David Lammy says he regrets nominating Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader. We are meant, presumably, to be impressed by this admission. Given that it was delivered at Limmud, a Jewish festival of ideas, it sounds perilously close to an expression of contrition. Lammy has every reason to be contrite given the part he played in the Corbyn catastrophe.
The guilty men of the Corbyn era typically belong to one of four categories. There were the True Believers — the pensionable Bennites and millenarian millennials with righteous faith in the leader and the (never properly defined) ideology he represented. There were the Fellow Travellers — the spineless soft-leftists (but I repeat myself) who knew the man was bad news yet were the loudest voices in the chorus of ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ the minute it looked like he might not be a total electoral duffer. Then there were the Concerned of Twitter — mostly Blairite types who thought this whole antisemitism business was ghastly but not ghastly enough to do much more than post ‘solidarity’ tweets and pen the occasional op-ed in the Observer.
Lammy belongs to the fourth and easily the thickest category: the Broadeners. These were the chumps who gave Corbyn their nomination in 2015 not because they wanted him to win but because they were sure he wouldn’t and wished merely to ‘broaden the debate’. They broadened it, all right. Perhaps Lammy was on manoeuvres, trying to curry some favour with the left. Perhaps he is just another Labour sentimentalist swayed by the myth that the far-left are excitable but well-intentioned social democrats rather than the enemies of social democracy they in fact are. Not that it matters. Lammy helped Corbyn become leader and would struggle to qualify even for ‘Concerned of Twitter’ status. Indeed, if anything affronted him about the 1,666 most infamous days of Labour’s history it was Corbyn’s neutrality on Brexit.
If Lammy were sincerely sorry for his role in the Corbyn outrage, that would be welcome, but regret would still be far from sufficient. There should be no future role in the Labour Party for Corbyn or his acolytes but the same should apply to the Broadeners. There is a moral case, of course: their actions made possible everything that followed. However, the more immediate problem is that these people have amply demonstrated just how fantastically dense they are. You can’t fault a man like Richard Burgon for nominating Corbyn; he actually believed in the project and, besides, managing to spell his own name on the nominating form was no small feat. Lammy, however, is not a simpleton. In fact, during his first decade in Parliament he presented as a fairly moderate New Labour sort, though in recent years he seems to have become woke. He had a couple of stints as a minister of state in the Blair-Brown governments and appeared to have all the makings of a Cabinet minister and perhaps a senior one.
This is what makes him a particularly unforgivable Broadener. He went into the enterprise with a brain and yet he saw no risk in helping a rancid crank onto the ballot when membership rule changes made it ridiculously easy for entryists to join en masse. What does someone with such shonky political judgement have to offer a party trying to rebuild its credibility, other than an object lesson in what not to do? All Lammy has done by apologising is draw attention to his error and the political naiveté that seemingly shaped it.
Then again, perhaps he’s not all that naive — or all that sincere. After all, Lammy has been for many years an outspoken critic of racism in Britain and of its normalisation within mainstream political parties. Yet when he nominated Corbyn, it was after the Islington North MP had called Islamist hate preacher Raed Salah ‘a very honoured citizen’, ’a voice that must be heard’ and invited him to tea on the Commons terrace. Salah came to prominence thanks to a 2007 speech in which he suggested Jews use children’s blood to bake their Passover bread — the blood libel. He wrote after 9/11: ‘A suitable way was found to warn the 4,000 Jews who work every day at the Twin Towers to be absent from their work on September 11, 2001.’ It is not as though Lammy could have been unaware of the Salah connection: when Salah was detained during a 2012 visit to Britain, Corbyn was among the most vocal critics of the Home Secretary’s efforts to deport him. Why did none of this impact on Lammy’s decision to nominate him?
Which leads us, finally, to when Lammy had his conversion. In March 2020, he introduced Corbyn’s remarks at the Bernie Grant 20th Anniversary Memorial Lecture. (Grant, Lammy’s predecessor in Tottenham, was a friend and political ally of Corbyn.) Here’s a flavour of what Lammy said about the man he nominated to be Labour leader:
“There is no one more appropriate than Jeremy Corbyn to deliver this lecture. It's really because of that relationship and that friendship that, back in 2015, when Jeremy was what you would describe as on the fringes of the parliamentary Labour Party, I said to Jeremy, “Please will you come up and launch my election campaign in Tottenham?” And, being Jeremy, up the High Road he came on his bicycle and he launched my campaign.A few years— a couple of years later, we— or, we got out of that election, so it wasn’t a couple of years— it was a month or so later, and he said, “David, I need your support.” I said, “What do you need my support for?” He said, “I want to be on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee”. “Of course, I’ll give you my support.” “And then shortly after that I want to lead the Labour Party.” It’s because of these relationships, it’s because of these histories, and what the South Africans so wonderfully articulated — the struggle — that we’re all here in a spirit of kinship with Bernie Grant.I’m very, very grateful that Jeremy Corbyn has given up his time to deliver this lecture. I know the words are going to be powerful. I can’t wait for every single sentence, and I hope that, in time, this speech and a few others will be published by the man who has led the Labour Party for this last period.
First things first: find yourself an introductory speaker whose confidence in your oratory is so great that he calls for your speech to be published before you’ve given it. More to the point: Lammy is speaking here in the final days of Corbyn’s leadership, after four and a half years of his party waging war on British Jews, while the Equality and Human Rights Commission was in the middle of investigating Labour’s unlawful treatment of Jews. The question occurs: if none of this made him see the error of his ways, what changed between March 2020 and his appearance at Limmud? Other, that is, than his being promoted to shadow foreign secretary last month.
Naive? Lammy? Not a chance. The man’s a cynic, a humbug, an operator. He’s anything but naive.