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Project Corbyn Has Run Out of Runway

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Alex AndreouLondon, UK and Mykonos, Greece
Project Corbyn Has Run Out of Runway
In the space of a few weeks, Corbyn supporters have bullied my softening "yes" into a very hard "no". Corbyn is in danger of turning into a Farage of the left.

I am one of those people who find it difficult to consider things fully in a vacuum. I find it much more useful to put out ideas and retreat from or firm up on them through discussion. A few days ago, I put out the idea that I didn't think Jeremy Corbyn had done so well as to justify automatic support in a possible leadership challenge. I'd have to see what the alternatives were.

I am now quite sure that Corbyn needs to go. 

A reasonable enough position, I think. It is the precise process via which I arrived at Jeremy Corbyn during the last contest, after all. The reaction I have faced from the Corbyn faithful - a frightening mix of superficiality and viciousness - has actually pushed me in the opposite direction. I am now quite sure that Corbyn needs to go.

What started as a grassroots movement has become a personality cult. "It is not about Corbyn, but the new politics he represents" say his supporters, while simultaneously decrying as "snakes" and "Blairite scum" anyone who has the nerve to offer any critique of his approach. The level of denial of fact combined with the evangelical attachment to him personally and underlying threat of violence complete with "traitor" rhetoric, is reminiscent of Ukippers' attitude to anyone criticising Farage. 

And there is also a Ukip-like denial by more "reasonable" supporters of the nastiness that seems to have corroded the movement from the inside. With every aggressive tweet, with every insult, with every Canary blog, with every labelling of anything inconvenient a Blairite plot, I became more and more convinced that "Corbynism" was not the answer. Anything "ism" isn't. 

If the attitude towards a Corbyn supporter expressing some doubt is to shout "DIE TRAITOR! CORBYN FOREVER!" what is the more general electoral strategy towards people who were never convinced about him in the first place, let alone floating voters? Punch them in the face, presumably, unil they agree that "JC is the best". 

I supported Jeremy Corbyn strongly and vocally. I like his politics. I think he has done a very important job in opening up conversations - like the renewal of the Trident programme or renationalisation of industries which are provably unsuited to competition - that had hitherto been inexplicably closed for debate. Those discussions can continue. He has ensured that the next Labour leader will have to speak to the whole party. 

He has stumbled from blunder to blunder, has behaved with intransigent vanity and mumbled his way to Brexit. 

One does not need to be a Blairite, however, to notice how ineffective Corbyn has been at the actual job of communicating the Labour message and leading his team. He went into the leadership promising to build bridges and has ended up alienating even close allies. He has stumbled from blunder to blunder, has behaved with intransigent vanity and mumbled his way to Brexit. 

The argument that he delivered a high proportion of the Labour vote for Remain is misconceived. It means nothing without a baseline. Is two thirds good? What are we comparing it to? The other claim is that he delivered the youth vote. A high proportion of young people voted for remain. But only a minority of young people voted at all. 

We can never know whether these stats could have been improved. I can, however, assess his performance. I found it lukewarm and half-hearted. His refusal to share a platform was disastrous. Andrew Neil has said that he refused one-to-one interviews, too. His only major television appearance was on a comedy show, during which he droned on about his pet obscure directive on "posted" workers. His ambivalence was plain for all to see. And I don't think it is a coincidence that there seems to me a significant overlap between those who still support him and the misguided "Lexit" camp. 

I am also quite fed up with cries of "coup" and "backstabbing" and how all this is "undemocratic" and "unconstitutional". Corbyn is on record as saying that it is MPs' duty to rebel against their leadership if they disagree. Few MPs have his record of defying the whip. He was instrumental in attempts by Benn to destabilise first Foot, then Kinnock. 

Corbyn promised to convince, rather than coerce. It was an attractive notion. But he has done neither. 

I'm not criticising any of those things. His rebelliousness was part of the reason Corbyn was an attractive prospect in the first place. But let him show some intellectual consistency. He can't embody those things for his entire career, then morph into some sort of Kim Jung Jez figure, the moment he has power, demanding unquestioning loyalty. Corbyn promised to convince, rather than coerce. It was an attractive notion. But he has done neither. 

