“The ongoing attacks on Jeremy Corbyn are not personal, but about driving socialism out of the Labour Party to avoid any future threat to the establishment.”
Write-up from the event volunteer team
Jeremy Corbyn is no longer leader of the Labour Party, and yet establishment figures in the right-wing media all the way through to the right of the party continue to attack him in the press. In Labour Outlook’s first online event over 600 people tuned in to talk about why these attacks persist.
The meeting, entitled ‘In attacking Corbyn the establishment is waging war on socialism’, was chaired by the former Kensington MP, Emma Dent Coad, and heard first from Steve Howell, Deputy Director of Strategy and Communications for Jeremy Corbyn in 2017.
Howell pointed out that many Labour leaders had been attacked in the media and any genuine socialist leader of the Party should expect resistance and hostility from the establishment. But the attacks on Jeremy Corbyn not only came from outside the Party, but even from those who were employed by it.
He said that the report leaked in April gave us an insight into the rotten internal culture of the party which is due to be investigated in the Forde Inquiry, and argued that one of the main issues at stake in the Inquiry is the parallel campaign allegedly organised by party staff in the 2017 General Election.
The leaked report suggests that £135,000 was spent by party officials in the safe seats belonging to right-wing MPs without going through the National Campaigning Committee (NCC), the only body with the constitutional mandate to spend campaigning funds. Howell believed this may have made a material difference on the outcome of the election, arguing that it could have paid for a direct mail in an additional 35 constituencies.
After 2017, the former Corbyn staffer said that the establishment were scared – and quoted a note to Morgan Stanley investors which called Labour a greater threat than Brexit (you can see the Labour leadership’s response to the claim here).
To fend off the threat of a potential socialist government, from 2017 they resorted to three strategies to defeat the left: making concessions to Labour’s agenda by spuriously declaring ‘the end of austerity’ and pledging to invest in infrastructure, policing and the NHS; a relentless tide of media smears against the Labour leadership; and a strategy of trying to split the Corbyn camp on the issue of Brexit.
He argued that this last strategy was the most effective and that, having ironically taken up “the politics of protest” for which they had historically criticised the left, the Blairite right of the Party agitated for a second ‘peoples’ vote’ on Brexit. The demand resonated with Labour’s largely remain voting membership and the leadership were forced to change policy. Howell argued that the results of the 2019 election, in which the party sustained heavy losses in leave seats, provide evidence to a degree that this ‘splitting’ strategy had worked.
Alluding to a Times piece by the former speech-writer for Tony Blair, Philip Collins, Howell stressed that the ongoing attacks on Corbyn were not personal, but about driving socialism out of the Labour Party to avoid any future threat to the establishment. In the article, Collins spells it out: the socialist left need to be forced out of their electoral coalition with social democrats and the wider Labour movement to avoid any future danger of a Labour Party – or government – led by the left.
Ending with a call for unity, Howell said ‘[whatever your emphasis,] we’re all in this to fight for a better life and the reason people are obsessively hostile to Jeremy is because he showed, and we showed, how popular that vision can be’.
The next speaker, James Schneider – Momentum co-founder and Labour’s former spokesperson and head of strategic communications, said ‘yes, the Corbyn project has been defeated, but the things that animated it haven’t been resolved at all… Those in power have been unable to form a new common sense’.
He pointed to three dynamics unravelling in the UK and internationally: the economy is stuck in an unproductive rut; the climate emergency; and the end of unipolar US power. He said ‘these dynamics are challenging the ruling class’s power to control society. Even though we lost the general election… and we have a leadership that’s less interested in confronting power, the ruling class can’t breathe easy because it doesn’t have the answers to these three issues’.
He said it was vital to defend Jeremy Corbyn, the politics for which he stands, and the record of the last five years, but also highlighted the need to be propositional in our approach – positively coming up with solutions to the three dynamics he identified and being ‘as focussed as possible on those things that will define the next decade’.
The final speaker, Laura Smith – the former MP for Crewe and Nantwich, renewed calls to organise and position ourselves as the anti-establishment party.
She said that no one thought they would win in Crewe in Nantwich in 2017, but the people wanted something different to the status quo and Labour were offering change, so she was delivered to parliament.
Smith re-emphasised that the cost of threatening the establishment was that Corbyn was attacked constantly in the media – ‘it doesn’t matter who it is who takes that message, they will attack us’.
Unfortunately, she said that by 2019 some of those attacks had stuck and that rather than be a movement for change, ‘one of the biggest issues we had is that we became so focused on Parliament and the MPs. We need to get our message out to ordinary working-class people’.
The former Crewe and Nantwich MP said that ‘large swathes of people are looking for something better’. She urged listeners to organise in their neighbourhoods and think through what it looks like to seriously engage with their communities, citing her ‘No Holding Back’ listening exercise with Ian Lavery and John Trickett as an example of what the left could be doing to reconnect with voters.
Smith concluded her contribution to the meeting with a call for all listeners to join a trade union and get active in organising their workplaces.
The meeting ended with a discussion on our next steps around campaigning, organising and political education. As James Schneider said ‘now is the time to use our socialist imagination to chart a new course through these crises… The best way we deal with attacks on socialism is to apply our ideas to the world’.
- Watch the full event at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XXI_qcoJtLY