Sorry Not Sorry

Lorna Finlayson

Reporters and political commentators have been lining up since the election to tell us they are sorry: they were wrong about Jeremy Corbyn, wrong about the move to the left which is both cause and consequence of his leadership of the Labour Party, wrong about 'the public'.

For months, journalists have been attacking and undermining Corbyn's leadership and the leftward move of the Labour Party. The election result has made it difficult for them to continue in quite the same vein. Why risk looking like a bad loser, when you can be magnanimous in defeat? You get to show that you are humble, courageous, gracious. You keep your position on the platforms that might more properly be yielding space to some of the many whose voices have not been heard but who have long seen things more clearly.

And then, pretty soon – in the same breath, if you’re impatient – you can get onto the ‘but’, explaining how despite the ‘shock’ result, you were right about the Central Point: Corbyn may have done better than ‘we’ (or ‘everyone’) thought he could, but he still can’t actually win a general election. Or: he can win only if he and the party are prepared to change in the ways you’ve always said they should.

In other words, you get to carry on with business as usual. This is more or less the opposite of real humility or remorse. The mark of a genuine apology is a subsequent change in behaviour: you turn over a new leaf, try to compensate for harms caused; maybe you shut up for a bit, and reflect on what went wrong. You don’t milk your apology for all it’s worth and then do the same thing again.

The latest round of apologising was prompted by a hopeful turn in a long, grim story. But it fits a familiar pattern. Who nowadays isn’t against the Iraq War, for example? How many of the politicians who now admit that it was a ‘mistake’ opposed the invasion at the time? How many of them had learned enough not to cheer on the bombings of Libya or of Syria? Such belated confessions aren't just ‘too little too late’. They're part of the process by which mistakes, crimes and tragedies are repeated.


  • 15 June 2017 at 12:59pm
    noyaux says:

  • 15 June 2017 at 2:38pm
    Andy Redmain says:
    You could add to this phenomenon that of praising dead Socialists. Bob Crow, Tony Benn both given a "grand" send off by the tabloids and many who feed the tabloids but while alive pretty much constantly villified...

  • 15 June 2017 at 2:47pm
    woll says:
    A little self-righteous? Corbyn did better than expected but did not win or come near winning, against a very poor Tory campaign. In addition, in various parts of the country, such as Wales, the Labour party deliberately dissociated itself from Corbyn and did well. Here in West London our Labour candidate has long been in opposition to Corbyn, in particular over the triggering of article 50, and increased his majority by over 10,000. Clearly in the last werks of the campaign Corbyn had a positive effect, but after months of being vague and indecisive. Since there is now the possibilty of Corbyn leading a government after another election it is surely correct that his strategies should continue to be examined and questioned.

    • 15 June 2017 at 3:39pm
      kadinsky says: @ woll
      It's the strategies of his PLP critics that ought to be examined and questioned. If they hadn't monstered him for two years Labor would likely be in govt already.

    • 15 June 2017 at 11:45pm
      David Timoney says: @ woll
      The Tories increased their vote by 2.3 million, so to describe it as a "poor campaign" isn't entirely accurate. The point is that Labour did even better, and it did so nationwide. The area where the PLP (not the party) most disassociated itself from Corbyn, namely the North, is where the Tory swing was greatest. Stop being a dick.

    • 16 June 2017 at 8:04am
      Ds1 says: @ woll
      Labour achieved massive swings all over London. The idea that this was not because of Corbyn, but because of local MPs dissociating from him, is laughable.

  • 15 June 2017 at 5:32pm
    Stu Bry says:
    Labour did not win this election but have a realistic path to a majority in the next one whenever that may be. They have also taken away the Tory majority which should in the short term protect the NHS from the worst aspects of the Naylor report and stall the austerity project.

    The turn around in the space of 8 weeks is incredible. When the next election comes around an increased Labour membership will be ready to fight it on the doorstep and on social media. Another increase in turn out is perfectly attainable. The media will have to actually address the policies in the Labour manifesto rather than divert discussion to the IRA or Trident or electability.

  • 15 June 2017 at 8:06pm
    streetsj says:
    What will PM Corbyn say when the public sector start asking for pay rises?

