Labour, under a misapprehension


Does anyone remember that old Panorama episode about Scientology?

I’m thinking particularly of the clip in which, having spent the past few months following these guys around, BBC hack John Sweeney finally loses his shit and starts screaming in the face of Scientology spokesdrone Tommy Davis.

Sweeney later remarked that it was the eerie composure of the man – the way he’d calmly reel off bare-faced, demonstrable falsehoods as though they were gospel – that finally made him snap.

Most deranged cult apparatchiks, it seems, have the good grace to run around, wild-eyed and tangle-haired, machine-gunning spittle and raving about lizard people or how much god hates fags (lots). In short, to look deranged.

But this one, rather unsportingly, concealed his crazy beneath a veneer of halcyon serenity. An unwavering, lobotomised smile and an oiled, modulated voice. The metronomic nodding of a head tilted in ersatz empathy as if to say: ‘Gosh, you are getting into a frightful state about all this aren’t you? That’s ok though, I forgive you. God forgives you.’

Confronted with the unruffled and unassailable certainty of the man, invulnerable to reason and deaf to all the entreaties of logic, Sweeney started to wonder if he was the unhinged one. If he was the lunatic.

Then, suddenly, he was.

Whenever I see Jeremy Corbyn give an interview, I’m reminded of that encounter – that calm, measured delivery of delusion. The reasonableness of unreason. And I wonder how close to Sweeney-grade apoplexy any watching Labour MPs must be getting.

You’ve only got to look at Ed Balls who, as the Jurassic dents in the Strictly dance floor and the oversized, sweat-sodden garments in wardrobe will doubtless attest, has clearly been prised apart from what questionable sanity he once had.

And it’s the calm of Corbyn wot done it. As political biographer John Campbell wrote of Hugh Gaitskell: ‘by his very reasonableness [he] had a knack for rubbing people up the wrong way.’

I mean leaving aside the policy vacuums and terminal party disunity, the worrying and recurrent anti-Semitism, and the barely perfunctory referendum remain ‘campaign’. Leaving aside only the third mid-term local election since 1974 in which the opposition has failed to gain seats from the government* and the hard left, social media trolling personality cult, Momentum, whose idea of ‘reaching out’ is writing ‘unity’ on a bit of paper, wrapping it around a brick and lobbing it through Angela Eagles’ constituency office window.

Leaving aside poll ratings that make Ed Miliband look like a bona fide bacon sandwich-eating, “touch enough”-pronouncing, election-winning machine, and leaving aside, finally, the fact that all this is being played out in opposition to what is arguably one of the weakest governments in recent memory. One which – to its own surprise as much as anyone’s – staggered into office in 2015 with a majority smaller than the number of ministers Theresa May has now sacked from the front bench. One whose leading lights have, in the time since, divided their efforts fairly evenly between missing economic targets and dredging the party’s septic tank of four decades’ worth of festering Eurosceptical ordure. An exercise which resulted in the mid-term resignation of their prime minister and precipitated a leadership election where not a single member cast a single vote, but characterised by the largest number of back-stabbings since Edward Scissorhands slashed his way to victory at the All-American Conga Championships in the early 90s.

Yes, for heaven’s sake, leaving aside all that, reckon what must really razz off the Parliamentary Labour Party is Jeremy’s confounded reasonableness.

The way that, while the party teeters on the verge of an existential abyss, its leader shuffles beatifically from bake sale to Bolshevik knitwear symposium looking like an exceptionally zen rescue dog and intoning pointless, pacific platitudes about ‘reaching out’, ‘coming together’ and ‘a new style of politics.’

“But, but… that means even less than the gibberish arse-whiffle I used to come out with!” one can almost hear Ed Balls bawl.

And he’s right. It means absolutely nothing. But to the only voters Jezza seems keen to court (namely the ones who already agree with him), that doesn’t matter. They see his potting shed chic and soggy owl grooming and think such a deliberate lack of style must bespeak some sort of substance.

It’s an understandable (if idiotic) conflation. And it’s accompanied by another, more important one. One which I believe goes some way towards explaining why Corbyn is so calm and why the Labour Party is so fucked.

Corbynistas, you understand, don’t look at powerlessness and see inadequacy or incompetence. They see integrity.

It’s not just that they don’t care about winning elections; they don’t want to. To them, ‘power’ – like ‘Zionism’, ‘Blairite’ or ‘compromise’ – is a dirty word. Their movement – their very identity – is predicated on protest, vivified by victimhood and built on a moral high ground whose residents have never been burdened by even the slimmest prospect of influence or responsibility. To them, power doesn’t just corrupt; it is corruption. And trying to gain it entails an abandonment of principle; the unthinkable dilution of ideological purity.

Moreover, these are people to whom merely being relevant – just having their tweedy arses in the driving seat of the clown car – is a giddying novelty. So even if they have to drive that car off an electoral cliff to retain the wheel (by which I mean that Labour is slashed back to fewer than, say, 100 seats at the next election), that’ll still be a vast improvement on what they’re used to. Namely, being gagged and bound in the boot.

I mean it’ll effectively disenfranchise millions of people who, for generations, have depended on Labour to stop the Tories extending slavery to anyone without a knighthood, but give a shit, right? They don’t live in Islington and wouldn’t know ethically-sourced quinoa if they were choking on it.

But until then, St Jeremy – the movement and the man, the movement in the man, more feminist than any mere woman, more sensitive to anti-Semitism than any mere Jew – can continue to waft about the place intoxicated by his own self-possession, muttering about miners and marmalade to ineffably jolly but utterly humourless rallies of his own personality cult.

