According to Stephen Mills on Nine to Noon yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn’s resignation as Labour leader will only be mourned by “the microscopic Rosa Luxemburg-worshipping far left sect in New Zealand.” His outburst was deliberate, gratuitous and way over the top.
His vehemence reminded me of other friends in UK Labour who could barely constrain their apoplexy when Corbyn’s name was mentioned. Mills talked of Labour “coming to its senses” where the Englanders spoke of “the adults in the room.”
Interestingly also yesterday the 858-page report of the investigation into anti-semitism in the UK Labour Party arrived in my inbox. It describes in some detail how senior officials in the party actively worked against Corbyn in the 2017 election to the point of hoping he would lose. Treachery took the place of solidarity.
According to Mills, the main reason why Corbyn achieved one of Labour’s best-ever election gains in 2017 was because of the ineptitude of May’s campaign. Nothing could be further from the truth. Corbyn was tireless, and drew huge crowds to his rallies the length and breadth of the country. The Manifesto “For the Many not the Few’ was one of the rare ones that was a widely-read, much-cited vote-winner.
The 2019 campaign was different. The determinant was always going to be whether it would be fought over austerity or Brexit. Labour was caught in two minds over Brexit and compromised; the LibDems wanted a midwinter snap election, thinking Jo Swinson would be Prime Minister, and winter put an end to any chance of rallies. “Get Brexit Done” was a runaway winner.
Corbyn did make mistakes no question, partly because he was too nice a bloke. Anti-semitism was a smear, and there he compromised where he could have condemned. He was also not ruthless enough in dealing with those who briefed against him for so many years.
But he did bring the Labour party membership to heights not seen for many decades, and the manifesto policies will still be core to Labour’s future. The irony is likely to be the accident of Covid-19, that will turn Johnson’s party into true one-nation Tories, stealing all Labour’s clothes. With over four more years to go before an election this could be another long time between drinks for UK Labour. Time to dust off John O’Farrell’s “Things Can Only Get Better.”
But back to Mills and the “Rosa Luxemburg-worshipping far left sect.” I had to look her up – she was shot as a revolutionary socialist by the SPD Freikorps. I’m not a revolutionary and nor was Corbyn, but we would probably both agree on her best-known aphorism “Freiheit ist immer nur Freiheit des anders Denkenden” – “Freedom is always and only the freedom of those who think differently.”
The vehemence of those who opposed Corbyn has always puzzled me – he is so reasonable and mild, albeit stubborn, that it couldn’t be anything personal. The 2017 result showed that it wasn’t about electability. So it has to be about policy ideas.
My anti-Corbyn friends are people who are involved in policy development, or policy-making. “For the Many nor the Few” wasn’t particularly radical, it just wasn’t conventional.
Stephen Mills does speak frequently about convention; in the interview he mentions “the conventional view that National is better at economic policy.” It’s never been true, but it has become a mantra, and when I look back over the years one I have heard repeated in Labour circles more times than I care to think about. It has become self-imposed Labour’s manacle.
In the post-Covid times perhaps the best response from the “Rosa Luxemburg-loving sect” in the Labour Party is to say that it is definitely time for us to think differently about economic policy.
It has been thirty-six years since I found a typewritten draft of the Treasury’s neo-liberal manifesto “Economic Management” on the Labour Party office photocopier the Monday after the election win.
It’s now way over time for a Kiwi version of “For the Many not the Few.”