Euan McColm: Momentum takes Labour to the brink of extinction

Even the most deranged members of the cult seem to have accepted the reality of the situation. They may have argued that, actually, if you looked at it a certain way, Labour’s defeat in the 2017 general election was a victory but, this time around, they concede that Jeremy Corbyn’s party lost.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn during the launch of his party's manifesto in Birmingham.

How could they spin otherwise? Labour was not just beaten by the Conservatives (and, in Scotland, the SNP) on Thursday, it was thrashed, it was humiliated. The party may take years to recover, if recover it can.

This evisceration at the hands of the voting public was not, say Corbynistas, the fault of the leader. Of course it wasn’t. Rather he was the victim of, variously, a hostile media, the issue of Brexit, and the Labour moderates (more commonly known in Corbynista circles as Blairite scum) who refused to recognise his brilliance.

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But no number of pitiful excuses can explain away the devastating truth that the vast majority of voters looked at Corbyn and thought the idea of him being prime minister was, at best, laughable and at worst horrifying.

Friday saw Corbyn cultists – shadow cabinet members and activists masquerading as journalists – doing the rounds of TV and radio studios to explain why the leader was blameless. It was an older Labour hand, however, who got to the nub of the party’s problem during a television appearance a few hours after polls closed.

Former home secretary Alan Johnson was on ITV’s all night election show when he let rip at Jon Lansman, founder of the pro-Corbyn activist group Momentum.

Corbyn was a disaster on the doorsteps, said Johnson, and everybody knew he couldn’t lead the working class out of a wet paper bag.

Lansman sat silently throughout Johnson’s magisterial denunciation of the Corbyn cult. It was time for Momentum – “this party within a party” – to get out of Labour. Lansman and his fellow travellers should go back to their student politics, to their little left wing.

People like Lansman and his pals, seethed Johnson (a man whose rise from nothing illustrates, perfectly, working class ambition in practice), would never admit as much but they had messed up completely and others were going to pay the price.

By the time Johnson finished, Lansman had – at least – the good grace to look utterly broken.

This moment perfectly encapsulated the problem at the heart of the Labour Party.

Labour’s raison d’être is the protection and furthering of the interests of the worker yet it is now controlled by men and women who have no idea about the reality of working-class existence.

Corbyn, Lansman, the party’s communications director Seumas Milne, and any number of the party outriders who peddle newspaper columns about revolution are the privately educated sons and daughters of privilege. They have a distorted – and deeply condescending view – of the working class as perpetual victims, like characters from a Ken Loach movie.

The actual working class – aspirational, often more socially conservative that Corbynista cultists would find comfortable – doesn’t live in the world of the Momentum imagination.

It is, of course, true that there exists an underclass of people, left behind and struggling to survive. Government policies of recent years have their victims and those people need defenders, they need a politics that works for them, offering not just hope but tangible solutions. But for such a politics to succeed, it must be part of a broader strategy, something inclusive that takes into account the needs not just of the family struggling on benefits but of those whose, perfectly reasonable, wish is to have a second car in the driveway of their new-build semi.

The Corbynista, with his romantic notions of the noble poor, sees politics as a war against a brutal elite rather than as a process by which the worker might advance.

Jeremy Corbyn should have apologised and stepped down immediately when Labour’s defeat was confirmed in the early hours of Friday morning. Instead, he merely said that he would not lead his party into another election. There would, Corbyn added, be a period of reflection, led by him.

This, you might think, doesn’t amount to much of a recognition of Labour’s defeat. But, then, the far left sect that now controls the party doesn’t concern itself with such trifling matters as the winning and losing of elections. For Corbyn and his cultists, the victory that matters has already been achieved. They have stamped their authority on the Labour Party and that will do nicely.

If the voting public cannot see the merits of a Corbyn government, then they and not the party are at fault. The response to defeat in an election must be the continuation of the programme. Eventually, the people will see sense.

There has been a furious reaction from Labour moderates to the Corbyn fiasco, with sensible people calling for him to go and to take with him the sectarian ideologues who have all but destroyed Labour as a serious party, leaving it a safe place for crank conspiracists and anti-semites.

Those who imagine Labour might easily be dragged back to the centre ground are kidding themselves. The party machine is controlled by Corbynistas – the aforementioned Jon Lansman, for example, is a member of the powerful National Executive Committee – while the membership remains loyal to the leader who has let them down so badly.

Corbyn-supporting MSPs now maintain the line that Labour was defeated by Brexit, as if this somehow exonerates Corbyn. But even if it is so that Brexit was the key, defining issue of this election, we are surely entitled to judge Corbyn over his handling of it. Politicians don’t, I’m afraid, get a bye when it comes to tricky issues.

Corbyn will go, sooner or later, but his departure won’t end Labour’s problems. His legacy is a party controlled by middle-class fantasists and cranks whose commitment to a revolution on behalf of a working class that rejects their politics is absolute.

Plans for the socialist uprising will continue in the dining kitchens of townhouse conversions from Hyndland to Hampstead.