    • 15 June 2017 at 11:47pm
      David Timoney says: @ streetsj
      Probably, you deserve it. Stop being a dick

    • 16 June 2017 at 9:08am
      Simon Wood says: @ David Timoney
      "An open mind is considered irresponsible - and perhaps it really is." - Dick Crossman

  • 16 June 2017 at 5:32am
    Joe Morison says:
    During the election Corbyn showed himself to be a brilliant campaigner, and his depriving May of her majority has been a rare moment of cheer in these grismal times, but all this has only thrown his greatest failure into even sharper relief. For, given what we’ve seen of him, it’s hard to deny that if he’d fought the Brexit campaign with just a fraction of the enthusiasm and passion he showed in the election, we would not be in the hideous position we are in now.

    He seems to be a immensely decent and likeable man, and his humiliation of May’s political ambition has been a delight, but all this pales into insignificance when put against his failure to fight Brexit. And now that we have seen just how good he is at campaigning when his heart is in it, that failure becomes even less excusable.

    • 16 June 2017 at 7:31am
      Joshua K says: @ Joe Morison
      How could somebody like Corbyn campaign with the same passion for the austerity-inflicting EU as he did for Labour's pro-human, anti-austerity agenda? Nobody was able to passionately campaign for the EU, except maybe Nick Clegg and Tony Blair - which must have set alarm bells ringing for many.

    • 17 June 2017 at 7:19am
      Joe Morison says: @ Joshua K
      If ‘somebody like Corbyn’ means ‘the leader of a sane left party in Britain’, then we are fucked. What works in the modern world is never going to be exciting, something that we can cheer for like children: what works will be messy and often ridiculous; like the EU which has so many faults that when we’re listening to all but the most rabid Brexotic, there are few things we can disagree with.

      The best historical analogy I can think of is with the peace treaties that were drawn up in the nineteenth century by those diplomats who fulfilled the role now held by the much traduced Eurocrats. Those treaties were often absurd and grotesque: the powers they gave and the details of borders, the ruling elites carving up the land in their interests and no one else’s; but whatever their faults, those treaties were massively better than their alternative - war. In the same way,the EU is massively better than its alternative (let’s, please, not find out how unpleasant that will be: Cameron was mocked during the campaign for his assertion that the EU has kept the peace in Europe, as if he was suggesting Brexit would mean a return to the Hundred Year’s War, but in the Balkans it has been a significant force for good and if the EU were to collapse, all bets are off). It’s all too easy for those of us on the left to decry the EU as a capitalist conspiracy. Those who think like that should reflect on the fact that to the 1%, it is a nest of socialism and workers’ rights: that’s why Murdoch, Harmsworth et al devote such massive resources to trying to destroy it. Corbyn’s reluctance to fight for the ‘austerity inflicting’ EU, might still lead us to the low-tax low-regulation ‘Hong Kong of Europe’ that was always the true Brexotic goal - the austerity we would experience then will make the EU now look Scrooge when he woke up on Christmas morning.

      If the left hasn’t got the guts to fight for the boring truth; if, like the populist right, it can only get excited by delusions and dreams, then we are finished. We are meant to be about truth, and the truth is that what works ain’t exciting. Fantasies of a golden tomorrow that can he handed to us on a plate are for children, it’s time we grew up.

    • 17 June 2017 at 3:49pm
      deano says: @ Joe Morison
      The blame for Brexit lies squarely with david Cameron and his failure to understand the country he was governing, not jeremy corbyn. If corbyn had spent the past year campaigning for the referendum outcome to be reversed, labour would now be reduced to a rump of MPs, like the lib dems, and we'd never see the end of Tory misrule.

    • 17 June 2017 at 5:12pm
      Joe Morison says: @ deano
      My reply to this appears under your question below.

  • 16 June 2017 at 8:20am
    woll says:
    Corbyn clearly cares little for Europe. His vagueness on the subject had the unforseen advantage of allowing both Leave and Remain voters give him the benefit of the doubt. The shadow chancellor has now declared himself strongly against a soft Brexit, leaving us with the curious situation of both far right and far left agreeing on a strongly anti-European position, and moderates on both sides wanting a more positive relationship with the EU. One of Labour's successes in the election was mobilising the youth vote, but it is precisely men and women under thirty who are most opposed to Leave. Can a party be both pro-youth and opposed both to their opinions and their chance for a decent future?