There is nothing unconstitutional or undemocratic about MPs voting to say they have no confidence in their leader. It is just about the most democratic expression of dissatisfaction there is. Corbyn followers wilfully ignore half the process of electing a new leader. MPs are explicitly written into it. It is only a person who can secure a certain percentage of support that goes to the more general vote. Why do they think that is? 

Is it possible that the system recognises some MP support is absolutely instrumental to the job of leader. Corbyn refuses to resign, because resigning would relinquish the debatable right to be on the ballot automatically. But he would only need 15% of nominations to get back on the ballot. Isn't the fact he is not sure he could even secure that the most telling of all? Instead the unions supporting him threaten deselection. Now, that is undemocratic. That is unconstitutional. It is plain blackmail. It is the opposite of the "new, kinder politics" that he promised. 

Everything has changed. We live in a country where the majority just voted for isolationism, regression and economic self-harm effectively on the basis of "experts, schmexperts".

All this I could forgive. But the denial of post-referendum reality, by both Corbyn and his faithful, is unforgivable. "Don't lose your nerve", they say. "Stick to the plan. Nothing has changed." Everything has changed. We suddenly find ourselves facing the possibility of a General Election within months; facing the probability of Britain exiting the European Union. An almost inevitable recession and, by extension, more austerity looms. Project Corbyn has run out of runway.

Maybe there had been an opportunity for a fresh, clean anti-austerity, anti-establishment message to break through. I believed this, that's why I voted for Corbyn - for that message. But the more radical the message, the more effective its communicator must be. Corbyn's manifesto is simply mismatched by his ability to explain it. He is an inexperienced diver, attempting a 3.8 difficulty manoeuvre. We cannot deny we live in a country where the majority just voted for isolationism, regression and economic self-harm effectively on the basis of "experts, schmexperts".

Labour was probably snookered anyway. Has been for a long time. It should have introduced proportional representation while it still could in order to unite progressive voters everywhere. The things demanded in different regions are plainly irreconcilable. It faces existential threats, by parties who can focus their message and give those regional voters what they want. SNP in Scotland, PC in Wales, Ukip in the North of England, Conservatives in the South, Liberal Democrats in London. 

... the next election will be fought on membership of the European Union. 

Suddenly, however, there is a glimmer of an opportunity: the next election will be fought on membership of the European Union. Some contenders will offer definite Brexit. The Conservatives - by their recent act of Boricide - appear to be firmly in this camp. Others will need to offer a backdoor opportunity to reconsider - perhaps by virtue of full Single Market membership or a second referendum on the actual terms of Brexit. There is a rich constituency of 16 million Remain voters out there, to which buyer's remorse adds every day. 

Corbyn would be thoroughly unconvincing arguing either position - he is unconvincing arguing most things at the best of times anyway. But by half-heartedly arguing against his own beliefs during the EUref campaign he has shot himself in stereo. He can no longer be a compelling voice on either side of what will surely shape up as the central issue of the imminent election. 

His supporters seem to have galvanised around the notion that, with things as they are, it is absolutely the wrong time for Labour to be looking inwards and engaging in a damaging leadership challenge. 

I disagree. The Tories being involved in their own Game of Thrones, the legislative programme entirely frozen, and the news cycle spinning so quickly that even a PM's resignation is forgotten two days later, provide the perfect opportunity. Indeed, unless Labour open their eyes to the challenging, changing reality around them, it will be the last opportunity. 

I was willing to give Corbyn space to grow. He has shrivelled instead. I was willing to give him time to develop his message. There is no time now. 

#EU Referendum, #Corbyn, #CorbynStays, #CorbynMustGo, #Labour



3 years ago

You are a pain in the arse, mate. 'Me, me, me' all the bloody time. Your prognostications are just those of an opinionated 'doesn't really know much, but can talk at length about it' person.

Some of your theories of politics and power are touching in their naivety, if they weren't already extremely irritating; e.g., this little one on 'the left of Labour needs the centre to achieve power' (paraphrased). Politics is both more complex, and can have simplicity at its centre, that piece of nonsense is not how anyone ever changed anything. See Clem Attlee for further example.

You are one one voter, and if, thinking as you do, that 'Labour under Corbyn is unelectable'; feel free to piss off and vote a different way. Those (your) ideas are not interesting, and people (the electorate) are not the homogenous mass you think they are.

