Euan McColm: Road to oblivion paved with good intentions

Corbyn would be powerless to destroy the Labour Party without decent, well-meaning supporters, who will be cruelly cured of their optimism
Corbyn is on course to win the leadership election, yet polling of the electorate as a whole suggests he is a liability to the Labour Party. Picture: John DevlinCorbyn is on course to win the leadership election, yet polling of the electorate as a whole suggests he is a liability to the Labour Party. Picture: John Devlin
Corbyn is on course to win the leadership election, yet polling of the electorate as a whole suggests he is a liability to the Labour Party. Picture: John Devlin

From the outside of the Labour Party looking in, it’s tempting to see the majority of members as rabid, left-wing extremists who place ideological purity above the desire to win power.

The involvement of shady groups such as the Socialist Workers Party in the campaign to keep Jeremy Corbyn as party leader and the level of online abuse hurled by Corbynistas at anyone who dares question his competence paint a picture of a party where revolution is considered preferable to democracy.

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But while there clearly has been a campaign of entryism by the sort of angry political eccentrics who were removed from the party in purges 30 years ago, it would be a mistake to think that every one of the 640,000 who carry Labour membership cards is a raving Trot. Some of them are perfectly reasonable (and, thus, will be voting for Owen Smith rather than Corbyn in the leadership contest) and others – perhaps the majority – are just… let’s say naive.

It’s quite clear that a great many new members of the Labour Party, a substantial proportion of whom are new to politics, genuinely believe that Corbyn is on course to win the next general election. No amount of evidence to the contrary will convince them they are wrong.

Opinion polls may show that their leader is more unpopular with the wider electorate than any politician in living memory, but their faith cannot be shaken. They believe Corbyn and his idiot sidekicks, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott, when they say that their “new politics” is just what the country’s crying out for.

Show these new activists leadership ratings that place Tory Prime Minister Theresa May ahead of Corbyn in the opinion of millions who voted Labour in 2015 and they reassure themselves that those who have never previously voted will come along and get behind Jezza. Point them towards yet another media appearance where Corbyn sneers and dissembles and they will say that he’s the victim of media bias.

Dreadful extremists will carry Corbyn to glorious defeat. But so, too, will decent people who’ve allowed themselves to be caught up in the excitement of a moment they wrongly believe exists outside of their bubble.

There is a fundamental difference between these members and the man in whom they have placed their faith. Unlike the well-intentioned but harmless members of his party, Corbyn does not believe he can win an election. He might claim he does – of course he has to do that – but he doesn’t.

Corbyn, McDonnell, Abbott and other key figures at the top of the Labour Party, such as the hopeless director of communications, Seumas Milne, come from a political tradition where electoral success is not the primary objective.

This mob believes in advancing a discredited far-left ideology that’s already been rejected, over and over, by voters. They’re like members of a Russian revolution re-enactment society and they see anyone who dares display the merest hint of pragmatism as a Romanov.

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Owen Smith will not, unless some miracle occurs, win the current leadership election and, emboldened by yet another mandate, Corbyn will promise members that they are on the brink of victory. Enthused by the result of the leadership campaign, these members will believe him. They will believe that things are going to change, that the Tories’ days are numbered and that Corbyn will soon lead them to a Utopian Britain, where “austerity” is banished and there’s steak and chips for tea every night of the week.

While they await this bright new future, these perfectly decent folk will misguidedly endorse the purging from Corbyn’s Labour Party of any MPs who reject his politics. They will help hardliners reselect candidates across the UK. Believing that they are building a better, kinder, more thoughtful Labour Party, they will nominate people who have spent their political lives railing against “the West” and cosying up to terror groups, anti-Semites, and whatever other extremist fills the criteria of “my enemy’s enemy”.

And then it will all go horribly, horribly wrong. The Tories will increase their parliamentary majority because most voters are cautious and “small c” conservative; Labour will lose seats in its former heartlands in the north-east of England to Ukip, and Scotland will continue to return SNP MPs who talk radical but act centrist.

This is the point at which the truth will dawn on these optimists. Anyone in the Labour Party who hopes Corbyn will be found out sooner is to be disappointed.

Sure, some of those who have signed up to the Corbyn project will allow themselves to believe that electoral defeat was caused by others. They’ll blame the BBC, the mainstream media, the banks, the global banking system, the “elites”, lashing out at anyone who dares suggest that, actually, it was just that most voters wouldn’t trust Corbyn to book a train ticket.

But others will, I’ll wager, wake-up. They will see that the warnings that came from Labour moderates were not based on lies but on experience and an ability to see the obvious. And they will be angry at Corbyn because they won’t be living in the land of milk and honey he promised.

Labour Party membership will fall as disillusioned members walk away. They’ll feel let down by Labour. Perhaps they’ll drift away from politics altogether, perhaps they’ll join other parties.

This will not worry Corbyn and his chums because these useful idiots (and I mean that in the kindest possible way) will have helped him recreate Labour as an ideologically pure party of the far-left. Corbyn won’t feel the pain of electoral defeat because he expects it.

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It is difficult to escape the feeling that the Labour Party is dead as a serious political force in the UK. Jeremy Corbyn will lead it to noble irrelevance.

But Labour won’t be killed by extremists acting alone. It will be hastened to the grave by decent people who know not what they do.