Understanding the Mind of Jeremy Corbyn and Co

There will be many watching the antics of the Labour Party who will be wondering what on earth is going on. Corbyn and his close associates are constantly at war with most of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) including members of the Shadow Cabinet, while being regularly assailed with embarrassing political connections from the past such as a rather cosy relationship with Irish Republicans and quotes which show them to be very hard-left personnel indeed. The unrelenting absurdity of the situation was starkly demonstrated when Corbyn attacked his Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn for supporting British military action in Syria.

The behaviour of Corbyn and those who surround him will seem inexplicably bizarre to most, but to anyone used to the ways of the hard Left it will come as no surprise, for Corbyn and his supporters are acting exactly as one would expect such people to act. They are not interested in exercising democratically gained power because it involves compromising and that would mean they cannot remain ideologically pure. This is anathema to any true ideologue, so they prefer to behave in ways ever more divorced from reality to remain within their ideological boundaries, for that is their first and end, to remain ideologically consistent. Consequently, they do not look at the practicality or consequences of a policy or action or even whether it will achieve their overt ends. To have made their ideological statement is enough.

If they are Marxists - and most members of the hard Left are, either self-consciously or simply because Marxism was the original foundation of their ideology and has left its mark - they have the certainty of a believer that although their policies may not appeal to a majority of voters theirs is the true way, and the failure of the great mass of people to recognise this is simply 'false consciousness'. Best of all, if they are self-conscious Marxists, they are sure the historical process is unravelling to achieve the ends they desire regardless of how they behave, for at best the Marxist can only hasten the process of history not change it fundamentally. The Marxist also has no time for morality because that is merely a bourgeois device to delay the inevitable end of history which is communism. Because of this the Marxist never has any problem with allowing the end to justify the means. This, incidentally, is a weakness of the Left generally.

Any normal person would be terminally embarrassed by both the lack of support Corbyn is getting from the PLP and the positions and people which Corbyn and others have embraced in the past. The most embarrassing example is probably Corbyn's feeble response to the Defence Review, which Cameron immediately quashed by quoting Corbyn as follows:

Why do have to be able to have planes, transport aircraft, aircraft carriers and everything else to get anywhere in the world? Why?

Wouldn't it be wonderful if every politician around the world, instead of taking pride in the size of their armed forces, did what the people of Costa Rica have done and abolished the army and took pride in the fact that they don't have an army, and that their country is near the top of the global peace index. Surely that is the way we should be going forward.

But the hard Left are not normal people. For them the fact that they are constantly shown to be inconsistent at best and wilfully dishonest at worst is irrelevant because the only people they take any heed of are those who are part of their group of true believers. Any embarrassment they suffer is viewed by them as an honourable wound in the revolutionary fight.

There are two types of people who are attracted to ideology. The first and rare type are the intellectuals who gain not only a sense of security but an intellectual pleasure from mastering the ideology and twisting it into whatever bizarre shapes ideological purity requires when faced with reality. The second and common type are the intellectually underpowered who crave a system of thought which does their thinking for them by providing them with answers to everything. Corbyn gives every indication of being the second type, the strongest indication being the feebleness of his responses to subjects such as the Defence Review and his evasion of debate or hostile questioning whenever he can manage it. It is also worth noting that his academic history is weak, the best he could muster being two 'E' grades at A-Level, despite having had the advantage of a private education. This is important because the less intellectually competent Corbyn is, the more stubborn he is likely to be.

What people like Corbyn want is to use prominent public positions as a propaganda platform and bring change not through the ballot box and a majority in the Commons, but by supporting and encouraging agitation by groups outside of mainstream politics such as trade unions, pro-immigration bodies and students to gain by protest and strikes that which the ballot box will not deliver. In fact, people with Corbyn's mentality would probably secretly welcome being overthrown from within the Labour Party by a coup staged by the large majority of the PLP who are utterly dismayed by him, for this would be seen in the mind of the hard Left as proof of what they have always said, namely that democratic politics is a sham. There is also a strong probability that Corbyn would be absolutely terrified at the prospect of becoming PM because he has zero political experience beyond being an infant terrible as a backbench MP who voted hundreds of times against the Labour whip. He has not held even the most humble of government or shadow positions or chaired a Commons committee.

Ridiculous as Corbyn may seem it is important understand that he is forging ahead with remaking the Labour Party. Since he became leader Corbyn has pursued a classic hard-left strategy. Get a foothold on the power positions in an organisation; then expel the dissenters and bring your own people in. Of course, this cannot be done overnight when the organisation to be captured and moulded is a major party in a parliamentary democracy, because by its nature such a party is a broad coalition. Nonetheless, Corbyn has already placed many like-minded people in his Shadow Cabinet, such as John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor, and employed special advisers from the hard Left Like Seumas Milne as Executive Director of Strategy and Communications, who unburdened himself with this in 2006 in the Guardian:

"For all its brutalities and failures, communism in the Soviet Union, eastern Europe and elsewhere delivered rapid industrialisation, mass education, job security and huge advances in social and gender equality. It encompassed genuine idealism and commitment ... . Its existence helped to drive up welfare standards in the west, boosted the anticolonial movement and provided a powerful counterweight to western global domination."