Macky Rojot

3 years ago

Well it was a good run, but it had to happen sooner or later, yes you finally wrote a piece that I not only disagree with, but do so with even greater disappointment in that your usual high standard of argumentation & logical good reasoning is noticeable by its absence, as what you have written is without any real substantive points, and so reads just like another anti-Corbyn hatchet piece.

I think it really is noticeable that most of these unexpected anti-Corbyn attacks have come from bitterly disappointed Remain supporters; clearly the trauma of the vote not going their way has caused some people to engage in uncharacteristic irrational behaviour.

Anthony Andrews

3 years ago

I'm a little confused about this article. Im looking for information on Corbyn from both sides of the love/hate camps, and thought this may be a good place to look. Bur frankly, every time I find someone who is vocal in their disaproval or dislike of Corbyn, it is always without actually talking about his policies - or the important question of who exactly would be a better choice right now. They are dominated - as here - by discussion of the issues other mps have with Corbyn, and vagueness on all points (bar the referendum, which I have all but given up on regarding in any case as it is a bringer of madness)

Briv Paul

3 years ago

Hard to talk about policies because apart from Corbyns placard platitudes repeated ad infinitum None have been thought through and costed to present at conference or for a manifesto This is another failure of his leadership

Helen Crittenden

3 years ago

I am saddened by your article. Yes, hands up, I voted for Jeremy Corbyn and I will again if it comes to it. The reason being, as another commentator has said, is that I don't see a viable alternative. Maybe one day, but not today. The Party is already split: a considerable portion of the PLP and a small minority of the membership are to the "New Labour" right, while a small minority of the PLP and a considerable portion of the grassroots membership are to the Party's founding values of the socialist left (not hard left, not communist, just socialist). Ironically, when asked their opinion free of political labels, so are most of the people in this country.

If Corbyn stands down the current PLP will not allow another left-leaning candidate to get on the ballot paper for party leader. It's all very well for a leadership contender to promise to keep to 'some' of Corbyn's policies but that's not what the majority of the grassroots are asking for.

We are where we are but I don't think Corbyn has ever been given a fair chance in this job. From day one there have been schemes and plots to unseat him. Instead of being able to concentrate on opposing Tory austerity cuts and other policies that have favoured the elite more than the workers, Corbyn has had to divert attention to fire-fighting his own back-yard. Despite this, he has achieved a considerable amount in defending the people against austerity etc. Just think how much he could have achieved if his colleagues had worked with him instead of against him.

Whether Corbyn stays or goes the Party is in trouble. The easiest solution would be for the PLP to recognise that the Tory austerity policies have been instrumental in shifting the grassroots views back to more socialist principles than was promoted under 'New Labour', and get behind and support their democratically elected leader as any good team should.

Being a good team member and team player is as important as being a good leader.


3 years ago

Labour have no chance of removing Corbyn as he has overwhelming support. His support is growing, I know of 5 people who have joined Labour and are Corbyn supporters just last week. Even if he could be removed, Labour have no one with which to replace him.

I'm glad you wrote it though as you seem to have gathered some new readers. Hope they'll be back to read your usual insightful pieces on Brexit liars and EU politics.


3 years ago

Polling evidence (yes, polls, but it's probably better than anecdotal evidence) suggests his support has declined rapidly in the last week. That's only going to increase as it becomes obvious it's only the desperation of his advisers that's stopping him from quitting.

Robert Snozers

3 years ago

I don't agree with a lot of what Alex says here. He's a journalist I have a lot of respect for, and I always listen to what he has to say with interest. Where I do agree with him is that the behaviour of some Corbyn supporters is totally unacceptable and counter-productive. I don't think this sort of thing is conducted by a large number of Corbyn supporters, and I think it's important to recognise that these people were there anyway, and still saying the same unhelpful and sometimes downright nasty things. They were the people who had left Labour either under Blair or before, and until Corbyn did not really have anything to rally round. I don't think they'll ever be got rid of, and I don't think Corbyn can do much to shut them up, but I wish to god someone would. I also agree that Labour should have introduced PR - but it was the Blairite right of the party that so virulently opposed any kind of electoral reform. If Alex was looking to the likes of Benn and Eagle for PR, he would have been waiting a long time.

