Rethinking Europe

Corbyn is Firmly Within Labour Traditions

Labour Party will self correct. How long and what form this takes is the important question.

May Day Parade of the Left Wing Labourites in 1926 in Britain. Credit: Everett Historical Shutterstock.com

Takeaways


  • Labour elects as its leaders those who appeal to the party’s instincts and not voters’ aspirations.
  • Before now, Labour Party could not work out who or what to oppose and how to be an opposition.
  • In opting for Corbyn, anti-American and soft on Latin American socialism, Labour is reverting to type.

Karl Marx once wrote that history repeated itself first as tragedy then as farce. In Britain’s Labour Party, history simply repeats itself.

The extraordinary hysteria in British political circles over Jeremy Corbyn as if Lenin, Trotsky and Hugo Chavez were about to take over the Labour Party and consign it to oblivion forgets the first lesson of Labour Party history.

This states that when Labour goes into opposition, it always turns left, often sharp left to begin with, and usually elects as its leaders or leading spokespersons politicians who appeal to the party’s gut instincts, not voters’ needs and aspirations.

The first point to understand is that only now has Labour really gone into opposition. The 2010-2015 period was an interlude in British political history.

The Conservative-Lib Dem coalition – think Dick Cheney being in the same administration as Elizabeth Warren – caught Labour unawares.

The party could not work out who or what to oppose and how to be an opposition. Shadow ministers looked as if they were just on temporary leave of absence from the real thing – a belief sustained by opinion polls that seriously misled the public.

Labour’s history of leaders

Now Labour has recognized it is well and truly in opposition and has done what the party always does when it goes into opposition – it has returned to its womb.

In the 1930’s, Labour elected as its leader a long forgotten politician called George Lansbury, a religious pacifist, as leader in the hope Hitler, Mussolini and Franco would be converted to democracy. He was dumped as useless in 1935.

In the 1950s and after 1970, Labour made leftist Labour MPs Aneurin Bevan and Tony Benn into heroes, though both were proven vote-losers.

In the 1980s, Labour had Michael Foot, another unelectable, as leader after 1979. After Foot, Neil Kinnock was elected as Labour leader in 1982 as an anti-war, Eurosceptic anti-American Labour MP.

Kinnock even went to Nicaragua to show support for the Sandinistas, one of the most repressive, pro-Soviet, misogynist, media censoring outfits.

But they were anti-Reagan and that was enough to get good marks in the Labour Party’s limited playbook of international politics.

To be sure, Kinnock changed, but he remained unelectable losing elections in 1987 and 1992.

Self correction is inevitable

So in opting for Corbyn, also anti-American, anti-business, anti-Israel and soft on Latin American socialism of the Venezuela/Cuba variety, Labour is just reverting to type.

But at some stage Labour will self-correct as it has done in the past. How long and what form this self-correction will take is now the important question. Labour today has a new generation of politicians elected in 2010 and 2015 who are modern, smart, reformist.

Most Labour MPs are horrified at what has happened, as are thousands of municipal councilors and intelligent union leaders, even if they disliked the top-down control exercised by Tony Blair and his two successors as Labour leaders, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband.

The real issue of concern

A bigger challenge for Labour is how to win back seats in Scotland, where it was wiped out from a traditional heartland area it once dominated. But a new leadership of sensible leaders will emerge faster than people think.

Much depends on the government’s actions. If, for example, David Cameron’s EU referendum produces a decision to isolate Britain from Europe – which latest opinion polls suggest is likely – there will be a political-constitutional crisis of epic proportions.

In 1992, it looked as if Britain would live under Tory rule forever. It didn’t. Labour will regain electability but it will be through its own efforts, not thanks to the free advice it gets from all the commentators employed by Rupert Murdoch and the heavily anti-Labour London newspapers.

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About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. He was the UK's Minister for Europe from 2002 to 2005 — and is the author of “Brexit No Exit: Why Britain Won’t Leave Europe.” [London]. Follow him @DenisMacShane

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