Those of us on the left should imagine how our political rivals felt when watching Jeremy Corbyn’s latest victory speech. English Conservatives and Scottish Nationalists do not wake at 3 a.m., drenched in sweat, worrying about how they can defeat Jeremy Corbyn. Like a drunk who punches his own face, Corbyn beats himself, leaving Labour’s rivals free to do what they will. For English leftists, however, trying to salvage what they can from the wreckage of their party, the apparently simple question of how to take on the far left appears impossible to answer.
Commentators throw around the ‘far left’ label without stopping to ask what it means. You begin to understand its echoing emptiness when you look around and notice Corbyn has no good writers on his side. In my world of liberal journalism, everyone is saying that when talented journalists decide to support Corbyn, their talent abandons them, and they produce gushing pieces that would embarrass a lovestruck teenager.
The last upsurge of left-wing militancy in the 1970s had Eric Hobsbawm, E.P. Thompson and other formidable socialist thinkers behind it. Joseph Stiglitz, Thomas Piketty and Danny Blanchflower looked like their successors. They too have produced formidable work on how to make society fairer. They agreed to help Corbyn, but walked away after discovering that Corbynism is just a sloganising personality cult: an attitude, rather than a programme to reform the country. That attitude is banal in content, conspiracist in essence, utopian in aspiration and vicious in practice.
Isabel Hardman and Marcus Roberts discuss the leadership result on Coffee House shots
Paradoxically, it is all the harder to defeat for that. Consider its components, and understand the difficulties facing Labour’s moderates. Conspiracy theory saturates the far left as thoroughly as it saturates the far right.