Jeremy Corbyn is not “the Left’s version of Enoch Powell”, a “threat to Britain’s national security” or a “terrorist sympathiser”. Hysteria among political commentators and politicians has been growing steadily ever since the polls signalled that Corbyn was on track to become Labour’s next leader. Since his overwhelming – democratic – victory in September some Labour MPs have joined the frenzied attempts to discredit Corbyn. This anti-Corbyn din is preventing the Labour Party from having a constructive debate and forming a proper narrative: in the New Year this needs to change.
Reports that certain individuals – whether they be commentators, novelists or MPs –have voiced their discontent with Labour’s new leader overshadow the positive change that has happened in the party. Tens of thousands of people joined the Labour party up and down the country, the vast majority of whom think Corbyn is doing a good job as leader.
Now, a flourishing pro-Corbyn movement doesn’t mean that the electorate are on side, or that the party is on course for a victory. Members and supporters don’t represent the public in fulll. But neither do the people who virulently attack Corbyn. They may very well shape public perceptions of the Labour leader over the years ahead (the party can’t ignore the influence the media has on public opinion) but so far from a general election few people are really bothered about party politics, Corbyn, or the inner workings of the Labour Party.
But that’s not an argument for fuelling the anti-Corbyn feeling in the media, as a small section of MPs are doing. This dislike for Corbyn is intense despite the fact that little policy has been decided. The vicious attacks levelled at him come from his attempts to introduce another dimension to what has recently been a flat political conversation. Corbyn’s decision to challenge the status quo has left seasoned commentators who have long been nestled comfortably in their views upset, and so they exaggerate and misinterpret.
The response to bombing in Syria said it all: Corbyn’s decision to argue for a different means other than bombing by which to defeat ISIS – namely cutting off arms, money and oil flows to the terrorist group – doesn’t equate to condoning the terrorist organisation’s actions (as has been implied by some) or sitting idly by while innocent people are slaughtered. Boiling Corbyn’s views down to a caricature of their original form is a politically empty but effective way of shutting down debate.
The urge to mock Corbyn’s views has become so intense that his choice of Christmas card has garnered almost as much attention as reports that Tory MP Lucy Allan faked a death threat by modifying a message from one of her constituents. Imagine the uproar if Corbyn or another left-wing MP had doctored a letter in this way: the stream of reports would be non-stop.
The petty infighting might not have captivated the public but it does entrench party splits and stall progress. Personal attacks on Momentum activists, for instance, cheered on by members of the shadow cabinet don’t help the party. Neither does the response from a small, unrepresentative portion of the grassroots who cry de-selection when MPs make public views with which they don’t agree.
Without a rational debate, there can’t be constructive criticism of the Labour leadership so far. And there are areas to improve. We do need better representations – in terms of class, gender and race – at the forefront of the party and grassroots activism. The dearth of it is in part a symptom of our unfair society and an unrepresentative media (who often take the words of Labour “grandees” as law) but it’s really down to the leadership to right this wrong. And the leaders’ office needs to nail down better messaging to make Labour’s narrative – once it’s formed – clear and relatable. It’s increasingly difficult to have these productive conversations with internal schisms dominating events.
The Labour Party has lurched from one slur against Jeremy Corbyn to the next because a significant portion of commentators and politicians don’t like that their long-held views have been challenged. While all of this is going on, the Tories are attacking essential rights and freedoms and ensuring that our society continues to grow more unequal. We can’t afford to go on this way, change has happened, Corbyn won a democratic election and he needs to be given the space to do his job.