People keep asking me what I think of Jeremy. He was first elected to the House of Commons in 1983 in the same election as Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and myself. This was the election when Michael Foot was leader and the manifesto was described as “the longest suicide note in history” by Gerald Kaufman. It committed us to leave the EU, disarm of all nuclear weapons and renationalise all the industries the Tories had privatised. Reading it now, it was excitingly radical. Labour lost the election badly and went on to lose in ’87, and ’92 thus enabling Mrs Thatchers cruel policies to hold sway for 8 long years.
All his time in Parliament Jeremy has been an oppositionist, always on the backbenches, very frequently voting against the leadership, never having to put forward a programme that could be implemented. Always he has been a nice guy. I agree with him on Palestine and Trident and we all agree that we need to build affordable houses, reduce inequality, reverse the commercialisation of the public services and shift UK foreign policy. But the bitter divisions between the leader and his office and the overwhelming majority of the parliamentary party is a disaster and a sign of bad leadership. It will give the Tories a clear run to do what they want with no effective opposition.
In a very real sense Corbyn is the son of Blair. Labour people were so fed up with New Labour style and substance – on Iraq and many other things – that they wanted something radical and none of the other leadership candidates offered this. On top of this the new system for electing the leader, brought in under Miliband but first proposed by Blair, wiped out the need for the leader to have support from MPs, Trade Union members and party members and offered votes to new people who could sign up very cheaply. Hundreds of thousands of new members signed up including many from ultra left groups who have always been hostile to Labour. They voted for Corbyn as leader in large numbers. The excitement around Corbyn is similar to that around Tony Benn when he repeatedly contested the leadership but it led nowhere.
I took the view once Corbyn was elected that all should work with him, serve in his Shadow Cabinet and agree democratic ways of resolving contested questions. Corbyn said he wanted to be inclusive but his office was not and alienated almost the whole of the parliamentary party by failing to consult or agree ways of going forward. This has produced the current disaster which will produce a very bad result for Labour in 2020 and probably thereafter. In fact with the loss of 40 seats in Scotland Labour cannot win outright but the Tories could lose. The best possible scenario is a coalition of progressive forces but with Labour’s current mess that is unlikely to happen.