Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The Absolute Boy will not be a hero forever

Unless Labour can make real electoral gains, the Corbyn project cannot survive, writes Adrian McMenamin

I like to think of the first three or so years of the Blair government as its ‘heroic’ period. We did good things, sometimes to bad people (Slobodan Milošević for instance), and only a fringe of cranks (Jeremy Corbyn) were opposed.

In those days a lot of governing was easy – we only had to be the ‘Not Tories’ as we brought in a minimum wage, joined the social chapter; refused to appease a genocidal maniac in the Balkans.

Later – especially as the money flowed and it became essential to secure lasting reform – things got tougher. And, of course, there was Iraq.

The local election results were nothing like the end of the Corbyn project, which is excellent news for the army of media hangers-on who were catapulted from well-deserved obscurity to hot-take commission heaven by the Absolute Boy’s election back in September 2015.

But I do think they represented the end of the brief heroic period of Corbynism. That period was not, like Blair’s, ushered in by electoral victory – the very opposite. It was Labour’s defeat last June which elevated Corbyn towards apotheosis. The loss was real but not as bad as most expected and so like a football manager who takes a club from the relegation zone to the first qualifying round of the Europa League between Christmas and May, Corbyn was lionised.

The opposite happened at the start of this month. Dizzy with success, the Corbyn social media machine predicted all would be swept before it. The fact that most, if not quite all, of the people around Corbyn had never run an election campaign outside of last June’s did not help. They made the classic mistake of confusing last June’s moment with a mandate to get away with anything, and crash-landed pretty hard.

It does not matter how many times you say ‘best result in London since 1971’ if you have failed to take a single council off the Tories there.

Antisemitism – and the Labour leadership’s refusal to take it seriously – would be Labour’s shame regardless of the electoral impact. But the electoral impact left the leadership in a daze. The monster they have created – seizing power in the party through the help of mob politics – has broken loose.

On Europe a game of triangulation is being played – with the help of other wings of the party – and it is hoped that if they make enough noise about ‘a’ customs union the fact that the party leadership essentially agrees with Theresa May on the single market, immigration and workers’ rights will be ignored. Though Ireland keeps threatening to destroy that stratagem.

Worst of all for the Corbynistas is the way in which their whole political culture is now being subject to serious examination. Instead of dismissing the ‘gammon’ issue as irrelevant, they decided to double down on their defence of their right to trivialise and abuse. The frequently mentioned comparison with the playground is apt: these are the cool kids trying to hold their clique together by cranking up the intolerance of the others.

Despite all this, of course, they are still comfortably in charge of the party. So long as the unions are compliant with the internal culture of intolerance and so long as Corbyn is still fit enough to lead Labour that probably is not going to change. Yet every day is getting harder and more and more personal and political capital is being spent.

Nothing lasts for ever.


Adrian McMenamin is a Progress columnist. He tweets @adrianmcmenamin


Photo: by Garry Knight, licensed under CC0 1.0

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Adrian McMenamin

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