On Corbyn, Eventually

I was never going to write this. I have supported Labour in pretty much every election I have ever voted in, but I am not a party member and not a party loyalist. It is not my place, then, to comment on internal party politics. And yet…
Fiona Millar tweeted today that she was not sure how much longer, after 40 years, she could stay with Labour. She is, among other things, the partner of Alastair Campbell. Margaret Hodge and Ian Austin are facing disciplinary proceedings over their respective challenges to perceived antisemitism among Corbyn supporters.
All are core party achievers who had much to do with Labour’s revival and its successes in government after 1997. Others have already left in disgust. The party that helped mobilise support against the Mosleyites in the 1930s now refuses to condemn outright and blatant antisemitism.
This is not so much the tail wagging the dog. This is the dog devouring its own entrails.
Why? Corbyn is eight years older than me. I recall the student politics of the mid-70s, a strident, fissiparous whirl of Trots, Communists, ultra-Trots, anarchists, ultra-anarchists, God knows what. They were forever passing motions in support of Albania, China, wherever, celebrating the death of Franco, condemning Pinochet or US policy, congratulating the Sandinistas in Nicaragua or the MPLA in Angola.
None of it meant anything outside that bubble. Most people involved in all that grew up and walked away, or used their undoubted political energy in more sensible ways, the trade unions, mainstream politics.
Corbyn and his ilk never grew up. There were plenty like him. He spent the next forty years swimming in the same waters. His like will have attended any number of events celebrating the Cuban revolution, condemning Israel and the US, in support of various former USSR satrapies, pro-Ghadafy, pro-Saddam, pro-Serbia in the Balkans conflict, even.
He voted for the UK to leave the EEC, as was, in 1975. This is in line with the views of Moscow at the time, as expressed by its then mouthpiece, the Morning Star, and the Communist Party. “Down with the bosses’ Europe!” (One reason I campaigned on behalf of the EEC back then was the view that anything the Kremlin thought was a bad thing, geopolitically, must have something to recommend it.)
In all this time, Corbyn and others like him will have shared a platform, especially at those anti-Israel events, with any number of antisemites, many but not all from the Arab world.
Scroll forward to 2015, and Corbyn becomes head of the Labour party, against all expectations, including, probably, his own, and against the wishes of most of those taking part in the election process. An accidental leader.
Then comes the steady drip of those meetings he had attended, in the company of antisemites and other undesirables. About one revelation a day, at present. There are the unapologetic apologies – I apologise for any offence I may have given from taking part, rather than, I apologise for even being there. Corbyn cannot apologise properly because he remains wedded to those causes.
He never grew up. He could never say, as most would and as would be the most electorally advantageous strategy for Labour today, yes I did believe some silly things in my youth but I have abandoned them. Because he hasn’t. He at least has the courage of his earlier convictions.
The people he surrounds himself with must share those convictions because this is how the far left operated all those years ago. Ideological purity is everything, so expel all those who disagree.
(I suspect John McDonnell knows this, which is why I would take a small side-bet on his becoming leader within six months. God knows what he will do with Diane Abbott.)
It is our misfortune to be alive at the concatenation of three unexpected events. The worst existential crisis to face this country, barring the Cold War, since 1945. The most grotesquely incompetent serving Conservative government since probably well before then. And the arrival of the accidental leader of the opposition, someone unable to abandon his juvenile views even though it is in his best interests, the best interests of his party and the best interests of the country, to do so.
What a state to be in.


On Political Dialogue, And Cults

Some of us are having difficulty understanding how political discourse, in any number of areas including Brexit, Trump and antisemitism in the Labour Party, seems to have moved from normal robust discussion between different viewpoints into something much darker and more violent.
Here is one theory. Take some recent debates. Jacob Rees-Mogg was on LBC the other day playing down any fears that a no-deal Brexit would mean airlines would have difficulty, come next March, flying into the EU because the relevant treaty allowing them to do so would lapse. It could never happen, he said.
A man from one of the biggest UK airport groups, who had helped negotiate that very treaty, had a different view. It could easily happen, he said. We might have to fly from London to Paris via New York. Who do you believe?
The trade body for the automotive industry has warned that a no deal outcome would disrupt the industry’s supply chain because of delays in sourcing parts. There would have to be a huge holding facility to store these. A man from UKIP today said this is simply not true, as have other Brexit supporters before him. Who do you believe?
The food industry, anyone from the farmers to the companies that make sandwiches, has said it is impossible to stockpile food in the way the Government has suggested, because the supply chain is so tight. The Government says there will be ‘adequate’ supplies, delivered by the Army if necessary. The Army says it does not have the manpower to do this. Who do you believe?
Donald Trump says one thing, observes the reaction and then insists he has said the exact opposite. When directed to the taped conversation that has him making the first statement, his supporters say this is ‘fake news’.
Any number of Labour moderates insist their party has a problem with antisemitism. The objective evidence suggests that a number of activists, often Corbyn supporters, have said things that could be construed as antisemitic. The party redefines the definition of antisemitism to take such statements outside it. Corbyn supporters deny there is such a problem.
The definition of a cult is a system of veneration and devotion, often but not always religious, directed towards a particular figure or object. One might add to an idea or political process.
Once you are a cult member, the Dear Leader cannot be wrong. If objective reality runs counter to what he, and therefore you, believe, objective reality is wrong and can be ignored. Fake news, if you wish.
The Polish-born sociologist Henri Tajfel looked at the concept of social identity, and how people bolster their self-esteem by identifying with particular groups. We all do it; I am British, a Londoner, a journalist, say.
Tajfel identified the idea of the in-group, and the out-group. Cult members, my words not his, are within a strongly defined in-group. There is a process called out-group derogation whereby those outside are seen as threatening and may be attacked. This can take society down some very dark routes; Tajfel was a Pole born just after the First World War, so he will have had bitter experience of this.
I am not suggesting all supporters of Corbyn, Brexit or Trump are cult acolytes. Their occasional refusal to accept reality, and the violence with which some of them express their views, does suggest some worrying parallels and might help explain the embittered, rancorous state of political debate now.