Like the Samurai, Labour faces the verdict of the machine guns

There’s a scene in the Tom Cruise epic, ‘The Last Samurai,’ where the main characters – noble samurai (as the film title suggests) – charge the battlefield against the Western-trained forces of the Japanese Emperor.

One by one, these brave warriors are cut down by machine-gun fire. Their swords and bows and arrow useless against the latest military technology of the time. They know they face near certain death, but honour and belief drives them forward.

This final battle signifies the point where modernity and the ‘old ways’ collide. Where principle makes it stand against an unworthy pragmatism.

I know which side Jeremy Corbyn would instinctively find himself on.

He and his supporters think it is more important to be right, to cling to their truth, rather than to accommodate their beliefs for the sake of winning elections.

Some will see nobility in that. Others will see it as a dereliction of duty. Politics requires compromise and forfeiting the chance to govern deprives Labour of a chance to make life better for the people and communities it represents.

Like the samurai, though, the Corbynistas embrace glorious defeat, making their own spectacular lunge at the Gatling guns. Unfortunately, it’s going to be the chests of brave Labour MPs will take the bullets for Jeremy Corbyn.

It’s hard to explain the unreality of where Labour now finds itself.

The party faces the bleakest prognosis. All the evidence suggests it is heading for the worst general election result for a century, undermining its very claim to be a potential party of government.

This week, the party has wracked-up local election losses in many of its heartlands in the north of England and Midlands. Worse is to come.

Corbyn has zero prospect of winning the election. In fact, he seems to have abandoned the thought of even holding on to what Labour has.

His priority, and that of his acolytes, is to guarantee that whatever remains of the parliamentary Labour party after June 8 contains enough hard left members to guarantee that a successor to Corbyn will get on the ballot paper for the next leadership election.

MPs control this process. It takes 15% of the parliamentary party to nominate a leadership candidate.

It’s no secret that Corbyn would have happily stood down last year when his own MPs challenged him. There was no guarantee, however, that a left-wing successor would make the ballot in his place. So he had to run again (as the incumbent, he was automatically included).

Hence the priority of getting his allies into winnable seats for the fight to come.

At the moment, he is trying to line-up the Rochdale seat in Greater Manchester for his political secretary, the Scottish former MP Katy Clarke. It has become vacant following the Corbyn-controlled National Executive Committee’s black-balling of the sitting MP, Simon Danczuk, over tabloid coverage of his private life.

Meanwhile, the safe Labour seat of Liverpool Walton (actually the party’s safest with a 27,000 majority) is being kept warm for an aide to Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite.

How did it come to this? How did Labour embrace such ‘poverty of ambition’ as Aneurin Bevan once put it? How can purifying whatever charred wreckage remains of the parliamentary party become more important than trying to win the maximum number of seats?

Unsurprisingly, morale among Labour MPs is as rock bottom. Seven years out of office, many wonder if they will ever return to power.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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  • hgreen

    Oh so a desire for a reduction in inequality and renewal of our public services is now being described as ‘poverty of ambition’?

    Sadly this post says more about its authors own ‘poverty of ambition’ that he sees no other way forward for this country than to pander to the elites and accept destruction of our public services.

  • Muiris

    You must be in Governmwnt to implement any of your principals/ priorities. The ideal is the enemy of the good, in politics, as elsewhere in life.

  • NotNowJohnny

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the desire. It’s the plan for achieving the reduction in inequality that lacks ambition. Without a credible plan the desire for a reduction in inequality will remain forever a desire. It won’t actually change anything.

  • T.E.Lawrence

    It would be interesting to see if the New Lord Mayor of Machester – Andy Burnham would throw is name back into the ring for any future labour party leadership contest ? From my rose tainted glasses he looks like the only person who could unite such a badly factured party and give its ship some sort of guidence and bearings where it should be sailing to ?

  • aquifer

    The TV camera was on his face when the result of the earlier Labour leadership contest were called. His shocked and fallen face told the sad story of the Labour Party. The expectation of preferment for those who came from regional industrial areas, played the party game, knew the people in the Unions and plenty of the smart rising stars in the party. Good luck to him in that great city.

  • Jim M

    Black-balling Danczuk seems reasonable considering the allegations…

  • aquifer

    The whole of British Politics is a mid-life crisis amidst globalised chaos, risky but stupid and in the long run futile behaviour. This man’s squalid but legal acts were an opportunity for Labour to defend freedom within the law when the Tories bridle against it, but they fluffed it of course.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’m afraid I think Burnham isn’t the person. In the run up to 2015 there was an interview with Brillo Pad Neill where Burnham was exposed for me as a lightweight; and when I was hoping he’d prove me wrong in the leadership contest, he kind of shrivelled. Cometh the hour, cometh not the man. I just think he lacks depth and heft. He can be a decent minister but he’s not the solid, reassuring figure, with a soupçon of vision, that is needed as a leader.