Another epithet of Gaitskell – this time by Roy Jenkins – described him as a man on a mission ‘to lead his party towards rational, responsible and philosophically coherent socialism.’ It seems Jez has decided to lead his party towards rational, responsible and philosophically coherent extinction.

I just hope Ed Balls can get the care he so desperately needs.

*The first two were presided over by Michael Foot and Neil Kinnock respectively, neither of whom has ever been seen anywhere near Downing Street without a tour guide.

Also posted on the Huffington Post.


The real problem with Ed (it’s not his stupid face)

Ed Miliband 2 shading

Whenever I see Ed Miliband trying to pretend he’s a human, I’m reminded of a particular scene in Mark Tavener’s criminally underrated sitcom Absolute Power in which the oily sultan of spin Charles Prentiss (not so much played by as written for Stephen Fry) is sizing up dowdy Tory shadow minister Joanne Standing (basically a pilot version of The Thick of It‘s Nicola Murray).

‘Who are you, Joanne?’ demands Prentiss. ‘Don’t answer that, I’m making a rhetorical point. You’re Neil Kinnock.’

‘Wrong party, wrong sex,’ she fires back.

‘Both irrelevant.

‘If the British public were forced at gun-point to appoint a new Prime Minister and they could only choose between Jeffrey Archer and Neil Kinnock, who would they pick? A convicted felon and mythomaniac or a sincere and dedicated socialist?

‘They’d choose Archer every time. And why? Because Kinnock is Kinnock. There’s something about that poor bastard that just makes you want to run screaming from the room. And you’re the same. No offence.’

Ed’s the same too. Except instead of running from the room, I just find myself wanting to bully him. I’m not proud of this but I cannot tell a lie. Well obviously that was one but I wont tell another lie until at least the end of this sentence. When I see his face, I just want to stuff it down the nearest toilet. It looks like it belongs there.

This is a problem for any aspiring statesman. I mean imagine if he gets elected. Unlikely, I know, but indulge me. How are we supposed to promote our national interests on the world stage when all anyone around the negotiating table can think about is bog-washing our Prime Minister?

I jest of course. Ed probably hasn’t had to comb the Cillit Bang out of his hair since prep school. Though at the moment it does look as though he’s imminently to renew old acquaintances with a certain Mr Armitage Shanks as his party hurtles toward the electoral toilet.

And this isn’t just because he’s ‘weird.’ Though he does seem pretty weird.

It’s because in respect of the credentials on which he repeatedly invites us to judge him – ideas, policies, intellectual rigour – his CV is as blank as Ed Balls’s Fitness First loyalty card.

The other week we learnt that Labour’s policy review process (the place where all Ed’s lofty principles go to become policies) was being ditched in favour of ‘instrumentalised, cynical nuggets of policy to chime with our focus groups and our press strategies and our desire for a top line in terms of the 24-hour media cycle’.

Fair enough,’ you might say, ‘that’s politics in the age of mass media innit’ but this is Ed Miliband we’re talking about here. The guy for whom the words ‘deep analysis’ seem to possess almost erotic resonance.

And by the way these weren’t the words of some disgruntled back-bencher. These came directly from the mouth of Jon Cruddas – the man in charge of Labour’s so-called policy review. Not the ‘erotic resonance’ ones. The other ones.

I don’t doubt that Ed is a man of principle. I don’t think anyone does. But the thing about principles is they need to be conveyed in a solution of policy. And beyond getting up occasionally to bleat about media monopolies, energy cartels and how his family grocery bill is over seventy shillings a week, Ed doesn’t really have any of those.

A principled politician without any ideas about how to implement them is a bit like that urban myth about the daddy long legs. You know, the one about it having the most lethal venom known to man but not having fangs long enough to bite. I’m going to sidestep the temptation to draw a physical parallel between Ed and a daddy long legs (a graceless tumbleweed of flaccid limbs flailing ineffectually around the skirting-board of electoral plausibility) because, despite my best efforts, I seem to have stumbled into the trap of making a serious point.

And that point is that far from people being ‘desperate for [Ed] to lose the next election,’ (as he told the Huffington Post recently with what I’m assuming he hoped would be interpreted as stoic self-deprecation) the many millions who believe in and depend on the principles Ed claims to stand for – a more equitable arrangement of the economy, a living wage, career paths for the young, fewer bulwarks of entrenched privilege – genuinely mourn his failings. For these people, it’s actually a profound inconvenience that Ed doesn’t know how to smile like a human or go jogging without looking like a llama in an industrial-sized tumble dryer and has all the charisma of Phil Neville giving a 12 part lecture series on erectile dysfunction.

But the truth (and by ‘truth’ I mean a half-baked theory which just occurred to me) is Ed actually likes keeping things nice and superficial. Column kilometers waxing abusive about his wonky nose, his flapping mouth full of accordion-key teeth and his litany of toe-curling pratfalls are meat and drink to him.

Why? Because it’s the ultimate deflector shield.

For Ed to have a mob of critics braying about how he’s incapable of eating bacon sandwich in a prime ministerial fashion lets him totally off the hook. Any curve balls can be batted away with self-righteous comments like ‘ideas matter in politics more than bacon sandwiches.’ In other words, he can tar all the negative press he gets with the broad brush of frivolity and completely ignore the very real charge that, far from being emboldened and distilled, these crucial arguments – cost of living and all that noise – have actually become tainted by association with him.

These are important principles which define the sort of society we want to see and powerful weapons in the fight to establish it. However, the sad fact is that choosing Ed Miliband to champion them is like mounting a heat-seeking missile on a spavined pack-horse.

And all the while Ed continues to make his election campaign the righteous crusade of the bullied schoolboy against ‘people who are far better at photo ops’ than him, it’s the people who actually know how much their weekly grocery bill comes to who will continue to suffer.

Having said all that, look at his silly face.