What a useless shower the Labour party is right now. What a snivelling dance of fools. And I don’t just mean the new lot, under Jeremy Corbyn, although his ongoing decision to surround himself with a team of people who seem to have each been tasked, individually, with emphasising a different bad thing about him does take some beating. I mean the whole train set, radicals and moderates alike. This is a party, right now, reaping what it has sown, which is piety, tribalism and a sort of over-weening preachiness. And now, to mix my metaphors, it is getting bitten by all of them.
Last week, Labour suspended a man called Andrew Fisher, who was, and remains, Jeremy Corbyn’s head of policy. It might sound odd, that ‘and remains’ bit, but don’t blame me. Fisher, inasmuch as I can make out, is mainly tasked with reminding people that although the new leader looks like a genial Captain Birdseye, he actually hails from a section of the party that hates almost everybody else, even more than the rest of it hates almost everybody else, which is saying something.
Fisher’s more recent crime, though, was party disloyalty, via tweets. In part, this involved calling the Miliband shadow cabinet ‘the most abject collection of complete shite’, although having met people who were actually in the Miliband shadow cabinet who would have merrily called it much the same, I’d say this seems wholly forgivable.
More dangerous was his endorsement of the Class War candidate in Croydon South. Fisher now claims this was a joke, and may even be telling the truth, because only Oxbridge trustafarians from west London support Class War these days. No matter. Article something of Labour’s terribly important something or other declares that anybody Labour who joins or supports somebody who isn’t Labour can’t be Labour any more. That’s that.
Fisher’s sins were brought to light by Emily Benn, who was the Croydon South Labour candidate he jokingly told people not to vote for. She was 12,000 votes short of victory, although I don’t think she can blame the Class War guy for that, because he only got 65 of them. Amusingly, anyway, it now turns out that Benn herself had done something similar, by retweeting a suggestion that people who disliked Corbyn’s male-dominated cabinet should consider joining Sandi Toksvig’s Women’s Equality Party.
Action against Fisher was also demanded by Simon Danczuk, which has led in turn to Ken Livingstone demanding that Danczuk himself be kicked out of Labour, because he keeps writing beastly things about Corbyn in the Mail on Sunday. That’s Ken Livingstone, of course, who had to actively run against the Labour candidate in a London mayoral election to get kicked out of his party, but was let back in anyway after he’d won.
What is wrong with these people? It’s like they’re children. Part of the madness comes, I suppose, from social media, whereby every utterance is ‘campaigning’, even if you’re just doing it in the office, on the loo. The bulk of it, though, is the idea that Labour people have to be Labour forever, even if they completely disagree with Labour, or else they’re not Labour. It’s weird and it’s needy and it’s anti–intellectual, and it makes no sense at all. They went big on this during the leadership election, when a host of people with politics virtually indistinguishable from Jeremy Corbyn’s were kicked out on the basis of prior support for the Greens or the Scots Nats. Because, of course, if they were true Labour they’d support Labour even while disagreeing with Labour, because that’s what Labour does.
Why does it? Nobody else behaves like this. Nobody else turns party into a tribe, not just putting loyalty over policy, but feigning a virtue with it, too. In any other party, anyone who disagreed with the party line as often as Corbyn has might have been expected to resign at least once, if only out of embarrassed deference to the voters who had blithely ticked the ‘Labour’ box. Perhaps due to its history, though, Labour is not merely a jumble of policies in the manner of other parties. Labour is a ‘movement’ and if you aren’t with it, you’re against it. No matter which direction it currently happens to be moving in.
This is what keeps all those moderate Labour folk — sensible people, people I like, people who’d rather vomit on themselves in public than go on Russia Today, people who could totally be trusted to run a country without accidentally breaking it or losing it or allying it with Hezbollah — so hopelessly shackled to a party with a leadership none of them agree with about anything. They won’t shift Corbyn anytime soon, because the members won’t let them. They know full well that almost everybody in Britain who would ever vote for him already has. Yet they stay.
This is what happens when you brainwash yourself into believing that your lot are the only good guys; when you forget that it’s not the club that matters, but what the club does. This is what happens when you grow so used to feeling superior to everybody outside Labour that you can no longer properly believe such people are proper, moral humans at all. It’s not a church. It’s not a sin to go somewhere else for a bit if you need to. Not when the nuts do it, and not when you do either. Pull yourselves together. People are laughing.
Hugo Rifkind is a writer for the Times.