Nick Cohen

In the cult of Corbyn, dissent will not be tolerated

In the cult of Corbyn, dissent will not be tolerated
Text settings

The far left is preparing the ground for its coming purge of the Labour party by burning down every rational objection that stands in its way. To take the most rational objection to its plans, consider the case of a Labour MP who breaks with Jeremy Corbyn on Brexit or racism. He or she is doing nothing more than following the example of Jeremy Corbyn, who broke with the Labour whip 428 times during his decades as a backbencher.

A left that reserves a special place in its demonology for ‘McCarthyism’ – the persecution of individuals for their political beliefs – should have no difficulty with Corbyn’s opponents following their consciences too. What’s sauce for the old goose. Instead of being consistent, it has developed an absurd and demeaning argument, which is uttered by sycophants who have willingly thrown away any claim they might have to possess the capacity for independent thought.

Chris Williamson, a pro-Corbyn thug, is encouraging like minded activists to deselect his Labour colleagues in Parliament. At his rallies, he escapes the charge of hypocrisy by turning Corbyn into a godlike figure. Jeremy Corbyn is the Labour party he argues, and always was the Labour party. And if he is, and always was the Labour party – its once and future king – it was as impossible for Corbyn to have ever been against the Labour party as it was for Corbyn to have been against himself. When he voted against the Labour whip hundreds of times, he was not voting against the Labour party, rather the Labour party was voting against the Labour party. Now that he is the leader of the Labour party, opposition to him is not ‘dissent’ – to use another word the left throws around without understanding its meaning – nor is the deselection of his opponents McCarthyism. An attack on Corbyn can never be legitimate. It is an attack on the Labour party itself, for they are indivisible.

‘L'état, c'est moi,’ said Louis XIV. ‘Le parti, c’est moi,’ says Corbyn.

As an admirer reported from a Williamson rally in Stoke-on-Trent

Chris also – rightly – argued that not once did Jeremy Corbyn vote against the party as a backbencher. Rather he voted with the party against the direction New Labour imposed on the party.

Skwawkbox, the Canary, Owen Jones, the Novara media crowd and all the others who operate as Labour press officers, never say that a Labour politician is entitled to his or her point of view, as Jeremy Corbyn was under previous Labour leaders.

You cannot generalise about Labour party members. Many MPs, who are denounced by the far left, will retain the Labour nomination because local members support them. Overall, however, the membership appears to agree. It remains united behind ‘Jeremy’ – 80 per cent think he is doing a good job as leader, according to a recent poll.

The Monty Python view of far left politics isn’t holding up well. When Corbyn became Labour leader, eminent commentators assured me that his supporters would be accusing him of selling out within months. By many left wing standards, he has indeed sold out. The 2017 Labour manifesto promised an enhanced welfare state for the middle class while maintaining Tory cuts to the incomes of the poorest, who need relief the most. Corbyn has stopped talking about unilateral nuclear disarmament, a core left wing demand from the 1950s onwards. And then there is the Labour leadership’s support for Brexit.

Far from splitting into the British equivalents of the Judean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judea, the left remains united behind Corbyn. The Communist Party of Britain, the Socialist Workers Party, and ambitious Labour backbenchers see no mileage in trying to outflank Corbyn on the left, because to their minds Corbyn is the left.

Never take your political ideas from comedians. They want to make you laugh, not think. Like all movements the far left can splinter in Pythonesque fashion. But its dominant characteristic has been obedience to leadership cults around Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Pol Pot and Chavez, accompanied by ‘party mindedness’ or patrinost, as Lenin called it: the absolute faith in the party, whatever it did. Intellectual honesty and consistency becomes impossible in these circumstances. Leon Trotsky told doubters in 1924, before Stalin made him regret his words, ‘We can only be right with and by the party, for history has provided no other way of being in the right.’ Even if the party behaves unjustly ‘it is my party, and I shall support the consequences of the decision to the end’.

As you can see, interests of the party, or in the case of Labour, the interests of Corbyn, for Corbyn is the party, trump all else. He can defy the whip, his opponents cannot. He can support a right-wing European policy because the very fact of his support makes it left wing. In these circumstances, judgement of an issue on its merits becomes a form of treason. ‘Party mindedness’ and the leader worship that goes with it, distinguishes the Labour left from the Brexit right. Whatever the apparent similarities, the British right still clings to arguments rather than leaders. If Boris Johnson were to decide that it was in Britain’s national interests to stay as close to the EU as possible, his supporters would abandon him, as Johnson well knows.

Momentum, however, has spent months agonising about what to say about Brexit, and appears to have concluded it should say nothing at all. It proved it is in the grip of Trotsky’s subservience by deciding that the battle it wanted to fight was the battle to deselect Labour MPs and replace them with candidates who know without needing to be told that they can ‘only be right with and by the Party’. Questions about Brexit or anti-Semitism are no longer questions of right or wrong. If you disagree with Corbyn on Brexit or anti-Semitism, you are against the party. Your only motive can be a hatred of ‘Jeremy’. If Corbyn were to change his mind on Brexit or anti-Semitism, his supporters would change their minds. The merits of the arguments are irrelevant. Loyalty is all.

Just as Brexit is destroying conservative claims to be the voice of practical common-sense politics, so Corbynism is destroying the left’s claim to be a natural home for dissenters. To put it another way, if you believe that the willingness to break free from obedience and conformity is the first step to living an honest life, then the Labour party is no longer your party.