A flurry of articles in the UK Guardian has poured scorn on Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign for the leadership of the British Labour Party. The Guardian, a liberal newspaper with an online readership of 30 million worldwide, has provided a platform for the deep angst that has now taken hold within the British establishment.
Winning the prize for most ridiculous is columnist Jonathan Jones, who claims to represent “the truly ethical wing of the left”. Jones also claims to have once flirted with membership of the Communist Party of Great Britain, but decided against the idea after a stay at the hostel of the Komsomol – a now defunct Stalinist youth organisation – in Moscow just before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
In an opinion piece on 8 August, Jones asserts that “Marxist ideas”, which he holds responsible for “human suffering almost unequalled in the history of the world”, have come alive “in some spectral form in Corbyn’s runaway campaign and the enthusiasm of his supporters for a truly socialist Labour party”.
On 12 August, former PM Tony Blair, who led Britain into the criminal invasion of Iraq in 2003, pleaded with Guardian readers, “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 … please understand the danger we are in”.
Asserting that UK Labour “is walking eyes shut, arms outstretched, over the cliff’s edge to the jagged rocks below”, Blair urged his Labour colleagues to launch “a rugby tackle” to save Labour not only from defeat at the next election, but from a “rout” and “possibly annihilation”.
Needless to say, Blair’s bleating has fallen on deaf ears, or perhaps driven his audience into Corbyn’s arms. Since Corbyn entered the leadership contest on 15 June, 200,000 voters have either joined Labour, or become supporters eligible to vote in the September poll. A YouGov poll, commissioned by the Times on 11 August, suggests that Corbyn is set to gain 53 percent of first preference votes, 32 percentage points ahead of his next closest rival, Andy Burnham.
Blair protégé Liz Kendell, who is trailing a distant last among the four leadership contenders, told the Guardian on 10 August: “We can’t turn back and be the unelectable party of protest. I don’t want to protest. I want to get into power”. A Guardian editorial praised Kendell on 14 August for having “shown courage in telling Labour audiences what they don’t want to hear about the need to win Tory votes”.
A conga line of right wing Blairites – including former home secretary Alan Johnson, former health secretary Alan Miliburn and Labour financier John Mills – has railed against the prospect of a Corbyn victory in the pages of the Guardian. Miliburn warned Guardian readers on 23 July: “I’m afraid history tells a very brutal lesson about what happens when Labour lurches to the left.
“You are out of office, not for five years or 10, but for very many years to come. Now, if the Labour party really does have a death wish, then that is where it will go.”
Former foreign secretary Jack Straw and shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, another leadership contender, have described Corbyn’s infrastructure investment plan as “economic illiteracy” and “bad economics”.
“Printing money year after year to pay for things you can’t afford doesn’t work – and no good Keynesian would ever call for it”, Cooper told an audience in Manchester on 13 August. “History shows it hits your currency, hits investment, pushes up inflation and makes it harder not easier to get the sustainable growth in a global economy we need to tackle poverty and support our public services.”
Cooper’s argument for “sustainable investment” (i.e. ongoing privatisation and squeezing of funding to public services) has won her the Guardian’s backing. A 14 August editorial described her as the only candidate who could unite the party.
But Labour voters are not looking for a leader to hold the left in check. Corbyn’s campaign has shaken up British politics and given voice to the discontented. Just as a revolt against austerity has found political expression in Syriza in Greece and Podemos in Spain, albeit within the limitations of electoral politics, “Corbymania” is a breath of fresh air in an otherwise desultory political atmosphere.