We’re like that in the Labour Party, aren’t we? Oh, he’s a nice bloke, he deserves a shot at this. One of us. Can’t we swing it to get him on the list? Or, worse: we’d better put him on the list, or there’ll be hell to pay.
Never mind that the rules of the list are that you need to get 35 MP nominations. Nominations, note, not pity transfers. It is perfectly right that all sections of the party should be represented in this ballot. But those – and only those – which have earned them.
So when a bunch of MPs decide at the eleventh hour to switch nominations specifically to let Jeremy Corbyn MP limp onto the shortlist, it is against the spirit of the rules, even if it is not against the letter, plain common sense and the seriousness of a leadership election.
Then again, as Jonathan Reynolds MP noted on Monday, neither is this anything approaching serious politics. It is not.
In one move, a small section of the PLP has achieved three things. One, it has shown its contempt for its own rule-book, were it not clear enough already. It has reinforced the idea that, if the rules provide a result you do not like, pressure people to bend the rules and they will.
Two: it has strengthened the voice of its most extreme wing far beyond its genuine representation in the Labour Party (if you don’t believe this, wait and see how Corbyn actually polls in September, or recall Diane Abbott’s dismal poll in 2010).
Three: it has played right into the hands of a few hard-left clowns, whose strategy was to mobilise in order to hammer an online poll at LabourList, in the hope that its (at that point clearly meaningless) result would create unstoppable momentum for a Corbyn place on the leadership list.
And you know what? The clowns were right. Old-fashioned hard-left tactics were used to pressure for a place on the list, and Labour MPs fell for the sucker punch. Because, we speculate, they believed they were helping democracy, or saving their party from civil war, or because someone had just metaphorically twisted their arm behind their back and it was hurting. Or whatever.
But it is – again, as we have seen from the actions of the union Unite over recent years – the case of the bully who gets his own way because the reaction he gets is “engagement”. It is accommodation. In fact, it is deference and even fear.
It is not the intention of this piece to carry out a hatchet job on Corbyn. In fact, the thing with Corbyn – already known by Labour’s enemies and which will become apparent to many Britons over the coming months – is that the hatchet jobs write themselves, and he helpfully provides the axe. The only possible excuse for the “nice bloke” approach to Corbyn is ignorance.
The facts: Jeremy Corbyn has stood in for his unedifying friend, George Galloway, on PressTV, the propaganda mouthpiece of a despotic Iranian regime, which promotes Holocaust denial and is now banned on UK terrestrial TV for breaking broadcasting guidelines.
Further facts regarding phrases like “our friends from Hezbollah and our friends from Hamas” and Corbyn’s friendly words for anti-Semitic hate-preacher Raed Salah, were yesterday ably summarised by the excellent Alan Johnson at Left Foot Forward. And if you still have doubts about Salah, you should watch this video. If you have the stomach.
It is enough to talk stupidly about “engagement” with despicable regimes, best known for use of human shields, suicide bombs, brutal oppression of women and gays, or exacting justice by pushing people off tall buildings. But calling them your “friends” is something different: it is actively allying yourself with them.
I could go on. If this sounds angry, it is because I am. The left, and more mortifyingly, my own party, has tolerated this kind of “engagement” for far too long when it is entirely unacceptable. For a start, we need to ask ourselves some difficult questions about why that is.
And I am afraid I am not going to credit Corbyn, as many habitually do, with being a “good constituency MP”. For me it is like a bad detective show, when neighbours say about someone “oh, we’re all in shock. I mean, he was pretty quiet, kept himself to himself, really”, just after they find the bodies stacked under the floorboards. It is meaningless flim-flam. An MP is to be judged by their political actions, not how much casework they do.
In short, we have not only made a mockery of our leadership selection process. We have done it to humour a tiny contingent in the party who have zero chance of success. And we have delighted our enemies by including a candidate whose actual views, mostly little known to the party’s rank and file, range from the merely naïve to the repugnant. You can rest assured they will not remain little-known for long.
Look, we have all had a rough time. We have lost an election many thought we might win and it has hurt our self-esteem. But we do not need to let things descend into farce.