcastle were in danger of being relegated – Alan Shearer, a player who epitomised Newcastle like Corbyn did socialism, was appointed as their new manager.
However he quickly proved himself not suited to the job and Newcastle were relegated. If you change that sentence slightly it could easily refer to the disaster that has been Corbyn’s leadership. People like me, socialists, were delirious with joy at the thought of a true socialist finally leading the party. It baffles me now to not only be unaware of Corbyn’s dreadful past at the time, but also to be totally unaware of the fact he was bound to be useless. Of course he would be useless! He’d been an MP for over 30 years. Not once had he been in a cabinet or even a shadow cabinet. He’d never been a junior minister. He’d never been a parliamentary secretary. While he has sat on three select committees (the Social Security Select Committee from 1992 to 1997, the London Regional Select Committee from 2009 to 2010, and the Justice Select Committee from 2010 to 2015), it isn’t exactly a sterling CV for an MP of over 30 years who wanted to lead Her Majesty’s Opposition.
What on earth possessed me to think he’d be up to the job? The irrational side of me that ‘wanted’ socialism won over the rational side, is the only explanation I can proffer.
Maybe it was the fact that he was sub-par meant I liked him? After all, at the time I was sick of the supposed greasiness of politics. I was sick of politics being a series of well-rehearsed, well-drilled set plays. Politics was being played as if it was theatre or a sport. Along came Corbyn, a man with no experience of top level politics. He had, and continues to have, no idea about the media. He doesn’t know how to lead. He doesn’t know how to formulate policy. In short – he doesn’t know how to lead a political party. And maybe I liked that?
Maybe I did like it. And what I fool, a massive, naive fool I was. The warning signs were obvious! His controversial past (to put it mildly) with the IRA amongst other unsavouries like Hamas and the Hezbollah. Figures with big political reputations like Alastair Campbell, Dan Hodges and more of that ilk lined up to attack him. But, I’ll be honest – those attacks just endeared Corbyn to me more. I think the more the ‘mainstream’ attacked him, the more popular it made him in the Labour party, much like how Brexit gathered momentum too.
Either way, his rise to prominence exposed the truth behind socialism to me. It made me open my eyes and mind and realise it had destroyed Venezuela. I no longer believe in renationalisation of public services and industries. I’m no longer staunchly against outsourcing to contractors in the NHS purely because of dogmatic principle. I’m still left of centre, a social democrat in the European sense. But what I most certainly am no longer is a socialist.
But anyway, that’s enough of my self-centred introspection. I want to use these experiences I’ve had, and those of my friends in the party, to draw up some plans and explore some ideas over how we can win over more Corbynistas so that eventually, when the next leadership election is inevitably held, the moderates can finally wrench back control of the party from the far-left who are destroying it.
It can definitely be done. After all, I know many other people who’ve seen the light. There are plenty of Facebook groups where people share their reasons for doubting the great leader. Some of them are very cathartic, almost like group therapy sessions, except in this case the thing we are all recovering from is our support for a politician. So, onto part two.
We already know using Corbyn’s disgraceful past against him won’t work as a tactic on its own. That was tried back in the first election in 2015 and we all know how that went. However, as more and more Corbyn supporters express doubt in his leadership over the three-line whip regarding Brexit, minds are opening. Perhaps reminding them of his support for the IRA, Hezbollah and Hamas could work as part of a wider strategy this time?
See the exact same paragraph as above, except replace the first election in 2015 against Kendall and co with the second election in 2016 against Owen Smith. Polling data was used time and time again to very little effect. It may have been one of the many factors that won me over but it had little effect on the massed ranks of members waiting to cast their ballot for Corbyn. Corbyn’s re-election reminds me hugely of the election of Donald Trump. All of the facts told Americans that Trump would be an absolute disaster of a President. It was utterly obvious and yet he still won the most electoral college votes.
Back over here, all of the information told us Jeremy Corbyn would be a disaster. In fact, he’d already been a disaster as leader. Things could only get worse, not better. And so despite all of the polling data, despite the election results, despite Jeremy’s utter incompetence at pretty much anything resembling leading a party he was re-elected overwhelmingly.
But now, I think it is changing. Whereas in the leadership election against Owen Smith there was nothing emotive to challenge the preconceptions and received wisdoms of the Corbyn supporters, now there is: Brexit.
When Jeremy Corbyn issued a three-line whip intending to force his MPs to vote for the government’s Brexit bill he alienated huge swathes of his loyal supporters. Aside from the old grizzled trots who saw the EU as an evil capitalist empire, the vast majority of his supporters were passionately pro-Europe, with liberal views on immigration and international cooperation that no longer sided with Corbyn’s public face. For although Corbyn has always despised the EU (He voted against joining in 1975, against the Maastricht treaty in 1993 and so on) he suddenly became pro-EU once the referendum was called! He tricked his supporters – including me – into believing he cared about staying in the EU. But the morning after the vote he immediately called for Article 50 to be triggered. While this may not have scared off most of his supporters, the three-line whip did.
Suddenly, his supporters are waking up and realising he doesn’t really stand for them. Some of them are still steadfast in their socialist views but think he isn’t competent enough to lead the Labour party. Some of them are questioning their views and wondering if maybe they aren’t really a Corbynite. And some of them outright rejected their ideology, did some soul-searching and turned into a full on Blairite. Or maybe that was just me.
If you don’t believe me just go on social media. There are current Corbynistas questioning him and now former Corbynites trashing him all over Facebook and twitter in their droves.
