Diary of a Corbyn foot soldier (No. 3)
By Michael Murray
A dictionary definition of “foot soldier”: “…a dedicated low level follower…
In this month’s Diary:
(1) Going over the top
The present is another country. They do things different here…….
I woke up Friday 24th June, not from a nightmare but into one. The votes in the EU Referendum had been counted and the results announced. The UK (except Scotland and Northern Ireland) had voted LEAVE. It was immediately clear that the political and economic consequences were going to be dire; this was a game-changer. Big time.
The previous day, EU Referendum voting day, along with a large and enthusiastic team of other canvassers I’d endured about three wettings going around knocking on doors “to get the vote out.” In greater Hackney we helped to achieve a 78% REMAIN vote, 30 clear points above the national REMAIN result – a similar result came from Jeremy Corbyn’s next-door Islington Constituency. And I can tell you that was directly due to local leadership – from the MPs, Abbott and Corbyn down, and rank and file willingness to put in lots of work for them.
So when it was announced in the media that Margaret Hodge, MP for Barking, London, had initiated what can now only be described as an anti-Corbyn coup, under the pretext of his “under-performance” in the REMAIN campaign I looked up the results from her Constituency. And, the result …was ? A LEAVE vote of 62%, 10 to 11 points above the national LEAVE average and one of the few London constituencies to vote against REMAIN.
It could be said – and I will say later why that would be unfair – she herself didn’t make the effort to provide leadership and inspiration in her own home patch, instead she blames Jeremy Corbyn for her failure to deliver.
And what about the results of other Labour MPs since named in the coup? Of course the list of “resigning” MPs critical of Corbyn, who didn’t deliver in their own constituencies, has been rolled out hour by hour, day by day, to do maximum damage to Corbyn politically – and personally, guided, no doubt, by the Blairite PR gurus, like Alistair Campbell (remember the sexed-up Iraqi dossiers? ). How is Corbyn holding up so well against all this treacherous and insidious pressure, is what I’d like to know ? Beats me. But can he keep it up ? Talk about the” last man standing.” Watching this disgusting gutting of, what they all have to admit, a decent and honourable man, I ask myself do I want to be in the same Party as these excuses for human beings? Democratic Socialists, as per the Labour Party constitution and rules – my arse.
Other prominent coup plotters’ results to ponder: Tristram Hunt, MP, Stoke on Trent, 60% LEAVE in his constituency. Stephen Kinnock, MP, Aberavon, Wales 57% LEAVE. The Ken Livingstone hatchet man, John Mann, MP, Bassetlaw over 60% LEAVE.
Then you have the case of Gisela Stuart, MP for Edgbaston, Chair of the VOTE LEAVE CAMPAIGN. Has she been held to task for her anti-Labour Party role ? And Kate Hoey, whose constituency provided one of the highest REMAIN votes despite her being involved in the Labour Leave campaign. But she was involved in LEAVE, not REMAIN. Do we see consequences for her? Will we?
Incidentally, the latter result is just one indicator that the REMAIN/LEAVE vote distribution was a function of a complex mix of socio-economic factors, not just the party political roles. There is all sorts of speculation about the reasons for the LEAVE result – but few serious analysts point the finger at Corbyn. Having read “Social Class in the 21st Century (1), with its multi-dimensional class analysis, it’s easier to make sense of the many demographic interpretations currently on offer. One in particular grabbed me. It appears that 28 of the 30 areas with the least graduates voted LEAVE. 27 of the 30 areas with the most elderly people voted LEAVE. Most thought-provoking, 30 out of 30 areas identified as “English” voted LEAVE. Now making sense of what that means for the Labour Party – and its social policy – would be more useful than recriminations against Corbyn. But making sense of things is not the name of the game, for the moment anyway. Regime change is what excites them, we know that to our cost.
On that score, I think Alan Simpson, Sustainable Economics adviser to Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has got it right. “Labour’s referendum failure began back in the 1990s. Throughout the New Labour era critics like myself were told that Labour’s core voters no longer mattered, they had nowhere else to go. Now we know they do in Northern towns and cities, in Wales, and (previously) Scotland they went to UKIP, the Nationalists and finally to Brexit.” (2)
I was going to start this diary entry with war stories from the front line: experiences canvassing and political impressions gleaned and wonderful moments talking to people on the doorstep at Bus Stop/Tube Station entrances – and the nicest experience of all – leafleting parents outside local schools, where people actually queued up for leaflets and Labour REMAIN campaign balloons.
