What will we do without Jeremy Corbyn? We may never find out given how long it’s taking him to leave the stage. Even Sinatra’s farewell tour didn’t last this long. The problem is that Corbyn wants to be useful. While that would certainly be a change of pace, it places the onus on others to find a use for him. His disciples propose that he be kept on the front bench, perhaps as shadow foreign secretary, marking their progression through all six stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance and Richard Burgon.
There is a cruelty to all this. No one who has watched the video of Corbyn ambling around in the street encouraging his neighbours to applaud the NHS will have failed to feel some pang of pity for the man. The scene is reminiscent of Delia Smith’s half-time speech to Norwich City fans as they faced relegation in 2005. ‘We need a Labour government here. Where are you? Let’s be ‘avin’ you.’ At least Delia had an excuse: she wasn’t responsible for City’s on-pitch performance. Corbyn is responsible for Labour’s transformation from a Premier League squad to a local amateur side convinced every ref is biased in favour of Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg have paid generous tribute to the Labour leader and, since Covid-19 has suspended politics-as-usual, there’s an argument that Corbyn’s critics should keep a gracious silence in his final days in office. No one likes to kick a man when he’s down.
Well, I do. When it’s this man, I do. When it’s this poisonous cynic who has done so much to antagonise British Jews, this banal egotist who has set back centre-left politics in this country for a generation, then I’m more than happy to strap on my steel toe caps and put the boot in.
Corbyn is lingering in search of a legacy but he already has one. Under his dull, dismal leadership, Labour has become a byword for animus against Jews and every strain of conspiracy theory that proceeds therefrom. The party that had been the lifeblood of social progress has found itself, like the BNP before it, under investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. In December, Corbyn led Labour to its worst defeat since 1935 and saw intergenerational Labour strongholds such as Redcar and Bishop Auckland vote Conservative. No Labour leader, and only a few Tory leaders, has contributed so much to the cause of British conservatism.
This is Corbyn’s legacy. He is the Labour leader that 87 per cent of British Jews believed was antisemitic, that 84 per cent considered ‘a threat specifically to British Jews’, that made 47 per cent ‘seriously consider’ emigration if he became prime minister. These facts cannot be allowed to fade back into obscurity with Corbyn. The Labour party went along with this. Every Labour MP returned in December, every Labour activist who knocked on doors or delivered leaflets, knowingly tried to elect an antisemitic government out of sentimentality and tribalism. For that, those individuals and the Labour party itself will always deserve contempt. In the absence of a viable alternative party, though, the next leader should be given a fair go at decorbynising their ranks.
Decorbynisation cannot be a trim job; the diseased roots must be hacked out. As well as reforming the complaints process along the lines proposed by Lisa Nandy, Labour will have to rid itself of the fallen redeemer and his sullen apostles. Expel him. Expel everyone who nominated him. Expel everyone who voted for him. Burn it down and salt the earth. Failing that, whoever follows Corbyn must make Labour such a hostile environment for Corbynism that as many of his ideologues as possible tear up their membership cards. Rehabilitate those who can be, allow space for reflection and genuine remorse, but drive the rest out without delay. If the next leader will not at least do that, he or she may as well stick Corbyn in their shadow cabinet because he will belong there.
As for the man himself, he should know that his attempts to manufacture a respectable legacy will go nowhere. You made Jews afraid of the Labour party; there is no coming back from that. Those of us who tried to warn people about you from the start take no pleasure in having been vindicated because a great many suffered along the way. There is no redeeming moral to this story. The far-left never takes responsibility for its failures; every defeat recedes into the bitter mythos of betrayal. You won’t be back but your like will be and one day we’ll go through this dreary fanaticism all over again. So the least you can do is spare us the longest retirement speech in history. Take your messiah complex and your dismal little cult and shove off.