As you may have noticed, I’ve been writing and tweeting about Jeremy Corbyn on a regular basis for quite a long time now, and today I have decided it’s time to try and stop. I’ll continue to write about Labour, and as long as Corbyn is leader, he will inevitably feature, but I am not going to write critical pieces like this or this anymore.
That’s not because I’ve changed my mind. More because I’ve grown tired of repeating the same things time and again, and also because I know constantly banging on about it annoys people I am close to, who don’t see the world in the same way as me.
So, I’m going to try and explain, as well as I can, why I am so implacably opposed to Jeremy Corbyn, why I keep talking about him, and then, I’m going to stop. I don’t expect this to change anyone’s minds, nor is that the purpose. And I’m not particularly interested in debating any of the points I’m about to discuss; because really, this story is about Jeremy Corbyn, but it is also about me.
Politically, I was a late bloomer. I didn’t grow up in a massively political household, and I only really got interested in 2002. I’d started dating a girl whose parents were socialists, and to be honest I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant.
At the same time, Bush and Blair were gearing up to invade Iraq, and this was my political awakening. I marched against the war in 2003, because I didn’t really understand why Iraq, and why then.
As I got into politics, I felt like I was to the left of Tony Blair on a lot of things, which in my mind at the time was the same as being to the left of the Labour Party, and I didn’t really know what to do about that. The university had some anti-war marches of its own, co-ordinated in part by the uni branch of the Socialist Party, and so it was that I wandered along to one of their meetings to find out more.
I spent probably around 18 months going to Socialist Party meetings, demonstrations, and so on, gradually realising that this whole far-left thing wasn’t for me at all. However, there were very many interesting experiences along the way. I remember asking one member what she thought a socialist society would look like; if capitalism were abolished, how would the world work? I was amazed that she clearly had no real idea of the answer.
Once, I was asked if I wanted to give a talk about Che Guevara at the next meeting. I agreed and spent some time finding out all about Che (remember, I was a political naif). The talk I gave lasted around five minutes and was what I would describe as a balanced look at Che Guevara’s life. The stony silence that followed was excruciating. A balanced look was not what the organisers had in mind; they wanted someone to get up and say how brilliant he was. I wasn’t asked to speak again.
I left the socialists behind, and joined the Labour Party in 2010.
But what does any of this have to do with Jeremy Corbyn? Well, I think it gives me a context in which to place his beliefs and his politics. Corbyn, along with many other people we’ll meet later on, were heroes to the lefties I’d known. There may have been quibbles around the fact that he remained in the Labour Party, but Corbyn was still seen as a Good Socialist.
So when I hear and read about Jeremy Corbyn’s views on foreign policy, it rings a bell for me, in a way that I appreciate possibly doesn’t happen for other people without a socialist grounding. I see Corbyn come out with some statement, and I immediately recognise the thought processes behind it.
There are countless examples to reel off. His defence of a vicar who blamed the 9/11 attacks on Israel. His links to holocaust deniers. His obfuscation when asked to condemn the IRA. His support for Hamas and disregard for Israel. His backing of anti-semites and homophobes. Here’s a video of him saying Hezbollah are an organisation committed to peace and social justice (hint: they aren’t). He appeared on Iran’s state broadcaster as recently as 2011, taking money from a regime that executes gay people.
Most Corbyn supporters would never condone such actions or beliefs explicitly, but a depressing number refuse to take these things seriously. Common responses are to try and exonerate by saying that “he didn’t mean that”, or to agree it’s important to have dialogue, or to put the best possible spin on things, or that it was a long time ago, or that it’s all tabloid smears.
I don’t know why Corbyn is given such a free pass on this; how many examples it would take. I suspect to an extent, a lack of hard-left experience means that people just don’t believe he could hold such views, when he preaches kinder politics and pacifism. Or, could it be that support for him on other things leads people to wave troublesome facts away? If that’s the case, a lot of waving is required here.
The lack of questioning of Jeremy Corbyn by many of his supporters is something that really, really troubles me. Regardless of your political views, it is critical to hold people to account. Would Corbyn supporters judge a political opponent so generously, given the above?
Whatever. You can either decide this is important, or you can ignore it. But this matters to me. It is not right, and this is one of the main reasons I cannot support him.
I understand that through some people’s eyes, Jeremy Corbyn appears as a kindly old gentleman who dislikes austerity and war. To me, he appears as an anti-western ideologue, as blinkered as those he opposes.
If you got this far, please seek out a book called “What’s Left”, by Nick Cohen, which shows how the left has got to a point where it is happy to defend tyrants as long as they oppose America; George Galloway’s salute to Saddam Hussein’s indefatigability perhaps being the classic example. Please, please, read this book.
I don’t disagree with Jeremy Corbyn on everything. He is right in his defence of the Chagossians, right to campaign against poverty, right to raise the plight of those in Calais; some of the causes he campaigns on are noble ones.
But here’s my second problem with him. Even if there weren’t all of the horrible beliefs as laid out above, there’s the electability problem. His main passions are ones that will energise a middle-class, liberal base, but do nothing for the majority of the population.
I do not believe that Jeremy Corbyn can win a general election. In fact, I fear he is dooming us to a terrible defeat. As a Labour member, it is ok for me to worry about that. And why wouldn’t I worry? The polls are dreadful.
