The current national gaslighting campaign being played by the nominees in the Labour party’s leadership contest is something to behold. With Corbyn’s supporters designating Rebecca Long-Bailey all too quickly as his protégé and rightful heir, the other candidates have done everything that they can to distance themselves from her and their prospective predecessor.
Did I imagine Keir Starmer’s masterful performances in the Commons, poking legal hole after legal hole in the Conservative’s Brexit proposals? Did I dream Emily Thornberry’s stern no-nonsense media appearances? Of course, these clips heavily feature chatter about Brexit. Was it all a post-referendum fever dream? After December’s general election, these doggedly defended positions seem a bit embarrassing and perhaps they themselves have recognised that — I certainly feel like I’m hearing them for the first time now that the constant noise bombardment of Brexit arguing has died down — opting instead to throw the baby out with the bather.
What is clear now, especially considering Thornberry’s appearance on Good Morning Britain opposite Piers Morgan, is that the Labour party was fighting for its life and it was certain that this was dependent on the votes of Remain voters. Corbyn knew better but ended up toeing the line of his party’s members and its MPs. And now look where we are.
I feel violently cynical about all this today, not least because the likes of Starmer and Thornberry have turned on a dime, abandoning all memories of past strengths and instead licking the boots of a demographic that lost them the election whose face they still can’t recognise. (No mention of Jess Phillips here because she was grotesque both before and after the election but at least she’s consistent, I suppose…) Now they have shifted their positions to trashing Corbyn for not staying true to his Euroscepticism and leaving behind — in fellow nominee Lisa Nandy’s eternal words — “the towns.”
It is a sorry state of affairs when the fickle nature of the Labour party’s noisiest MPs reminds me of Nick Land’s The Dark Enlightenment. At the very beginning, he writes:
Since winning elections is overwhelmingly a matter of vote buying, and society’s informational organs (education and media) are no more resistant to bribery than the electorate, a thrifty politician is simply an incompetent politician, and the democratic variant of Darwinism quickly eliminates such misfits from the gene pool. This is a reality that the left applauds, the establishment right grumpily accepts, and the libertarian right has ineffectively railed against. Increasingly, however, libertarians have ceased to care whether anyone is ‘pay[ing them] attention’ — they have been looking for something else entirely: an exit.
It is interesting that, in the UK right now, it feels like this same situation could happen on the left.
Newly aware of an undercurrent of disaffection, given a voice during the Brexit referendum, left and right have spent the last three or four years fighting for the votes of the (Br)exiteers. This blog spent a great deal of time writing about patchwork politics and exit but this naturally died down after the left’s strengths seemed to negate it as a talking point. Despite how democracy is supposed to work, Corbyn has proved incredibly resistant to the establishment’s internal flows of Darwinian selection via vote buying that the Brexit process unconvincingly brought to new light. It is only now that he is on the back foot, and stepping down as leader of the party, that the UK’s “progressive democracy” is revealing its true character to those who fought for its continued existence on the left.
The danger ahead is that the left will no longer applaud this reality. The tables have turned and the right have found, in Boris Johnson and in Trump and in countless other right-populist leaders around the world, a democratic representative who has their
votes interests at heart. The British left, by contrast, in the wilderness since Blair’s premiership, looks down the barrel of another half-decade up shit creek without a Corbyn.
Whereas in recent years this has increasingly been the sentiment of the nation’s centrists, with new political parties for a centre-left/right coalition emerging and dying off repeatedly — like ghosts of New Labour waving “look at me” long after the wake, thinking their poltergeists rather than just sticky ectoplasm trodden underfoot — it seems unlikely to me that Corbyn’s grassroots base would go down so easily. Perhaps because they would no longer look to parliament as the only important battleground.
To many, this could sound like a death knell to present dreams of a new democratic socialism. To others, it may be a situation that presents the left with a whole new array of opportunities. Recognising you have the numbers on the ground but not enough establishment support sounds like a recipe for a breakout from present restrictions.
So, after this leadership race has been run, and with the libertarians brought back on the side of the establishment, what could potentially happen to the former outer-left that took over the Labour leadership? It’ll be worth keeping an eye on Scotland to see. Being in opposition is one disappointment, but feeling unrepresented by that opposition is another thing altogether. If this leadership contest does not end in their favour, a exit could be precisely what a newly emboldened left looks for — and this might not be the self-castrating option that so many will assume it to be.