Under Tony Blair, Jeremy Corbyn was a tolerated and ignored backbencher. Today, he is denied even that freedom. And yet his followers have behind them the force of a simple argument. The Labour Party’s last year and a half is a familiar episode in the long decline of social democracy, in which leaders demobilise their supporters and see their vote shrink. But as recently as four years ago Labour was able to increase its support faster than at any time since 1945. Many of Corbyn’s supporters are young, black or Muslim, and these are social constituencies in which the Labour Party is now losing support sharply. If Labour wants to appeal again to those voters, it will need to make some sort of compromise with Corbyn.
In his speech immediately following the defeat of the government’s programme motion last night, Jeremy Corbyn said that the Commons had ‘emphatically rejected the prime minister’s deal’. Johnson, in his response, proclaimed his joy that parliament had got behind a deal, but lamented its relapse into delay. That two diametrically opposed politicians can look at the same vote and both interpret it as a victory suggests little progress has been made. In truth, neither was right: 19 rebel Labour MPs voted for the second reading of Johnson’s bill in the hope of finding a way through the mire; but most of them voted against the attempt to bounce the deal through with minimal scrutiny. It is unclear that an amended bill would be acceptable to the government, and unlikely that an unamended bill would pass third reading. MPs don’t seem resolute so much as exhausted. In this, at least, the Commons reflects the country.
Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s greatly overestimated aide, promises that however Parliament tries to constrain the prime minister, even by toppling the government, he will force through Brexit on the promised departure date. The hope is to turn Brexit into a runaway train, with Vote Leave cadres guarding any access to the driver’s cab.
I’m an opinionated Jew with a PhD in the history of antisemitism, but I find it daunting to weigh in on the debate about antisemitism in the Labour Party. To describe the accusations as disproportionate is to risk being branded an antisemite. But while genuine instances of antisemitism should be tackled, there is no more of it in Labour than in other parties. The sustained offensive by the Labour right and by Conservatives is not only unfairly damaging the party and the left in general, it also unthinkingly reinforces antisemitic motifs.
Jeremy Corbyn is getting a lot of stick just now – certainly on the anti-Brexit Facebook pages I subscribe to – for not coming out clearly in favour of a second referendum, and for Remain. The Guardian is especially critical: but when hasn’t it been, of this untidy bearded radical who flouts even liberal standards of political respectability? I have to say, a part of me is disappointed too. I’d have liked Labour to have taken more of a pro-European lead. But then I think again. There are three reasons for suspending judgment on Corbyn until the whole sorry affair has worked itself out.
By the end of the Labour Party Conference last week, it was clear that something had changed. For once, the media coverage was broadly positive. The same outlets that had played host to endless attempts to derail the party's leftward movement, and to undermine its elected leader, now granted a belated (and qualified) endorsement – if not of Jeremy Corbyn's project, exactly, then at least of its legitimacy and viability as a political force.
The right-wing press – Telegraph, Times, Mail, Express, Sun – is peddling the old accusation of ‘communist subversion’ against the Labour Party, specifically against Jeremy Corbyn. One leading Conservative MP, Ben Bradley, was forced, under threat of legal action, to withdraw a tweet in which he claimed that Corbyn had ‘sold British secrets to communist spies’. I hope they charge Bradley nonetheless. He’s the man who suggested that the unemployed could be vasectomised to stop them breeding.
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'.
The mood at the Labour Party Conference this year was markedly different from last year: after Jeremy Corbyn’s victory was announced in Brighton in 2015, there was a huge amount of jubilation among delegates, while many MPs and political advisers wandered around the bars at night with bereft expressions. In Liverpool this week, the most that supporters could muster was temporary relief as they wondered where the attack would come from next. At private parties, MPs looked resigned as they gossiped with journalists.