We are miles behind, when we know that boundary changes will mean we need to win well to have any chance in 2020. We are not trusted on security. We are not trusted on the economy. We have the weakest leader, polling worse than Ed Miliband was at the same stage five years ago. Every single poll brings bad news.
The 2015 general election should have shaken us out of our complacency, should have taught us that we cannot afford to indulge weak leaders any longer; leader ratings are a very good predictor of election results. But the failure of pollsters last year means that Corbyn supporters have a ready-made excuse for all this; the polls can’t be trusted. Ever.
So the election not only gave us a weak leader, it also meant that we could ignore polls showing his weakness! This is like driving on the wrong side of the road with your eyes shut.
Ah, but Oldham, people say. It’s a good point; the Labour vote held up well there. Some people will say this proves Corbyn is electable. I’m not sure. It may show that in a straight fight between Labour and UKIP, residents of a town with memories of racial unrest avoided Nigel Farage’s party. It might tell us that Labour roots run deeper than people imagined. It might say something about the calibre of the candidate. I just don’t know.
For what it’s worth, I think Oldham is an indication that things probably won’t be as bad as people expect in May’s local elections; I’ll write about this nearer the time.
Maybe I’m wrong about all this. Maybe the polls don’t represent reality. Would you bet the next general election on that?
It’s not just the polling. Often, the issues he campaigns on are just not the most important ones, nor the problems that we should be looking to deal with; we have a huge credibility gap on the economy, welfare, and immigration. The electorate are likely to feel dismissive of a party that spends its time talking about nuclear disarmament, the Falkland Islands, and rail renationalisation. If we’re not speaking to voters’ concerns, why would they bother supporting us?
Lastly, something a bit more personal. I now feel very alienated in the party, disconnected and unwelcome, and I know I’m not alone in that. For expressing criticisms of Jeremy Corbyn, I’ve been called a “Red Tory”, I’ve been told to join UKIP; this sort of thing will be familiar to any Labour supporters, councillors or MPs who dare to speak out at the moment. Because of course, dismissing everyone who has any disagreement with you is how you build an election-winning coalition.
There is a nastiness that has come in to the party from the left. Corbyn won’t rule out George Galloway re-joining Labour. Of course he won’t; they are political allies, both heavily involved with the ridiculous Stop The War Coalition. This is the same George Galloway who said Julian Assange was guilty only of “bad sexual etiquette”. The same George Galloway who stormed out of a debate after learning his opponent was Israeli. And the same George Galloway who claimed an electoral opponent was lying about her abusive marriage.
The vast majority of Corbyn supporters are not like this; I know that. But if this is the price we have to pay to have a leader who is a bit more firmly opposed to austerity, is it worth it? Really?
Radicalism seems attractive at first. A strong, principled stand against things that are wrong in the world. Of course I oppose austerity! Of course war is bad! But now I understand that it isn’t possible, nor desirable, to deal in moral absolutes. Did non-intervention help in Bosnia? Would high spending help the poor in the long-term, if our debt repayments grew too large? In everything, there is a balance to be struck.
Democratic politics makes it possible to change things for the better, not overnight, but incrementally, gradually; not through one man alone but through thousands of people, all doing their part. It’s not glamorous or exciting, but it is worthy.
This is what the Labour Party does. It’s what it has always done. It has always been reformist, deferential, internationalist, compromising; never revolutionary, iconoclastic, unilateral. You might not like that, but that’s what Labour is. It has always worked within the parameters of British politics, in order to make a difference to the people of the nation.
It has also been the greatest vehicle for progress the country has ever known. Attlee’s government gave us the NHS and the welfare state. Wilson’s opened up higher education, social mobility, and passed many liberal social reforms. Blair’s brought in the minimum wage, and lifted hundreds of thousands of children out of poverty.
So I am angered when Corbyn’s acolytes tell me he represents “real Labour values”. Any study of history tells a different story. Our values most certainly do not include sacrificing people who desperately need a Labour government on an altar of nebulous ideals such as principles and hope. Hope doesn’t feed a family on the poverty line. Principles won’t create jobs. One person’s principles are another person’s dogma. One person’s hope is another person’s need.
If you think your principles are more important than actual, concrete reality, if you think that it’s more important to support the candidate that you agree with most instead of the one that will do the most good, I can’t be with you. If you think there is no conflict between Corbyn’s principles and electoral success, I’d question your idea of principles, and point out that the polls are saying otherwise in any case.
If you think that Labour and the Tories are interchangeable, you’re lucky. That likely means that you are not on the sharp end of Conservative policies. All these cuts you’re opposing? They are cuts to things that a Labour government introduced, to benefit the nation. Of course Labour are preferable to the Conservatives. By being in government, Tony Blair, the monster of the left, helped more people than Jeremy Corbyn ever will.
When I think about all this, I am sad. I look at a party that I desperately want to succeed, and I see it being led to a possibly terminal electoral defeat, by a man who is not fit for his office; not fit by the views he holds, nor by his abilities. And it just makes me miserable.
I read stories about our new enthusiastic members. I welcome you all. We need your energy and dedication to stop the Conservatives; just please, don’t call me a Tory. But for every story about new members, there is a story to be told about existing members leaving, or feeling disconnected. I won’t leave. But I understand those who do. It is a really draining, miserable state of affairs at the moment.
This is why I write about Jeremy Corbyn. But it is too exhausting to keep doing so.
I’ve said all I can. I’m stopping from today.