In post-modern Britain history repeats itself the first time as fiction, the second time as fact. In 1982 a novel appeared about an establishment coup against a left wing Labour leader. In 1988 this was adapted into a popular TV series. In 2016 we are now witnessing precisely that: an establishment led coup against a real left wing Labour leader.
None of the reasons given for the attempt to oust Jeremy Corbyn from the leadership of Britain’s Labour party stack up. Repeated predictions of the party’s electoral failure under his leadership repeatedly fail to come true. No one takes seriously the claim Corbyn single-handedly lost the Brexit referendum. The plot which is seeking to oust him has been under preparation for months – since before he was elected leader – and the plotters were unwise enough to give the game away that they were planning to launch their coup in the hours following the Brexit referendum in a leak to the Daily Telegraph made 10 days before the vote happened.
As for the motives of the plotters, they have entirely failed to set out any sort of alternative programme to Corbyn’s, and though they repeatedly say he is too left wing they have failed to identify a single domestic policy of his they say they disagree with. The dispute is in fact wholly about foreign policy and about power and patronage within the Labour party.
In the decades he has been an MP Corbyn has established himself as a principled opponent of the neocon/liberal humanitarian military adventures his Blairite opponents in the Labour party remain obsessed with. By contrast the profile of his challenger Angela Eagle shows that on both foreign policy and domestic policy she is a classic Blairite, voting for the Iraq war in 2003, voting against any proposal for investigations into its conduct thereafter, supporting the Libyan war in 2011, voting for the bombing of Syria in 2015, and voting for welfare cuts and for introducing university tuition fees.
Beyond that is the horror of the Labour party’s Blairite establishment that control of the party might actually pass to one of Blair’s most consistent critics, who has the support of the unions and the party’s grassroots.
Since none of this can of course be the publicly given reason for challenging Corbyn, the challenge is being framed around the nebulous concept of “competence” and the false concept of “electability”. Unfortunately there is also the strong likelihood that because Angela Eagle is a woman and gay attempts will already be made to typecast Corbyn’s supporters as homophobic and misogynist despite Corbyn’s own impeccable record on both women’s rights and LGBT rights. Already articles are starting to appear purportedly contrasting Labour’s supposed “problem” with women with the supposed lack of such a problem in the Conservative party, where by pure chance both the current leadership contenders are women.
In view of Corbyn’s popularity with the party membership and with the unions, the initial objective of the plotters was to avoid a contest by forcing him to resign by organising an (unconstitutional) vote of no confidence against him by Labour’s Blairite dominated parliamentary caucus.
Since that failed an attempt is now being made to exclude Corbyn from the leadership contest through a creative reinterpretation of the party’s rules. That this is wrong and makes no sense has apparently been confirmed by a legal opinion provided to Corbyn by Doughty Street Chambers, one of Britain’s leading chambers of constitutional and human rights lawyers. By contrast it seems Corbyn’s opponents only have a letter of advice from a law firm to support them.
Despite the legal advice and the all-too transparent reasons for doing it, it seems Corbyn’s opponents are nonetheless still determined to try to get a ruling from the party’s national executive to exclude Corbyn from the leadership contest. Should that happen there will almost certainly be a court challenge, prolonging the confusion further.
What all these bizarre manoeuvres against Corbyn ultimately show is the extraordinary level of entitlement of Britain’s political class of which the Blairite wing of the Labour party is fully a part. Despite its growing unpopularity and its growing distance from the British people – exposed starkly by the referendum in Scotland, Corbyn’s election as Labour leader and by the Brexit referendum – the political class clings to the levers of power in Westminster with an almost obsessive fanaticism. At the same time with the support of the media it heaps vitriol on anyone like Corbyn who challenges it. Should its coup against Corbyn succeed it will distance the political class from the people of Britain even more, paving the way for more political instability in the future.