That is just the beginning of the Corbynisation of the Labour Party. Then there is the Momentum organisation, which has grown out of the political engagement generated by Corbyn during the Labour leadership campaign. What does Momentum seek to do? This:

Organise events, rallies, meet ups and policy consultations to encourage mass mobilisation for a more democratic, equal and decent society.

Encourage those inspired by Jeremy Corbyn's campaign to get involved with the Labour Party. Assist members in making their voice heard in Labour Party debates.

Facilitate and coordinate people to build new and support existing organisations that can make concrete improvements to people's lives. Through these actions, we aim to demonstrate on a micro level how collective action and Labour values can transform our society for the better.

So far Momentum's main public showing has been for some members to engage in the type of vicious trolling which taints the SNP cybernats. Further down the line the Corbyn plan is to push through compulsory reselection of Labour MPs and use Momentum to ensure the deselection of anti-Corbyn Labour MPs and their substitution with Corbyn followers. Momentum will also be working to replace anti-Corbyn candidates who are not MPs with Corbynites.

In the meantime, an attempt to silence Corbyn's many critics in the Parliamentary Labour Party by controlling what they say on social media. Labour's National Executive Committee have agreed to the creation of a code of conduct on social media for Labour MPs which will inhibit criticism of Corbyn.

It might be thought that with a majority of Labour MPs opposed to Corbyn it would be easy enough to unseat him as leader within the next year, for only 20 percent of the PLP need to nominate a challenger. But the politics of the situation are much too messy for that to be the case.

The first stumbling block is Corbyn's overwhelming victory in the leadership election. To gain nearly 60 percent of the vote in a four-horse race is astonishing. It shows how much a large segment of the Labour Party and its supporters are sick to the back teeth with the Tory-lite of Blairism. Nor is that support a passing fad. A recent YouGov poll showed 86 percent of Corbyn supporters in the leadership election think he is doing a good job as leader, a view shared by 66 percent of Labour voters. Corbyn's electoral mandate alone makes it difficult to mount a challenge to him and the continued high levels of support he is getting from Labour members bolsters that mandate. There is also the embarrassing lack of a strong candidate to challenge Corbyn. Alan Johnson would be an obvious choice but he has more than once made it clear that he is not interested in becoming leader.

But suppose a challenge did arise, would Corbyn require 15 percent of the PLP to nominate him or would he be allowed to stand simply because he is leader? This is not clear because Labour's 'politburo', the National Executive Council (NEC) would probably decide the matter. But whichever way the NEC decided the PLP would be in a bind. If Corbyn did stand he would in all probability win the contest again, for it is difficult to see how it could be run on a different franchise than the vote which elected Corbyn leader. Alternatively, if he was unable to run because the NEC decided he had to meet the 15 percent of the PLP to nominate him and he was unable to do so, that would quite reasonably be seen by both Labour supporters and to some degree the public at large as at best shabby and at worst straightforward chicanery.

Ironically, Corbyn has supported the idea of a regular vote to elect or re-elect a leader. During the leadership election he said this:

I think there should be an opportunity to elect or not elect the leader regularly, every one or two years - so that we don't go into this idea that 'The leader's vulnerable, we've got to get rid of the leader or not get rid of the leader', because the system is already there in place. Bring back democracy into the Labour Party and the labour movement.

But even if such a regulation was put in place, if the franchise remains much as it is now Corbyn would probably win. The problem for the anti-Corbynites is the fact that, for all the absurdity of the day-to-day circumstances created by his election, Corbyn represents not just the hard Left but also a substantial number of voters who do not want to see Britain getting into yet another futile war, who would be happy to see the utilities (the railways, energy companies and water companies) taken back into public ownership and above all those who have found their lives become more and more precarious over the past decade or so as inequality has grown.

There are other methods by which Corbyn might be persuaded to go, such as a mass resignation from his Shadow Cabinet, a large number of Labour MPs stating publicly he should go, or a vote of no confidence in Corbyn, but all depend on the man not being stubborn and resigning. If Corbyn refused to resign, and I suspect he would, they would be a dead letter.

The sad truth is that the Labour Party is in serious danger of ceasing to be a serious party. If Corbyn remains for any extended period there is every chance that the Party will split and become irrelevant as a contender to form a government, either on its own or even as the dominant party in a coalition. That would not be healthy because it is not healthy for any democracy to have only one party or political grouping which has any hope of holding office.


Robert Henderson blogs at England calling. To see more articles by him, search for Robert Henderson using the search box at top-right.