And, in total contrast, for the first time in 50 years being told to ”Fuck off back to Ireland and not be telling English people how they should be voting, you grey-haired Fucking old cunt.” A long in-my-face tirade, to which I responded with reasoned questions and information for him to consider, such as: did he know Eoin Farrell, Captain of the English Rugby team was of recent Irish immigrant stock? Football Captain Wayne Rooney ? Harry Kane? (Thank jaysus this happened before the “match” with Iceland.) All the time preparing myself for how I would deal with this bigger, younger, stronger man if he decided to let fly with the fist he had all the time threateningly poised on his right hip.
While he vented I rehearsed mentally the appropriate response to the situation. He didn’t seem to have back-up in the crowded area in which we were standing. He might have something in his pocket. All the time my offensive/defensive guard was up, but he didn’t recognize it. So it would be a quick finger flick into his eyes if that fist started coming towards me, followed by a palm heel strike up his centre line, which he wouldn’t see coming, and, I hoped, that would end the confrontation. But you never know with a stranger. This to be followed by a combination of head, knee and elbow strikes, if needed. And knowing that – at my age and indifferent state of health – allowed me to remain calm in the face of this racist bully. I recalled afterwards, how calm my heart-rate was, my adrenal level. But I can’t say the experience didn’t effect me. It brought back memories of first coming to London as an immigrant, experiencing both violent and “joking” anti-Irishism – even in the feckin’ Royal Navy. The “rooms to let” signs, in shop windows, in those pre-internet days, saying “No Irish, Blacks or Dogs,” is no urban myth.
All this happened in Tooting, by the way, where volunteers from around other London Labour Parties volunteered to help out in the canvass in the bye-election there to fill the vacancy left by Sadiq Khan. Another, similar, incident happened to two volunteers from Harrow, both Labour councillors, who were also attacked verbally. Both of Indian sub-continent origin, their assailant, from the same ethnic origin I’d say, chased them from his door and down the street. Ignoring me completely, he screamed all sorts of abuse at my fellow canvassers about Muslims like them condoning British decadence and what was needed wasn’t Labour – it was ISIS.
Now all that, while I want to share it, isn’t anything I’ve personally encountered in Hackney. But, as I said, I’m not surprised it’s happening – and growing in the aftermath of the referendum result. The Tooting bye-election result ? Dr. Rosena Khan (no relation to Sadiq) won – and more than doubled the Labour majority in the process. If she had lost though, Corbyn’s enemies would have been down on top of him like a ton of brick. Isn’t that sad?
This isn’t the Labour Party I re-joined during the exhilarating summer of 2015, in the course of what Richard Seymour (3) has termed “the strange rebirth of radical politics,” a play on the title of the seminal 1930s political work ”The Strange Death of Liberal England.” (4) I’m afraid, and disappointed, that things are the way they are and that, as John McDonnell advisor, Alan Simpson, writes: “…it seems likely that for the great majority of the newest recruits, Labour is a temporary home. Corbyn, flanked by a few allies but otherwise surrounded by a surprisingly resilient and bellicose old guard can’t keep the right-wing attack dogs on the back foot for too long. The political space for left-wing activists to operate effectively is likely to be closed before too long.
“Corbynism will struggle to outrun the limits of Labourism. And it is those limits, above all, which have brought us to this impasse.’ (op cit 2)
Tonight I attend my first CLP (Constituency Labour Party) meeting as a Branch delegate. I’ve had the telephone call “suggesting” a list of people unknown personally to me to vote into committee positions “to maintain order” at CLP level as it’s going through this turmoil. I doubt if I’m the only one to be approached like this, in Hackney or around the country. It’s how well organized coups work. And it’s those Seymour (op cit 3) and
Iain Watson (5) identify as the ubiquitous “electoral-professional” caste who are the cogs in the big wheels.
The days of the Corbyn foot soldier could be numbered.
- “Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics,” Richard Seymour, Versobooks.com, 2016
- “The Strange Death of Liberal England,” George Dangerfield, first published 1935, Capricorn Books edition, 1961
- Mike Savage, et al. This is based on the ground breaking, “Great British Social Survey,” of 161,000 respondents. Seymour, op cit.(1)
- Article: “New Labour’s contempt for ordinary people was only ever going to end in disaster.” Morning Star, London, 28th June, 2016
- Iain Watson, “Five Million Conversations: How Labour lost an Election and rediscovered its Roots,” Luath Press, 2016.