To win them over we need to tap into all of this emotion over Brexit. We need to approach cautiously and politely. When I was a Corbynista all of the insults and mudslinging just made me more determined to stand by him, a middle-finger gesture to ‘them’. But it was the people who approached me calmly. People who carefully explained why I was wrong and instead of calling me stupid or naive actually took the time to hear my views and then cleanly but categorically tear them apart were effective.
For me, the last straw was my fellow Corbyn-supporting friend. We were discussing Corbyn and he explained why he had had enough and it was at that moment that I finally truly realised he was a charlatan, a false prophet. I felt deceived and betrayed, as many of his current/former supporters do now over the EU.
I understand this sounds incredibly over the top. It may sound stupid to you – indeed I feel a naive fool while writing it. But you have to understand that for the most passionate supporters like I was, Corbynism is like a cult. You get sucked in. You don’t even realise it’s happening, but then suddenly any view that isn’t a Corbyn view is wrong. Any voice that doesn’t come from His mouth is blasphemy.
What follows is my 4 point plan – a strategy to win back control of the Labour party.
- We have to stay civil. The moment we start using derogatory terms, we close their minds to our arguments and we lose. I use the terms Corbynistas and Corbynites throughout this article not as terms of insult, but as descriptors. After all, what else can we call them? I do not fancy continually writing out ‘Corbyn-supporters’. I’m often called a Blairite – I’m fine with that. It’s not an abusive term on its own, merely saying what my views are. Corbynista and Blairite can and have both been used in offensive ways. But the terms themselves are not abuse.
- Accept that 2020 is a lost cause. At the moment, it’s looking most likely that the next general election will not occur until 2020. I dislike the thought but we probably are not going to win in 2020 even if Corbyn went by the end of this year. Over the past year and a half the public have seen Labour tearing itself apart. Even once Corbyn’s hands are finally prised from the levers of power the public will still maintain the memory of a far-left Labour party. Conservative campaigns will be run attacking Corbyn. “How can you trust Labour to run a country if they couldn’t even run their own party?”. There are countless attack lines that could be used against Labour, despite the fact Corbyn wouldn’t be leader.
- Challenge Corbyn with the next Neil Kinnock. Like I’ve said above, we need to accept 2020 is a write off. Instead of challenging Corbyn with someone the country will like, like Dan Jarvis or Lisa Nandy, we need to put forward a figure from the soft left – someone the party membership will like, but not necessarily the country. Although people like Clive Lewis and Keir Starmer might be too left wing to win support nationally they would stand the greatest chance of beating Corbyn in a leadership election. They would be the Kinnock that repairs the party from the beating it took under Foot, until the next Blair can step in and take control. The scenario runs in my head like this. Towards the end of this year, another Corbyn sized disaster prompts Labour MPs into action; they’ve finally had enough. Keir Starmer emerges as the candidate who will take on Corbyn. By now, the bulk of Corbyn’s support is ready to desert him, battered and demoralised by Corbyn’s stance for hard Brexit and the continuingly dreadful poll ratings. Keir, the fellow left wing candidate, can win over enough of Corbyn’s supporters (who still want a socialist, but a competent one) to win the leadership election. For the next three years he starts to rebuild the party, reducing the influence of hard left figures in the party, expelling Jacqueline Walker and Ken Livingstone and gradually removing Momentum from the sphere of the party leadership. Keir leads Labour into the general election in 2020. He doesn’t win enough seats to form a government but he has arrested Labour’s slide in the polls. Labour actually makes a net gain of seats – not enough to win under the first past the post rules but it is some seats clawed back nonetheless. Of course, because he isn’t able to form a government, he does the decent thing like Ed Miliband did in 2015, and Jeremy Corbyn never did but should have – he resigns. This time, the PLP do not make the same mistake they made in 2015 when they allowed Corbyn to be nominated. Only moderate MPs receive enough nominations to run in the leadership race. Blairites Dan Jarvis and Stella Creasy take on centre-left Lisa Nandy and Jess Phillips. At this point you can probably guess which way the story is going. So the point here is: don’t expect our next leader to win over the public – just expect them to win over Corbynistas. Someone like Dan Jarvis, for all his probable popularity with the general public were he to be leader, is unlikely to win over Corbyn supporters. For Keir Starmer on the other hand though, the tables are turned in the exact opposite direction.
- Play to the audience. The majority of Corbyn’s supporters voted to remain. They are, in many cases, despondent as the truth dawns as to just how anti-EU Corbyn has always been. This is our chance; the chink in his armour. We need to play our strongest hand, and this is it. Remind the membership at every chance of his views on Europe compared to the views on Europe of potential leadership challengers. It has to be the number one thing associated with Corbyn – the EU. If we can make it the biggest issue his despondent supporters will desert him in droves, leaving only the far left who also supported Brexit and the most idealistic of his supporters – the ones in the cult of Jeremy, for whom Jeremy can do no wrong.
- Grit your teeth. The only way we’ll ever defeat Corbyn is by having enough people in the party willing to vote against him. As much as you might want to make a statement by leaving, please stay. Even if you can’t stay in the party, join the Jewish Labour Movement – you don’t have to be a Labour member to do so, you still get a vote in any leadership election and it is a really good way to show solidarity with Jewish members of Labour who are under constant anti-Semitic attack from the leadership and grassroots. So knuckle down, stay patient and be prepared to wait him out. Already, Corbyn supporters are starting to become disillusioned with him – it won’t be long now.