At around 11am on the 12th of September, 2015, I was sitting aboard a South West train headed from Basingstoke towards London Waterloo. Stations whizzed past against the backdrop of semi-detached houses and the occasional spot of English countryside, the latter becoming increasingly rarer and the former more frequent as we got closer and closer to the capital. Walton on Thames, Surbiton, Wimbledon… A group of ladies to my right were busy discussing their foregone summer holiday, while I remained glued to my phone, constantly refreshing BBC News. Clapham Junction, Vauxhall… Finally, the headline came: “Jeremy Corbyn wins Labour leadership contest“. Almost simultaneously, a group of young men near the front of the carriage opened a champagne bottle. The party had started.
At Waterloo, I met my friend Sam. We hugged it out, and then both said something along the lines of “Jez we did”, followed by a brief period of laughter. Safe to say, at that point, both of us were fairly pleased with the result. Later that day I decided to join The Labour Party.
Yesterday morning, on the 24th of September, 2016, Sam and I coincidentally once again found ourselves in London. It was just after 11:45am, and just like 377 days before, I found myself anxiously refreshing the BBC News app on my phone. It was soon a few minutes to twelve. I turned to Sam, “Result should have been announced about ten minutes ago”. Frustrated, I then proceeded to open The Guardian, only to realise that the people at the BBCs digital division haven’t been doing their job… “Corbyn sweeps to victory, increasing mandate“. Sam turned to me:
“Wow, you guys are so fucked” “Yeah… I know”
Last year’s enthusiasm had clearly evaporated. The only champagne bottles opened that day were at the Conservative Party Headquarters.
There’s a reason I chose to open with that anecdote, because details aside, I’m far from the only Labour member whose personal support for Jeremy Corbyn has made a complete reversal over the past twelve months. For some, it was his totally inadequate performance during the Brexit referendum, while for others it was a gradual realisation that the 67-year-old MP is hardly qualified to be running a street stall, nevermind Her Majesty’s Official Opposition. When Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader for the first time, he did so with the support of members old and new. This year, according to a YouGov exit poll, those who joined The Labour Party before May 2015 voted overwhelmingly for his opponent. Buyers remorse has settled in, but while Corbyn’s detractors attempted to win by shrinking the electorate, Labour’s hard left was busy finding itself a new base of customers.
Last year I celebrated Corbyn’s victory with the full knowledge that this was someone firmly to my left. Yet perhaps in a spirit of naivety, he seemed to represent the way I wanted to see politics done in Britain. Like many others, I cringed my way through PMQs as rows of chimpanzees dressed as politicians flung insults and verbal diarrhoea across The House of Commons. Like many others, I felt somewhat optimistic about Corbyn’s line of “Straight Talking, Honest Politics“, looking forward to a time when real-world issues can be discussed in a constructive, civilised manner. Yet over the past twelve months, I’ve come to realise that Corbyn and his allies are anything but straight talking, anything but honest. Unlike some, I haven’t come to oppose Jeremy Corbyn because he calls himself a socialist, but rather because like many Labour members, I still dare call myself a liberal.
Corbyn’s questionable political past wasn’t something I was entirely oblivious to. In fact, part of my support for him stemmed from his prior involvement in the British anti-war movement (wouldn’t it be great if we actually had a Prime Minister who wouldn’t start wars in the Middle East at every given opportunity?). However, while supporters have used his past as evidence of the man’s “integrity”, to say that Corbyn’s record is questionable would actually be a major understatement. When he became leader, I hoped that he would use the opportunity to distance himself from that past, to turn a fresh page, and make amends where necessary. Instead, he stuck to his guns.
When asked repeatedly in a BBC Radio interview to condemn the actions of the IRA, a terrorist organisation that has been responsible, among many other things, for the murder of five British members of parliament, Corbyn instead chose to criticise the British Army. When asked by the LGBT network Pink News to explain the reasoning behind his paid appearances on the Iranian Press TV, a propaganda channel which has been complicit in filming and broadcasting the forced confession of a tortured journalist, not to mention one owned by a state who’s only policy towards gay people is nothing short of murder, Corbyn made no attempt at an apology; instead outright falsely claiming that his time on the programme allowed him to raise human rights issues.
When asked by David Cameron to withdraw his prior remarks calling the Islamist organisation Hamas his “friends”, an organisation whose manifesto openly calls for the murder of Jews, Corbyn did no such thing. When asked to clarify his position on the Falkland Islands, which voted overwhelmingly in a referendum to remain British, Jeremy Corbyn suggested that sovereignty should be shared with Argentina, nevermind that the only things Argentine on those islands are 600 graves and 19,000 land mines.
So Jeremy, what on Earth happened to that great leftist principle of self-determination, or does that only happen to apply to those wanting to break off from Britain, as opposed to the other way around? What happened to standing up for human rights? For freedom and for democracy?
The problem with the likes of Jeremy Corbyn is not their readiness to criticise British policy, but an outright refusal to apply the same principles to her adversaries. An eagerness to cosy up to any regime, no matter how right wing, no matter how oppressive, illiberal or fascistic, as long as they just happen to be anti-West. In 1941, at the height of The Blitz, a fellow socialist called George Orwell wrote an essay during which he criticised a certain part of the left, which he described as being “sometimes squashily pacifist, sometimes violently pro-Russian, but always anti-British”. It horrifies me to think that, after decades of trying, precisely this kind of outlook has finally taken over The UK Labour Party.
It is now a well-established fact that Corbyn happens to be about as unelectable as a cardboard cutout of Nevile Chamberlain, however, that only serves to make him incompetent, not malicious. It alone would be enough reason for any pragmatist to vote him out as Labour leader, but to do so while still respecting him as a man of principle and integrity. The problem for me is not that Jeremy Corbyn will never become Prime Minister, but that he can never be allowed to. Party loyalty can only go so far, and a blank refusal to draw any kind of moral red lines shouldn’t be seen as an admirable quality, only a meaningless display of tribalism.
The past twelve months have been an unequivocal display of incompetence, but in what can only be described as a mixture of lies, weakness and sheer stubbornness, Corbyn and his team decided to go a lot further. While attempting to explain taking tens of thousands of pounds from the hands of a fascist dictatorship, his only response was to lie and hope that no one noticed. When asked to rebuke what was, at best, his previously lukewarm attitude towards the IRA, his only response was a pathetic attempt at rewriting history. Peace in Northern Ireland, he claimed, was due to the efforts of himself and his comrades, a lie so brazen I’m amazed few in the media chose to hold him to account.
Peace in Northern Ireland was not achieved because Corbyn and his pals spoke at a bunch of Troops Out rallies and invited the IRA to parliament only weeks after it attempted to assassinate the British Prime Minister. It was not achieved, contrary to what was said by John McDonnel, because the British government was forced to the negotiating table, but because the IRA had lost its armed struggle. If Corbyn truly wanted to support a peaceful and democratic solution, he could have voted for it in parliament. Instead, he voted against. Despite what they may claim, Corbyn’s and McDonnel’s ultimate goal wasn’t peace, it was for the other side to win.
Despite his constant talk of a kinder, gentler politics, he did absolutely nothing to prevent his supporters from heckling and shouting down his leadership opponent. Debate after debate, Corbyn chose to stand idle as his attack dogs made The Labour Party appear a grotesque laughing stock on national television. When those same supporters were faced with accusations of anti-Semitism, Corbyn appointed Shami Chakrabarti to lead an independent inquiry. Her inquiry found that no big problem existed, and then Corbyn promoted Chakrabarti to the exact same House of Lords he supposedly wants to abolish. That’s not honest or straight talking, Jeremy, that’s cronyism.