The antics of Labour’s right wing have caused serious damage in the polls – so when Corbyn wins the leadership election again, his detractors had better stop sniping and start rallying round their leader, writes SALMAN SHAHEEN
POLITICAL climate change has made summer shorter this year. What with Brexit, a new Prime Minister and two leadership contests, about the closest we got to “silly season” was a train journey someone took. Now the political cycle is back in full swing and the news is coming thick and fast. This week began with two headlines that, in any other time, it would be almost inconceivable to see sitting side by side. David Cameron resigned as an MP on Monday. Let’s just run that again so it sinks in. David Cameron resigned. The most disastrous prime minister since World War II, who wrecked the country with austerity and then wrecked his career with a vain referendum on the EU, has performed his final U-turn in politics by giving up the seat he said he’d serve from on the back benches. Meanwhile, on the same day, polls showed Labour to be trailing the Conservatives by 11 points, with newspapers reporting it as the worst showing Labour has ever had in opposition. One more time. The worst prime minister most of us have ever known has quit politics with his legacy in tatters and his party finds itself with the biggest poll lead over the opposition it has ever had. How did this happen? Unless a good chunk of the Parliamentary Labour Party want to join Ed “Ed Balls” Balls on Strictly, they’d better work it out fast and do something about it. In the British press there are some certainties that are as regular and as accurate as the Daily Express’s weather predictions. One is Corbyn’s Law. Whenever anything goes wrong, blame Corbyn. Britain voted to leave the EU. Blame Corbyn. Your toast has landed butter side down. Blame Corbyn. Owen Smith can’t find a shirt with sleeves on. Blame Corbyn. Needless to say, much of the media was quick to pin Labour’s dire polling at Corbyn’s door, with the Daily Mail declaring him “the worst opposition leader in history.” Even on its own terms, that’s not true, of course — the Conservatives polled worse in opposition under William Hague — but why let facts get in the way of blaming Corbyn? The fact of the matter is, Labour was winning elections, frequently with increased majorities, right up until the coup. Just before the coup it was beginning to break even with the Conservatives in the polls, only a year after Ed Miliband led the party to crushing defeat on an ill-advised platform of austerity-lite. Its success in May might have been modest, but it was far from the wipeout Corbyn’s opponents within Labour were hoping would light the touchpaper of their rebellion. That came with Brexit and that’s when we saw the polls begin to nosedive. After hour-by-hour shadow cabinet resignations designed to do the maximum possible damage to Corbyn; after a vote of no confidence from MPs that the vast majority of the wider party did not share; after a leadership election launched just when the Conservatives were tearing themselves apart and dragged out as a new prime minister prepared to tear the country apart without a united opposition to hold her to account; after cynical attempts to get Corbyn excluded from the ballot paper and then, when they failed, further wranglings played out before the courts and the court of public opinion to try and get reams of his supporters excluded from voting for him, is it any wonder Labour finds itself trailing the Tories in the polls? Polls are known to have produced some shockingly inaccurate results in recent years, but there’s no writing this one off. It’s dire news and Labour needs to turn it around. How does it go about doing that? First things first, when Jeremy Corbyn is re-elected with an overwhelming majority this month, MPs need to join the rest of the party in rallying around him as leader. The rebels supporting Owen Smith, many of whose policies (this year at least) are on paper almost indistinguishable from Corbyn’s, need to put their money where their mouths are. If, as they say, it is not about Corbyn’s policies but his ability to win an election, then they need to get behind him and fight for those policies because nothing loses an election faster than a party divided and no-one, surely, wants to see another five years of Tory misrule after 2020. But even with every Labour MP on his side, Labour still faces a monumental challenge. The Tory government, the right-wing media, the big corporations paying their zero-hours-contracted workers the minimum wage while they shift their profits onto tropical islands, the most powerful forces in society will continue to throw everything they’ve got at Corbyn and his supporters because they fear the basic ideas he talks about — fairness and decency and equality. Theirs is a world of unfairness, indecency and inequality, there they thrive and they will fight to protect it. They will paint Corbyn as a radical, they will try to discredit his policies as unworkable, as fringe and extreme. It is up to us to ask: “Who are the real radicals?” Is it the man who says he doesn’t think nuking hundreds of thousands of civilians is a good idea? Or is it those who would turn their cities to cinders with weapons of mass destruction? Is it the man who says he wants everyone to have access to decent, free education for the betterment of all in society? Or is it those who believe such luxuries should only be for the rich? Is it the man who wants a publicly funded NHS to provide quality healthcare for all? Or is it those who see health as a commodity to be farmed off to the highest bidder? How is it radical to say corporations should pay their fair share to the country that has given them a skilled workforce and the infrastructure to operate? How is it radical to say decent, affordable housing is a right? How is it radical to say the air we breathe is killing us and the carbon we produce is killing the planet and we need to fix that before it’s too late? Ignoring these things, denying them, now that’s radical. Not only that, it’s perverse. And if Labour wants to win the next election, it needs to stand with Corbyn and show people just how perverse this country’s politics have become under the Tories and show them there’s a better way. One that, far from being radical or dangerous, is just common sense. Salman Shaheen is editor-in-chief of The World Weekly and a Labour Party member. He has written for the Guardian, New Statesman and Huffington Post and is a regular commentator on current affairs on television and radio.