    • 17 June 2017 at 3:55pm
      deano says: @ woll
      For the past year, the lib dems loudly positioned themselves as the 'moderate', 'sensible', pro-EU party, explicitly courting "the 48%", young and old. The party that you desire already exists. It just isn't the one that the vast majority of young people chose.

    • 17 June 2017 at 5:08pm
      Joe Morison says: @ deano
      Given how good Corbyn is at campaigning, and how unclear so many people were about Labour’s position, there’s good reason to believe that his passionate involvement in the campaign would have been enough to win it; everything else is speculation. The scenario you paint is plausible, but there are no end of other equally plausible ones.

      If he’d come out fighting and explained the real agenda of Brexit (‘they want to get rid of the NHS and the welfare state’ said John Major, but no one believed him); if he’d enthused us with the idea that it is only by left wing parties coming together across Europe and cooperating through the EU that we can hope to build a force powerful enough to stand up to the global mega-companies; if he’d told us that the future is about continents not countries, and that we must unite with like minded people across first Europe and then the world; if he’d done all this he might have come out massively strengthened, but that’s pure speculation - like your imagining. There is only one thing we can be confident of: we wouldn’t have invoked Article 50.

    • 18 June 2017 at 12:45pm
      XopherO says: @ Joe Morison
      Would the people have listened to such arguments? I think not. The UK media would not have put them forward. Corbyn was still learning that sensible low-key talk simply doesn't work for the mass media, by which he was largely ignored. His confidence was being undermined by continual attack from within his own party, including some who joined the Leave campaign. The 7.5/10 was generous - many leavers remembered the terrible punishment of Greece by self-interested, even corrupt leaders like Juncker and Merkel, when it was their tax-evading class in Greece, and greedy and corrupt German and Luxembourg banks, that had dragged the country down. I voted remain out of self-interest - I live in France. Indeed the arguments we are now hearing about the potential disaster have only emerged as it has become necessary to go deeper into what could happen. Where was this analysis before the referendum? One thing I did know was that the pound would fall steeply, and so my pension income! Most expats knew this, and the expat English language monthly, Connexion, said the same. So it is odd that that nasty piece of work and Brexiteer,Simon Heffer, is allowed to write negatively about France in it every month. Bizarre! It was Juncker and Merkel who forced Hollande to change tack from a Keynesian policy to austerity, combined with the right wing of the PS - in came Vals and of course Macron, who gave the final death blow to the PS.

    • 19 June 2017 at 4:35am
      Joe Morison says: @ XopherO
      As I said, it's all speculation. How people would have responded to a positive Corbyn campaign will never be known. However these are the facts: three weeks before the vote, only half of Labour voters realized that Labour was against Brexit; The Labour people running the Remain campaign felt Corbyn's team was obstructing them (they might not have been Corbyn fans, but for all them Brexit was too big an issue to play internal party politics with); if less than 2% of voters had voted differently, the result would have been different; and Jeremy Corbyn is a fantastic campaigner when he wants to be.

      Unless you believe that there was some sort of predestined necessity to the Brexit result, it's very hard to see how his enthusiastic support would not have made enough of a difference.

    • 19 June 2017 at 11:43am
      deano says: @ Joe Morison
      As I said, if you're​ looking for an individual to blame for Brexit then you're on firmer ground with Cameron. It was he who called the referendum, and he who failed to carry Conservative supporters with him at all.
      That's certainly how the country's leading psephologist John Curtice sees it. He also concludes, on the basis of the polling data in the months leading up to the referendum, that: "There is little evidence that Mr Corbyn's campaigning efforts - or those of any Labour politician - made much difference either way to the willingness of Labour supporters to vote for remain."

    • 20 June 2017 at 4:19am
      Joe Morison says: @ deano
      But, deano, I am not looking for an individual to blame for Brexit, I am commenting on Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the Labour party because that's what this article is about.

    • 21 June 2017 at 1:19pm
      streetsj says: @ deano
      "little evidence that Mr Corbyn's campaigning efforts ... made much difference either way"
      Isn't that precisely the point? He could have made a difference, he decided not to try.

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