Opinium and the Social Market Foundation have released a report based on a survey of 2000 people in the wake of the Brexit vote. Respondents were asked for their views on various policies, and to say where they saw themselves on the political spectrum. The report's conclusions, repeated in the press, were that public opinion is currently centrist-to-right-wing, and the left is split over policy in a way that the right is not, above all over immigration. The report also identifies Britain's eight ‘underlying political tribes', the two largest of which – ‘the Our Britain tendency’ and 'Common Sense' – make up 'around 50 per cent of the population' and 'hold a range of traditionally right wing views, offering a solid foundation on which to aim for the 40-42 per cent of the vote which normally guarantees a healthy majority under our electoral system.'
The old Labour establishment’s loud objections to Jeremy Corbyn’s reshuffle betray a belief that shadow cabinet members have a moral and democratic right to their jobs. Had Corbyn, like almost any party leader in history, appointed a shadow foreign secretary who shared his foreign policy, dismissing Hilary Benn would have prompted even more outrage from Labour’s centrists. The outrage has no democratic basis. The power to reshuffle and remove shadow ministers is, to be sure, a power from above, but it has been granted to Corbyn by the biggest popular mandate any Labour leader has ever had. Michael Dugher, Pat McFadden, Hilary Benn and Maria Eagle, on the other hand, were not elected by anyone to speak for the Labour Party as a whole. Their only mandate is from their constituents, which gives them the right to a seat in the Commons for the duration of this parliament, not a place in the shadow cabinet.
Today’s by-election in Oldham West and Royton is the first real test for Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. Nigel Farage has said the results will be 'very, very tight', but a victory for Ukip is unlikely. They'll probably come a closer second than they did in May to the late Michael Meacher, but that says as much about the Tories' inexorable fall in England’s north as it does about the parliamentary opposition.
More than 150,000 people have joined the Labour Party since May’s defeat, a figure which exceeds the total membership of any other political party in the UK. Over 60,000 have joined since Jeremy Corbyn became leader, more than either the Liberal Democrats or Ukip can boast among their ranks. The composition of the party is changing too. The average age of the party membership fell by 11 years over the summer – from 53 to 42 – and more women than men joined. Something similar happened with the SNP after the independence referendum, when its membership, in a nation of only five million, surged beyond the 100,000 mark. There, too, new members were younger and most of them were women.
Upsets don’t come much bigger than Jeremy Corbyn winning the Labour party leadership, so it’s unsurprising that Sadiq Khan’s triumph over Tessa Jowell to be the party's candidate for London mayor has been overlooked. Londoners won’t go to the polls until next May, but the ballot will be a defining moment for the Corbyn project in opposition, and the first significant bellwether of the likelihood of a Labour government, of some kind, four years later.
Had I put £1000 on a Tory Parliamentary majority in March, when the odds of that outcome were rated as low as 100-1, I'd have made £100,000. Had I then placed my winnings on Jeremy Corbyn to win the Labour Party leadership at the start of the contest, when he was a 200-1 outsider, I would have found myself on 12 September with £20 million. But I didn’t: Cameron and Corbyn's victories may have made someone a fortune, but it wasn't me. Those two elections have another winner, someone who has run no campaign but has recently returned to a position of power after four years away from the job. No prizes, no bets on who that is:
Two years ago, I counted 64 cranes from the top of Primrose Hill; now I count 96. Words attributed to William Blake are carved in stone on the hill's summit: 'I have conversed with the Spiritual Sun, I saw him on Primrose Hill.’ They were recorded by the poet’s friend, Henry Crabb Robinson. Blake told Crabb Robinson that God had spoken to him: ‘He said, "Do you take me for the Greek Apollo?" "No," I said, "that" – and Blake pointed to the sky – "that is the Greek Apollo. He is Satan.”’
‘Some people are going to have a problem with that flag,’ a man said to me as we marched down Piccadilly on Saturday. He was talking about the flag of the Syrian National Coalition: green, white and black, with three red stars. A Syrian refugee recently arrived in Britain, he said the flag didn't represent Christians or Kurds, and that he hoped the protesters 'support all civilians'.