Lesley Riddoch: There's a place for passion politics

For Lesley Riddoch, the internal attacks on Jeremy Corbyn are a betrayal of the left-wing roots of the party he leads

Jeremy Corbyn won the original leadership battle because of overwhelming support among the party grassroots. Picture: PA
Jeremy Corbyn won the original leadership battle because of overwhelming support among the party grassroots. Picture: PA

Are political smears really the best way for Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents to challenge their leader? Every day the bemused voting public looks on as yet another undistinguished MP, donor or Lord steps up to diss their own democratically elected leader and warn that zombies, Moonies and entryism are taking over the Party.

The more hysterical the accusations, the more I find myself warming to Corbyn, who consistently declines opportunities to retaliate in kind. And I’m sure I’m not alone.

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After a frisky week in the courts, which left 130,000 new members barred from voting in Labour’s leadership battle, a right-wing Sunday paper published a suggestion that Corbyn’s inner circle are like Nazi stormtroopers.

Michael Foster, who donated £400k to Labour at the last election, called Corbyn’s aides “the Sturmabteilung” the original paramilitary wing of the German Nazi Party, and went on to condemn “a brand of politics alien to this country, defined and delivered by a divisive, aggressive holier-than-thou cadre of hard-Left socialists with no real policies to speak of, no defined social and economic objectives, just a call for the committed to take this journey with them down the Yellow Brick Road”.

Now for the vast majority of left-of-centre voters there are a few problems with this line of attack.

Firstly, there’s no evidence. From the standpoint of the general public, Corbyn’s entourage don’t appear to be hard men or women. Certainly none of them has the aggressive reputation acquired by Tony Blair’s spin doctor, Alastair Campbell.

Secondly, there are clear double standards. It is unacceptable to espouse anti-Semitic views – and that’s quite right – but it’s all right for Michael Foster to compare fellow party members with the thugs who protected Hitler. Most voters would feel “hate speech” is something to be roundly avoided.

Thirdly, vicious personal attacks look like desperate attempts to play the man not the argument, and have brought the crude, aggressive demagogic style of Donald Trump to the British political arena. I’d guess few Labour supporters feel very comfortable with that.

Finally, an unsavoury mix of sour grapes and entitlement hang over Foster’s weekend attack. Recently the Labour donor tried to force Corbyn’s name off the leadership ballot paper by arguing he should have the same number of MPs supporting his candidacy as any challenger. The courts rejected that argument, but Mr Foster seems unable to accept that verdict. Perhaps the former TV executive and millionaire showbiz agent is nursing a grudge – he was an unsuccessful Labour candidate in the 2015 general election – or maybe he thinks his millions bought him the right to dictate the political direction of the Labour Party. In his weekend column Foster accuses Jeremy Corbyn of entryism: “Rather than start a party of the Left, he wishes to steal for the Left the respectable cloak of the Labour Party brand.”

Steal? Respectable? If Labour isn’t a party of the left, what is its purpose – power for power’s sake? That view lost Gordon Brown the 2010 election. And if the overwhelming choice of party members isn’t democratically valid, what is? Surely half a million members is evidence of success?

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As even the un-revolutionary Economist observes, Corbyn’s takeover of Labour would be impossible without his support among members.

Meanwhile – in what looks like another attempt at co-ordinated attacks, former Labour minister Lord Watts complains his party has been transformed into a “Moonie-like sect” under Corbyn’s leadership.

Who is Lord Watts? Well quite.

Apart from supporting Owen Smith in the upcoming leadership election, his Lordship’s Wikipedia entry is fairly sparse. “Dave Watts To Stand Down As St Helens North MP”. St Helens Star. 3 January 2015. Is one of only four newsworthy links. The only relevant point about Lord Watt’s contribution seems to be that he was a trade union official, before opting to spend time in the world’s largest unelected legislature, outside the People’s Republic of China – because this gives him the moral authority to take a pop at Seumus Milne, Jeremy Corbyn’s left-wing spin doctor. Lord Watts says; “I am angered by the fact that many who espouse such views appear to be from relatively affluent backgrounds [so] the re-election of a right wing Conservative governments has little effect. Their principles come at little cost to themselves as they won’t be the ones who are unable to find reasonably paid jobs, have to constantly worry about job security or not know how they will make ends meet at the end of the working week.

“Nobody illustrates this point better than … Seumas Milne – the son of the ex BBC Director General, he was educated at a school which costs over £30,000 a year, worked as the Guardian’s associate editor before taking his current role at a cost of £97,000 a year to the taxpayer. For people like Seumas losing elections are of little consequence.”

I wonder if Lord Watts has ever asked himself how a man who resembles Catweazle more strongly than Leon Trotsky can produce “adoration”. Could it be Corbyn’s policies?

Listening to each stale, sour, spiteful “contribution” from superannuated nobodies, you wonder if they have ever enthused about anything. Except of course the ultimate goal – winning power. Do any of this growling, cynical Labour Old Guard remember what unalloyed enthusiasm, optimism, and political purpose feel like?

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Yes voters remember that feeling – ironically it’s keeping many progressive Scots from joining the unionist Corbyn cause. But I’ve no doubt Corbynistas feel the same exciting sense of possibility and involvement. Of course that alone isn’t enough to win a general election – folk aren’t daft.

But maybe Corbyn’s critics could surprise us all with some “adorable” vision of their own?