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5 August 2015

Labour could – and has – done a lot worse than Jeremy Corbyn as leader

Labour appears to be having one of its bouts of internal division. But talk of crisis - and words from Tony Blair - are misplaced. 

By Edward Pearce

 The Labour Party is having another of its turns. And turns for Labour constitute a succession: with or without Ramsay MacDonald – 1931? For or against ‘Nye’ – early to mid-fifties? A queue of nervous aspirants hesitating to attack the Hugh Gaitskell who had won the 1955 leadership contest – 1960? Tony Benn’s friends against his enemies 1976-79, that last one while the party was still in government! Resumed with added SDP 1981-1985. At the end of them all, standing there like Fortinbras in Act V of Hamlet, was the bringer of great, sleek, party political peace, Tony Blair.

Now that hostilities have happily resumed, it is natural that people are outraged that a careerist like Jeremy Corbyn, a political climber through the idea of office spurned, the official car not sought, the steady maintenance of down-the-line-and-after identical convictions, should actually win on the pathetic grounds of mere respect. It is equally natural that all attention should be focussed and guidance sought from the late, but still pronouncing King of Denmark!

 Now in respect of winning elections, Mr Blair has, very reasonably, risen from his millions to tell various delinquent people, actually liking Jeremy Corbyn, to get their heads seen to. Here they are – contemplating a vote for an old fashioned MP, not much of a politician, without the graces, burdened by convictions and upsetting all sorts of rather badly laid plans.  Now for my part, I am something of a fiscal conservative, don’t think Keynes meant us to shovel in money at every dip in employment and am the biographer of Denis Healey, the ultimate hard realist.  But Corbyn, to put it in a rather Tory way, is a man of honour: “a good russet–coated captain who knows what he fights for and loves what he knows” , as Oliver Cromwell, another spoiler of obvious successions, put it.

 Anyway, fiscal conservatism is one thing and sensible, but how is Corbyn’s talk of getting rid of the Trident system shocking in any way at all? It is a sleepwalking defence policy costing how many billions? An undertaking undertaken over thirty years ago as a defence against a Soviet Union headed by Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev – old hat, tired Soviet, never all that likely to direct them.  Birmingham and/or the bunker under Downing Street were never much at risk. The current threat comes from men, on-message from Allah, letting off bombs in public places and trying to cut off innocent heads, unutterable people beyond the understanding or mercy of any God within reach. Against such people, Trident is about as useful as a rolled-up-copy of the Daily Telegraph. Trident is the trophy weapon. An effective defence against little bombs and big enough killings hasn’t been devised, but if it is, we should get it. Trident, by contrast, is empty swank. Getting shot of it is a piece of the Corbyn overview to quietly delight any fiscal conservative.

As for Tony Blair, advisor to J.P. Morgan, approver of the Egyptian military putsch, trusted friend of Rupert Murdoch – universal crony, let me reminisce. I rather think I was the first person to have written an article about him expressing strong admiration. It must be somewhere in the  Daily Telegraph  records.

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I watched him on his first outing at Energy – (shadow spokesman), and he did something one had wanted Labour spokesmen to do for so long. They, University men, perhaps public school, certainly highly educated, frequently felt overpowering urges to rant, to hit the Despatch box however limply, and generally do a factory gates act. The impulse was common in those days – downward aspiration! They were not playing false. People in their generation had often been brought into Labour politics on the back of sympathy and affection for working class people. So pretty ineptly, in the 1830 Gothic of the Chamber, they would do well-meant, trainee soap box.

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Not so the rising man of the late 1980s. He wasn’t brilliant. His arguments are not radiant in my memory. But the manner is. It was reasonable, soft-spoken and rational, or at any rate rational-seeming, and in perfect consequence, persuasive. Michael White of the Guardian accosted me a day or two later in a corridor. “Who is this chap you’re in love with?”  “Love be damned” or something like it, I said. “He’s effective. He sounds rational.”   

 Blair had that and no other merit. He sounded reasonable and educated and demi-semi nice for thirteen years and two elections, before office and in it. At the end of which, in 2001, he joined Britain and its hapless soldiers to an unprovoked, Washington-commanded war which continues! Who is Blair that he should warn the Labour Party or anyone at all against somebody else?  This is not to say “Vote Corbyn” only to remind the Labour Party that they have done worse.