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.


Tony Blair


Tony was gifted the ability to convince himself of the irrefutable veracity of whatever he happened to be saying at the precise moment he was saying it. A pretty expedient evolutionary trait for the political animal since it technically enables the beneficiary to sidestep accusations that they may, for instance, have knowingly misled the nation over Iraqi WMDs.

Sadly for Big Tone, the great unwashed do not necessarily deal in technicalities, though it took them long enough to deny him the benefit of their doubt.

A supremely slippery political operator, granted, but his 3 term tenure was haplessly abetted, to pursue my clumsy evolutionary analogy, by the 10 year absence of any natural predators; the Tory party during this period, having its guns trained fairly consistently on its own feet rather than across the dispatch-box.

No jowls for Tony but a decade or so in the big boy pants with Gordo’s fetid breath on his neck’s nape certainly took a physical toll as he slowly evinced the greying of skin and fraying of hair to which prime ministerial flesh is heir.

Check out Dark Lord Martin Rowson’s reekingly cadaverous portrayal to see what I mean.

Gordon Brown

Ah Gordon, what a sheer pleasure you were to draw.

Those bramblepatch eyebrows, the vast Yorkshire pudding ears, the sweat-curled, dandruff-dusted collars and of course a wuthering wilderness of jowls.

With his glass eye, wooden movements, clunking fist and a succession of chins which appeared to have been hewn from grey Scottish granite, it is hardly surprising that Bionic Brownie was thought to lack the human touch that his predecessor had in such oily, ingratiating abundance.

El Gordo

I was always fascinated by Gordo’s array of uneasy mannerisms. The way he dabbed his fingers gingerly at the top and bottom of each page when addressing a crowd. The way he involuntarily plunged his jaw down into the ashen folds of his meaty neck after each sentence like a fat woman lowering herself into a bubble bath. But most of all I was captivated by his hopeless inability to mask the trembling rage he felt that during the 10 years in which he had skulked through the back-passages of power, politics had become a game which he was desperately ill-equipped to play.

Thanks to Tony, premiership was now the province of the airbrushed ad-man bleeding synthetic pathos; the crisp-suited, air-guitar-playing, soundbite-spraying bandwagon-hopper. And Gordo suddenly found his ample frame being prodded through rather tight-fitting hoops.

Not only that but by the time Mr Blair finally vacated office to hump the after-dinner circuit, the wheezing mare of public opinion which had been flogged so mercilessly over the preceding decade took one look at Gordo’s prodigious carriage and keeled over on the spot.

He must have envisioned his stewardship so differently. In his runner-up bed in Number 11 he’d have bestridden his dreams as an indomitable commander; iron jaw gritted in grim determination as he steered Britain’s creaking frigate through the foaming waters of an economic tempest.

Instead he became that squinting berk on the now infamous YouTube clip. Babbling like a mental patient and sporting a series of increasingly horrifying rictus-like grins which appeared and then vanished again with such alarming speed that one might almost suppose they’d had been occasioned by a the rectal introduction of a cattle prod from one of his less scrupulous aides. Gordo appeared to be in genuine pain. Mind you, suddenly realising that you’ve been born in the wrong century will probably do that to a man.

Still, in the pantheon of epic jowlists Gordo was a collossus and we salute him.

To see Gordo served up with real panache, check out the unholy genius of Morten Morland.