Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Horsing about

In just five days, George Osborne’s budget delivered a cabinet resignation, a Labour poll lead and a total reversal on welfare. This meant Labour members of parliament returned to Westminster the following Monday in an unusually optimistic mood.

This positivity lasted until 30 seconds into Jeremy Corbyn’s speech in the House of Commons that Monday afternoon. Not only did Corbyn fail to land a punch on David Cameron after his worst week as prime minister, he barely seemed to be in the ring at all.

After a lengthy reheated discourse on the failures of Tory asylum policy, Corbyn eventually got round to the budget, but he did not mention Iain Duncan Smith’s resignation, or the former Conservative leader’s devastating attack on Cameron’s policies, a critique which supports his own attacks on Tory policy and ideology.

This could have been the moment the Labour leader’s election was vindicated, the moment he seized the national mood with an excoriating attack on the injustice, indifference and incompetence of the government. Instead, he focused on whether Osborne should have been in the audience.

The radical leader of the Labour party had been given a gift horse to outjump Red Rum. His MPs watched in dismay as he complained about the location of the last jockey. Instead of crisis, they saw growing relief on the Tory frontbench. As Peggy Lee once sang, ‘Is that all there is?’

No wonder, then, that Labour MPs are still seeking a new champion. The name they are still whispering is Dan Jarvis, increasingly visible since the reshuffle sent some of his political friends to the backbenches and alienated others (It is worth remembering who ran Labour’s Barnsley Central by-election campaign in 2011. Those experiences can build alliances).

Since then, Jarvis has given a wide-ranging speech, a personal interview and his insights into Labour’s challenge. Add these together, and both Corbyn supporters and enemies have identified a challenger. Could Jarvis offer a cavalry call for Labour members who want to win?

Such a possibility unnerves the Corbynites, which explains their brutal attacks on Jarvis. Corbyn does not do personal attacks, but he will not complain if Ken Livingstone, Seumas Milne or John McDonnell do them for him.

This means that if knight-errant Jarvis seeks to joust with Corbyn, he will face a fair few angry squires before he reaches the king. There is no doubt that the man who named his by-election campaign after the attractive but ferocious honey badger has the self-regard and the guts for such a charge.

The former paratrooper might wonder, though, whether he is the main thrust or a feint. By raising his profile, he has been exposed to hostile fire. Corbyn allies have variously accused him of disloyalty, distraction, and deviation from socialist purity. If Labour does well in next month’s elections, Jarvis will be vilified. But even if Labour falters, might he be informed he is too tainted by these attacks by those who have kept their loyal reputation with party activists? Could Operation Honey Badger Two be a diversionary manoeuvre, not total war?

Still, Jarvis deserves credit for not being frit. The politics of tactical advance and retreat have served Labour moderates poorly over the last few years. It has left them looking unprincipled, cynical and hollow. Would you risk your career for a bunch of scaredy cats? A stand on principle is sorely needed. If Jarvis enters the lists without fear for the consequences, perhaps he falls, but at least he will have fought. Whoever seeks to save Labour needs to be prepared to fight for it.

Momentous stuff

Much attention has been focused on Momentum in Lambeth, whose officers are helping Labour win the London mayoral and assembly elections by picketing Labour candidates in a propaganda triumph for the ‘revolutionary socialist’ Stuart King, who combines being a Lambeth Momentum officer with his activism in the hard-left Left Unity party.

Just as significant is the emergence of Momentum NHS whose key activist is Alliance for Workers’ Liberty supporter Anita Downs. Despite the fact that AWL members are being expelled, Momentum NHS was singled out for support at the recent Momentum National Committee meeting.

Why? Those close to Corbyn are deeply suspicious of shadow secretary of state for health Heidi Alexander. Having a ‘Corbynite’ group attack her is a way to keep her in line or make her look disloyal.

Alexander has won her reputation through NHS campaigning and benefits from a sturdily non-Corbynite constituency Labour party, which has been unreceptive to Corbynism, whether from the AWL-led local Momentum group, or AWL supporter and local member Downs herself. This creates the possibility that Alexander could be unbearably independent.

No surprise, then, that one of the first things Momentum NHS has done is … attack Alexander in an open letter, while the ever-charming George Galloway has smeared her on Russia Today. All totally deniable, of course, and merely the work of free spirits.

You can’t get me …

It seems the tradition of robust debate between rival union officials is as strong as ever.

Two of Labour’s most outspoken former union men had an unusual confrontation in the Labour whips’ office the other week. Following a spate of news stories about his personal finances which have triggered a standards committee investigation, Ian Lavery, Labour’s strongly leftwing former National Union of Mineworkers president, apparently accused John Mann, MP for Bassetlaw and an old AEEU hand, of leaking the stories to destroy his career.

Surely Lavery should know that union officials are not so easily intimidated? Mann brushed off the accusation, telling the outraged miners’ leader that if he had wanted to destroy him, Lavery would have been finished already.


Cartoon: Adrian Teal

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