Second part of preamble - reluctantly, under different circumstances, I'd be thinking that Corbyn hadn't done a brilliant job in some respects, he can't beat the negative media, and all things being equal, a leadership challenge might be a good thing (though I don't think he has done any worse than Ed, and with far more media opposition even than Ed faced, although Corbyn isn't being hobbled by his shadow chancellor the way Ed was by Ed Balls). All things are not equal. The rebels are doing their damndest to avoid the proper process, and that is so they can have things their own way. Moreover, this is something that has been planned for a very long time. Put simply, it's very far from being just about Corbyn, and if he steps down, the illiberal, authoritarian right of the party gets its way.

Where I disagree:

Vanity - I don't believe Corbyn has a shred of it. What I have seen of him both in the past and recently is unshakeably moral and principled. The fact that he is staying where he is is a measure of that, and the knowledge that if he is pushed out, the next list of potential leaders of the party will not have anyone who dares describe themself as a socialist on it.

That two thirds of Labour voters supported Remain is worthless without a baseline - we have a baseline, in the shape of the wholeheartedly Europhile LibDem party. 63% of Labour supporters voted Remain, 70% of LibDem. Just 7% more. 30% even of LibDem supporters voted Leave. (How this isn't a crushing indictment of Tim Farron leading to calls for his resignation, I'm not sure)

Corbyn's previous rebelliousness is comparable with the current rebels - I don't believe Corbyn ever conspired with other MPs to override the constitution of the party to favour his ideological wing of Labour. Moreover, although he often voted against the leadership (he still voted with it overwhelmingly more than he voted against btw) and spoke out against the leadership's position, he did not engage in this unwholesome unattributable media briefing that we are currently seeing by people who want to undermine the leadership.

That Corbyn supporters are being unconstitutional - Alex says members are ignoring half the process, that MPs are written into it and that the Corbyn supporting membership is discounting this. This is the most egregious part of his argument. If the rebels were concerned about the proper process, they would challenge Corbyn. Instead, they are trying to force him to step down so he can't fight them, and they can stack the ballot with whomever they like. You can bet that no-one from the left of the party would get on, even to 'broaden the debate'. It has come to something when the membership isn't allowed one candidate from the position that best fits most of their views and attitudes.

We face the possibility of a GE in months - actually, I think all the Tory leadership contenders have ruled out an early GE


3 years ago

I have never given Jeremy Corbyn "automatic support" but cannot say that he must go because I do not know what the alternative is. The fault for that lies entirely with the parliamentary Labour Party’s failure to follow due process. As the MP Graham Allen pointed out a few days ago the vote of no confidence has no basis in the Labour party’s rules. Instead we had orchestrated hourly resignations and the public political assassination of the party leader.

The PLP's failure means that I cannot be sure that a replacement leader will seek to carry forward policies that were not even on the agenda before Corbyn became leader: particularly changes to macroeconomic policy under John McDonnell. Alex mentions other matters that he is glad Jeremy has brought to the forefront. Again, without knowing who the alternative leaders are Alex's current position is such that he is willing to let those things go. I disagree with that.

UKIP is at the door because people have stopped listening to politicians and not just Jeremy Corbyn and the other members of the PLP.

The post-referendum reality is that the result needs to be accepted and attention turned to building social justice outside of the EU. Alex doesn't accept that the referendum vote means that Britain should be outside of the EU. Labour members should be clear that "democratic" is the first (and actually greater part) of democratic socialist. If Labour take the approach Alex suggests then UKIP will be sitting on the living room sofa.


3 years ago

You've made solid points all along the line here. As an American, I was never a fan nor a supporter of Corbyn because I believe his brand of fringe leftism (as opposed to Sanders' or SYRIZA's) is toxic, inward, and ultimately self-defeating. His tenure as Labour Party leader I think has vindicated my fears and yet I don't think he should step down. Why? Because the malaise the Labour Party is experiencing is far deeper and more protracted (as you've alluded to here) than any one man's tenure; Corbynism and its personality cult is just a symptom of the disease, not the root cause. And besides, he has majority support among the members. Calling on him to resign when he won't and when the majority wouldn't support it does nothing to do what's desperately needed -- begin a vigorous and thoroughgoing discussion about the way forward for Labour. As it stands now, Corbyn is positioning Labour as the party of 'Lexit' and until the membership wakes up to this fact and does something about it, the party is in big trouble.

