Sketch: The campaign against Jeremy Corbyn is increasingly farcical

Written by Liam Kirkaldy on 27 August 2015 in Comment

With the Labour Party grappling with its identity, its former leaders have returned to haunt it

The Labour Party feels increasingly like a haunted house.

Now unsure of who used to live there or when, the public have started speeding up as they walk past it on the street. In future, teenagers will join as a dare, sneaking around inside before coming face-to-face with an old oil painting of John Prescott and freaking out.

Ghosts of leaders and strategists past – Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Alastair Campbell and Peter Mandelson – patrol its halls.


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And, worried about Jeremy Corbyn’s recent success in the leadership contest, the party’s old guard have been haunting in force over recent weeks.

Some argue Labour must reach out to Tory voters, warning that Corbyn has only taken the lead because Conservatives subverted the process. For all we know he could turn out to be another one of Grant Shapps’ aliases.

Others say they don’t need Tory votes – arguing Corbyn could draw in disillusioned voters with a kind of Russell Brand style anti-politics. He even kind of looks like Russell Brand, if Russell Brand had been squeezed into a small jar and pickled. 

But because he supports withdrawal from NATO, renationalisation of the energy sector and progressive taxation, his opponents have accused him of wanting to take the party back to the 80s. 

Though this is largely by supporters of Liz Kendall, who instead wants to take the party back to the late 90s.

Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper, meanwhile, are apparently happy to take the party to any time or place, as long as they are in power there. 

So cue the interventions. First, Blair warned a Corbyn victory would mean Labour’s “annihilation”.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re on the left, right or centre of the party, whether you used to support me or hate me... The party is walking eyes shut, arms outstretched over the cliff’s edge to the jagged rocks below. This is not a moment to refrain from disturbing the serenity of the walk on the basis it causes ‘disunity’. It is a moment for a rugby tackle.”

Next came Gordon Brown. In fact Brown’s interventions have attracted a certain amount of mockery over the last year, with critics suggesting they have lost all meaning, given he interrupts repeatedly – like a hen night at a comedy club, or a toddler whose ears are popping. By this stage, they say, it’s not so much an intervention as a series of heckles.

But that’s a misconception. In truth, Brown’s has been a single, unceasing intervention – his comments since the referendum campaign never actually stopped, it’s just that sometimes people film him. 

Even now, as you read this, Brown will be prowling, solemnly, up and down a stage somewhere – or possibly up and down the aisle of a train as he travels between stages – speaking passionately about the spread of nationalism and the challenges of globalisation to an audience of no one.

And while Blair conceded some Labour members may not have liked what he did as PM, Brown seemed to deny he had ever held the position.

He told the party: “I’m speaking to you not as someone seeking any position. As I’ve said before, I’m too old to be a comeback kid, too young to posture as an elder statesman – and with no title, and never ever wanting one, I’m speaking as an ordinary member, who, with my wife Sarah, volunteered to knock on doors at the last election.”

Yep – he’s just an ordinary Labour Party member, speaking on a giant stage in central London, in front of the assembled national media. And he looked really confident for a normal party member. He should run for office. 

But to be fair, the speech was a strong one, with Brown warning Labour must be electable in order to fight for vulnerable people, such as the “insecure pensioner” who must be “made more secure, guaranteed dignity in retirement”.  

This makes sense – though you could argue that if Brown wanted dignity in retirement he should stop making so many interventions. 

Meanwhile the candidates themselves have got on with the job of beating Corbyn, largely by trying to convince each other to stand down to avoid splitting the vote. In fact by now the Labour contest has started to resemble three slapstick characters bumping into each other and arguing, as they all try to fit through a doorway at once. Yvette Cooper hasn’t knocked Burnham over by turning around with a ladder, but we can’t be far off.

They argue that Corbyn must not become leader because he will turn the party into one of protest, rather than one capable of winning elections. Though this would be much more convincing if it wasn’t coming from people protesting about his campaign, while losing to him in an election. 

First, Kendall urged Cooper to stand down to help Burnham win – a novel approach given that she is last in the polls. Then Cooper urged Burnham to stand down.

Finally, Peter Mandelson went for the atomic option, arguing a Corbyn victory would be so destabilising that everyone should stand down to stop the process from continuing.

Which all seems a bit defeatist – the equivalent of knocking down the house to guarantee its future stability. Let’s just hope Labour’s ghosts have time to escape beforehand.

 

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