I went to an open mic shortly after the 2015 general election where one of the speakers – a man in his 60s – got up and started haranguing the audience with an anti-Tory rant that was interspersed with the (shouted) refrain of “FUCK YOU!!” every thirty seconds or so. This excruciating display seemed to me then as it seems to me now: a symptom of everything that is wrongheaded about contemporary leftism, and one of the negative forces empowering the Conservative Party and pushing Labour further and further into electoral oblivion.
For all the self-righteous spluttering I hear from the Left about ‘Tory scum’ and the Conservatives being ‘the nasty party’, it is all but impossible to imagine the average Conservative voter getting up and doing the equivalent to the FUCK YOU!! routine. Why is that? Why do those on the left of the spectrum so often see their political opponents as operating not from a different set of principles and priorities to their own, but as morally defective people upon whom one has licence to pour unadulterated scorn? I suspect it is this endemic cultural feature – this unthinking, sneering assumption of moral superiority – rather than any particular policy proposal (polling indicates certain leftwing ideas are broadly popular with the public) that turns so many of the non-tribal and unpersuaded completely off leftwing politics. Nobody with any self-respect likes being addressed in that tone of voice. (Ask yourself this simple question: after being subjected to the FUCK YOU!! routine, do you think the audience members at that open mic night were a) more likely, or, b) less likely to vote Labour as a result?)
After the country sent the Left a warning in 2015, by electing a Conservative Party they were not much fond of, and a Prime Minister they didn’t much like, the Labour Party membership, swelled by the £3 entryists, decided to perform their own version of the FUCK YOU!! routine, by (twice!) electing a leader who was manifestly unsuited to the task of credible opposition, let alone government. The more sensible people pointed out Corbyn was an unelectable fringe figure from the political Dark Ages, the more determined were the members to choose him. The more critics brought to light Corbyn’s ugly history of support for violent ‘resistance’ to Western ‘imperialism’, the more wilfully the membership projected onto him a saintly aura of their own creation. Corbyn’s long-standing alliance with the thugs and murderers of the IRA, his apologetical relationship to Islamist violence, his having taken substantial sums from the propaganda arms of the Iranian and Russian states, his open admiration for the Cuban dictatorship and the oppressive Venezuelan regime, his having repeatedly shared platforms with all manner of Jew-hating crackpot – all of this was spun as the selfless work of a great unsung ‘peacemaker’ who was simply trying to get everyone to shake hands and be friends. It was a transparently Stalinist attempt to rewrite the history of a political crank, but, for the membership, it worked.
The more thoughtful voices on the Left raised such fears about Corbyn’s candidacy and subsequent leadership, the more the membership rounded on them, telling them to “fuck off and vote Tory” because they were “Red Tories” or (worse) “Blairites”. There was seldom any attempt to persuade potential voters of the rightness of their cause, just a cultish devotion to Corbyn coupled with a bunker-mentality paranoia and alienating contempt for those seen (in the words of leftwing academic David Hirsh) as “outside the community of the good”. In their fervour, they elevated a mediocre man with eccentric and unpopular views to the figurehead of an imaginary ‘movement’ that has achieved nothing and will go nowhere, except down the drainpipe of History, dragging an impotent, stunted, ever shrinking Labour Party with them.
If we have learned anything in the chaos of the last eighteen months, it is that political cultures which succumb to irrationalism are dream-realms where magical transmutations become possible. Where you or I might see the incompetence and incoherence of Corbyn’s wholly ineffectual leadership as self-evidently enabling the Conservative hegemony, the membership see ‘a different kind of politician’ who cannot be judged by normal standards. Where you or I might see Corbyn’s ossified Bennism as a form of ideological rigidity and dogmatic tunnel-vision – a politics absurdly out of step with both the tenor of the times and Labour Party tradition – Corbyn’s supporters see a hero figure who is the gangly, snaggletoothed personification of unbending leftwing authenticity. In the mess that has resulted from this fit of ideological self-pleasuring, the membership adore their leader and hate the party he is meant to lead, while the Party remains in paralysis, unable to make gains with Corbyn at the helm, yet seemingly powerless to remove him or loosen the ever-tightening grip of the hard-left from the Party machinery. Corbyn and his core supporters form a bubble of self-congratulatory backslapping whose cost is only just beginning to measured, and found wanting, in electoral terms. The hated and heartless Tories, meanwhile, are laughing all the way to a certain landslide.
Corbyn, somehow, has managed to attach to himself the cliché that, for all his faults, he is a fundamentally “decent” and “honourable” man. Even those within the PLP who raised their voices to challenge his listless leadership felt compelled to preface their every criticism of Corbyn with this mantra. Repetition, however, does not make a thing true. A decent and honourable man would’ve shown some grace and resigned long before now. He would’ve resigned after losing (that is, throwing) the EU referendum fight. He would’ve resigned after his cabinet walked in response. He would’ve resigned after the majority of his MPs voted that they had no confidence in him. He would’ve resigned after Copeland, or after the disastrous loss of almost four hundred Labour seats at the local elections. He would’ve understood the damage his shambolic leadership was doing to Labour’s credibility. He would’ve faced up to his own inability to lead and his own unpopularity in the country at large. He would’ve accepted political reality, even if his starry-eyed and cheering supporters could not. He would’ve resigned, in other words, and handed the reigns over to someone who could actually do the job of forming a Labour government in waiting. A decent and honourable man, that is is to say, wouldn’t drag his party, in the face of tanking poll numbers, through the Götterdämmerung that awaits them at the ballot box. To cling on with lofty indifference while the scenery of Labour Party politics collapses all around you is an act of monumental, concrete-headed hubris that will discredit the cause of leftwing politics for a generation.
So here we are. Labour is going into a general election fight seventeen points behind a Conservative Party that has been in power for the best part of decade, with a leader whose negative polling (-40 since you ask) puts him on the same ruinous plane of unpopularity as Trump and Putin. Most damningly, only 45% of Labour voters believe Jeremy Corbyn would make a better Prime Minister than Theresa May. None of this should be particularly surprising. Indeed, all of this was entirely predictable. The Labour Party are headed for an historic defeat. Not because of any Machiavellian genius on behalf of the evil Tories. Not because of the “Tory press” or Laura Kuenssberg or plotting Blairites or any of the other pathetic excuses coming from the Corbyn wing. Labour will be decimated on the 8th June, and it will be an entirely self-inflicted wound.