Sam Pryke

3 years ago

Some interesting points here, I've thought of several of them myself - a Corbyn supporter who joined the Labour Party shortly after he was elected last year. I think your argument is weakened by several distortions; I have to say distortions to the point of being disingenuous. The most salient:

1. All new political movements that strike a chord with people, especially with young people, have an inherent tendency on the part of some to go over the top. Not an excuse but a fact. Frankly I'd rather have that than a whole generation obsessing over the Kardashians' eye brows etc. The key point is that continued support for Jeremy isn't just an irrational personality cult etc. Any suggestion that it is, is just silly.

2. Jeremy Corbyn's back bench opposition to Labour whips, i.e. the Party line, over the years, decades, cannot conceivably be compared to the orchestrated campaign to unseat him from day one, led by Blairites. In fact, the suggestion is absurd. If you only believe half of what has come out on social media over the last week, you'd know that the campaign has been highly organised, mendacious and vicious. The accounts of the personal bile off loaded at Monday evening's PLP meeting, in an attempt to break the man by reducing him to tears, are only a particularly unpleasant example.

3. Jeremy Corbyn didn't just make one appearance on a comedy show during the referendum campaign. That's just plane wrong. On how advisable it was/wasn't to appear with Tories on some joint platform, check out what happened in Scotland!

4. What is the likely alternative to Corbyn in the here and now? Angela Eagle? Frankly, that prospect is too awful to contemplate.

I have yet to see a systematic and rational discussion of just why Jeremy Corbyn hasn't been an effective Party organiser and leader. I think it might be possible to make such a case . This discussion just isn't it.

Briv Paul

3 years ago

Great piece Alex Expect you've been inundated with the usual tweets from the Cult of Corbyn followers no doubt Well done for speaking out ! Many of his most vocal supporters are not even members or if they are only been one for 5 minutes. It's the new Free Nelson Mandela movement with a narrower appeal IMO There must be another narrative as to why Corbyn should step down and not just the Blairite coup theme. Yes Blair MPs want rid of him but there are 172 MPs fed up with the miscommunication from his cabal of Hear nothing See nothing say nothing clique .I don't believe he is the right man for the job of Leader and don't believe he even wanted to be one. He's always been on back benches getting on with the job rather than getting caught in the headlights ! The slings and arrows of outrageous forune etc He could do so much more as an advisor to a younger more energetic person of the party. Help design policy engage with this large membership we have now Instead of putting out fires him & his wayward gang Momentum have started .I hear rumours this was the idea approaching the GE2020. He's a great man with great ideals and has brought the left agenda into the arena of public awareness I thank him for that as does everyone on the left ! No one else was offering this at the leadership election last year . But we are where we are and the country is crying out for leadership Unfortunaltely Corbyn isn't it. His shambolic press team is just one example of the total failure of his leadership team. Seamus Milne should be sacked for gross incompetence. There is not one press event that he has managed well and the Vice Doc ! Need I say more We don't have one friendly ear in the media not one . Posting on Twitter doesnt wash 3-10% of Twitter seen by the general public .Their pandering to the hard left of Momentum & SWP discredits hard working Labour Party members up and down the country. Corbyn rallies festooned with SWP placards giving the appearance on TV that this is who we are. Good news events like the Anti Semitism policy announcement ruined not just by his badly worded statement but by a Momentum member picking on a Jewish Female MP for crying out loud. The coded endorsement of the hard left has alienated his parliamentary party How can 85% of MPs be wrong ? They've worked their way up from councillors to MPs fighting for their constituents Are they all just Blairite Neo Con MSM stooges ? Tin foil Hatery at its worst .Blairite the new racist smear .Why doesn't Corbyn advise his followers we are the Labour Party not the SWP and don't carry their placards at rallies The hard left will never win an election and don't want to They are happier with the People's front of Judea Virtue signalling politics and will condemn us all. How different this all could of been & maybe avoided all this mess. A clear principled statement laying a time table for a change of leadership team ,to McDonnells & his team maybe to steady the ship and get MPs back on side if possible ! McDonnells do at least seem to manage their press releases and keep up with the news agenda. Milnes team go missing at vital times such as BHS & Sports Direct parliamentary proceedings when journalists were looking for a comment from Corbyn there was silence. If I could see that on social media why couldn't Milne & Co ? Anyway just my thoughts correct me if I'm wrong

