Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Crank Labour stops pretending: and a rather important meeting

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As Keir Starmer puts in two commendable first performances at PMQs, so the upper echelons of the Corbynite house of cards, thankfully, continue to collapse.

The Crank Labour caucus has largely reverted to type in an overt way: one wild fringe in a Zoom conference a couple of weeks back claimed that Labour is institutionally racist against black members, in order to muddy the waters as much as possible against the anti-Semitism accusations and, clumsily, to try and discredit the EHRC before it reports on Labour.

And that Zoom conference was nothing to a second one, a few days later, peddling a similar victim-narrative and where MPs Diane Abbott and Bell Ribeiro-Addy were snapped rubbing shoulders with a veritable Who’s Who of left anti-Semites, such as Tony Greenstein and Jackie Walker (h/t: Lee Harpin).

It is no longer, it seems, necessary to keep up pretences of common sense or decency.

Corbyn himself has also had an uneasy return to the backbenches: not only has he decided that he is too important to observe lockdown but, like an ageing rock star unable to grasp that the crowds are getting much smaller than they used to be, cannot quite get used to the new status quo. No longer hampered by sharp-eyed media advisers keeping him under control, he posts strange videos of himself, not observing lockdown: half of it him standing in the rain actual silence, the other half a shuffling, mostly inaudible tribute to frontline staff.

Politically he, too, has reverted to type: he is now happy to associate once again with the assorted freaks and anti-Semites at Stop the War (remember them? The supposedly anti-war gang who had no problem whatsoever with Assad killing about half a million of his own people in Syria, many with chemical weapons). And now again happy to sign up without reservation to 1980s-style statements on “class war”.

And then there is the infamous Formby “report” into anti-Semitism. A few weeks on, it doesn’t really look so credible, does it? As veteran Corbyn-watcher, Alan Johnson, notes, far from exonerating the Corbyn leadership, it is actually a tacit admission of guilt.

The icing on this cake, of course, is a report from the Jewish Chronicle that the EHRC is now seriously thinking of using it as evidence in its report into Labour anti-Semitism – in the exact opposite sense to that for which it was intentioned.

In other words, the report that was cobbled together by a couple of Corbynite back-roomers to try and rebut the anti-Semitism charges may just have ended up reinforcing them, as indeed the party’s own lawyers had feared it might.

Cut back to Starmer, doing a great job in Parliament. However, his main strategic challenge, should it need to be spelled out, is not Parliament or even holding Johnson to account, important though these things are.

If he ever wants to win an election, he has to sort out his party – undoubtedly the no.1 job for any leader in a situation like the present one. As it once was for Kinnock.

He is making progress, that is certain. And how much longer can the more thoughtful members on the party’s left continue to see these cranks as comrades, you ask? Well, a little longer, it seems.

The Corbynite leadership is gone, its General Secretary gone, its staffers will soon be all but gone. But it still has the loyalty of some of the NEC and a good chunk of the party.

The first NEC meeting next Tuesday, about which everyone is keeping very quiet but which you can be sure is triggering frantic backroom manoeuvres, presents two opportunities.

First, to put down the attempted rearguard coup by Corbynites to install a sympathetic General Secretary and get someone sensible in, preferably one who has some clue about running elections, unlike the last. And second, to ensure NEC elections do take place this summer and are not deferred until next year.

The first is a pre-requisite to Starmer’s main objective, sorting out the party. Last week’s extension of the GS election timetable was a good step towards winning that battle, after the outgoing regime had attempted to impose a stupidly short, two-week timetable, one imagines to facilitate a stitch-up. There are also rumours of trying to change the voting system to Single Transferable Vote at that same NEC.

The second is also important, and will likely set back progress in various areas a year if put on the long finger – Starmer will continue to be dependent on tricky union votes if the 9 CLP seats are not all occupied by moderates, and those unions will want to exact their pound of flesh.

So we are back to dull-but-vital party machinations, which even the Parliamentary lobby barely understands, and of which it is difficult to say how they will pan out. Perhaps both will be lost, or perhaps they are already lost.

Either way, Tuesday’s NEC is shaping up to be one of the most decisive for years. A good performance in Parliament is helpful, but it is not enough, not even close. It is reviving the party which is the sine qua non.

This post first published at Labour Uncut

STOP PRESS 20/05: the NEC yesterday pretty much made it clear that we were going to have a mostly sensible list of candidates, and two of the main Corbynite candidates have withdrawn. Although there is a possibility that Starmer's preferred choice, my old friend and colleague, David Evans, may be omitted from the shortlist because of the selection panel being balanced pro-Corbyn, things are looking good to get someone sensible. And there will be NEC elections this year. So I have one-and-a-half of my two wishes granted, at time of writing.

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