Macky Rojot

3 years ago

Actually it was not a Momentum member that was responsible for the incident at the Anti-Semitism Press Conference, see what Craig Murray & his commentators have to say about it here;

Betty Cottrell

3 years ago

I find it hard to believe you were anything other than a fair-weather Corbyn supporter. All your arguments read like the same tired, half-baked tropes wheeled out by the mainstream media. A lot of your arguments are also cheap and contemptuous personal attacks. When Corbyn was elected he called for a 'kinder politics' and has constantly called for people to be civil and courteous when they debate. He is not to blame for some of his over-zealous supporters who fail to heed that. You also criticise him for 'intransigent vanity'. Where on earth is the evidence for that? Under Corbyn Labour have won two by-elections with increased majorities, won the London and Bristol mayoral elections, outperformed the Tories at the May council elections and forced the Tories into a number of u-turns on things such as: Tax credits, disability cuts, forced academisation, the Saudi prison contracts. Isn't that a strange record for such a feeble and ineffective leader?

Briv Paul

3 years ago

You are confusing normal Labour voters for hard line Corbyn fans.There has been no miracle recovery It's pure fantasy to suggest as much. Victories are down to local members backed by a new found anti austerity message Yes we can thank Corbyn for that and we do But any leader could of achieved this I feel as we should be walking over the Tories not be on a par with them in polls & Hanging on in elections . In each bye election the candidates wouldn't even mention his name and didn't want him anywhere near them Same with Khan he distances himself from him constantly. All u turns have been caused by Tory Rebellions in the shires & on their back benches to suggest Tories fear Corbyn is to deny #ToriesForCorbyn is a thing. Using the kinder politics line also is pure cultist denial Over zealous supporters don't make me laugh He panders to the hard left to the denigration of all his MPs and the Labour Party !


3 years ago

It is very easy to attack Corbyn with the MSM attacking him at every turn and you can understand the establishment owned media being against him as it is the establishment he is against, sadly the people tend to listen to the media whether it is against their interests or not.
I am a staunch defender of Corbyn and not because he is a leftie as I am very slightly to the left, I am no "Ist" Trotsky or any other, Corbyn is representing me, anti war, anti austerity and for equality, jobs and a better standard of living for our people, I haven't seen that in the PLP, since the 70s.
Corbyn will respond to Chilcot to the chagrin of the PLP, He will be involved in a leadership challenge although that could now be saved until the day of Chilcot.
Regarding the rank and file supporting Jeremy I for one have been disgusted about the unnecessary vote of no confidence but it doesn't tell the whole story, We have a Party in flux with a very important Autumn conference coming up in September, the PLP do not want policies made or the constitution changed to make the party more democratic, well they wouldn't would they? The members do not want to be told to deliver flyers, doorstep and all the other things they do for MPs to get elected and then be told to mind their own business, it seems we are a team until they get elected and then we are a nuisance.
My vote went to Jeremy and 2/3s of the Party agreed with me, I am not going to sit back and be told we no longer believe in democracy in the Labour Party by the PLP whatever the members think, they have stood on a IED and cannot remove their foot, they have got themselves into a constitutional crisis of their making not Corbyn"s, they need to stand down or stand against him or leave the Party, I would hate to see that but if it has to happen we still have the doorsteppers, leaflet deliverers, they don't.


3 years ago

I am still a supporter of Corbyn, although the people you have described in your article do not speak for me (or indeed many of my friends who are also supporters). It really is a minority and not a majority, they just make themselves heard above all others which is a shame because of course, they are only damaging the argument. I have the same question I have had since the 'coup' started though. Who is the credible, electable alternative? I'm not naive enough to think that Jeremy can withstand this indefinitely, but I just can't see who is going to do what needs to be done if he does go, and I really would like to think that there is someone to believe in!