    I think Yvette Cooper is the best leader Labour doesn’t have. She can embarrass May because she’s smarter than May, more in touch with the real problems of the majority and has a much more coherent worldview. I can see the country starting to wish Cooper was PM by the time we get to the Brexit deal, if she’s leading Labour. Let’s see what state the hard left is in after the election, maybe she has another chance. Her problem for now is a Labour Party membership which is out of sync with the country. Cooper isn’t.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I couldn’t agree more, Kevin. Labour members have put the party into the hands of politicians used to Machiavellian fighting for space within the party and with no realistic idea about connecting with people to their right and winning them over.

    Clearly Labour will lose heavily and deserves to. In a sense it’s not daft of them, from a self-preservation point of view, to focus on how to retain control of the shattered remnants. The next 5-10 years of the left will depend on who wins the battle for the hearts and minds of Labour members in the week or two after 8th June, when the member opinion crystallises on the “lessons” of the defeat. We don’t know that much about the many new members. How pragmatic are they? How starry-eyed?

    Much depends on their good judgment, or otherwise. The 2016 re-election suggested they are politically clueless. Let’s hope they will surprise us. I might even rejoin to help.

  • Clanky

    The problem is that it is not a question of accommodating their beliefs. Poll after poll have shown that the majority of people agree with Cornyn’s policies, so long as they don’t know that they are Cornyn’s policies.

    It is not Cornyn’s beliefs which are the barrier, it is the way that he is perceived by people, no amount of moving to the centre ground would ever appease the right wing UK Press. Remember these are the same news papers who printed stories about how Miliband hated Britain, anything short of huge tax breaks for the rich will always be portrayed in the UK media as communism.

  • Jim M

    Not sure if you’re being serious? Sure they were legal but Labour are right to kick him out; but the way Meagher phrased it you’d think he’d just had an affair or something… Just because something is legal doesn’t mean one’s party have to let you stay.

  • hgreen

    Cooper had her chance and failed miserably. Her failure to oppose Tory welfare reform in 2015 marked her card as just another triangulating new Labour shill. She should join the lib dems.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    That’s not actually true, she did oppose Tory welfare reform in 2015.
    The BBC 2015 summary of her position on welfare reform was:
    “Ms Cooper has made her opposition to the government’s welfare reforms known, calling the bill “unfair and damaging”. She backs the government’s benefits cap, limiting the amount one household, in principle, but she has vowed to protect tax credits from cuts, warning that the government’s plans will leave working families worse off. She has pledged to establish a Welfare Reform Commission to look at “how state best supports work, prevents poverty and delivers value for money”. Ms Cooper has also outlined a commitment to ending child poverty within a generation.”
    Harriet Harman, in my view mistakenly, as then interim leader made the call for Labour to abstain on the second vote; this was to hold the PLP together after the battle had been lost anyway on the bill, which Labour had opposed. Cooper’s explanation of what happened, the day after, was:
    “The reality is that Labour did oppose the Welfare Reform Bill yesterday; we voted for a Labour amendment that would have stopped the whole Bill altogether. But that’s got completely lost in the muddle over the second vote, which was an unsuccessful compromise to try to hold the Parliamentary party together.”

  • hgreen

    Cooper abstained on the second reading of the Tory welfare reform bill in 2015 along with another 183 labour MPs. Corbyn voted against. She failed in her most basic role as a Labour MP. She’s no chance of being leader with the current voting structure.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    She followed party orders. It was a mistake of the party, but not her decision – aim that one at Harriet Harman.

    You think Corbyn is a better bet as leader than Yvette Cooper?

  • aquifer

    Hi Kevin A big post of mine disappeared, any particular reason? If you are going to use it to educate the party that is fair enough, but I hope it did not just make you squeamish.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Labour’s supposed to be about more than a “desire” to reduce inequality and renew public services, it’s supposed be about getting to actually do that in government. I have no interest in a Labour Party that sees staying pristine on the sidelines as preferable to being in government. There are fringe parties for that.

    Labour is about changing the country for the better, not watching it get changed for the worse while moaning in an ideologically pure way.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Well, it’s a choice between having policies which will benefit the exploited classes, or ones which will benefit the extracting classes. If you choose the first option, then either you hide your real aims until you are in power, then lay yourself open to charges of dishonesty, or you clearly say what you want to do, laying yourself open to attacks from the almost universally right wing, establishment supporting media. If on the other hand you can become a semi-tory party, you can win power and inevitably betray those who need you to ameliorate the excesses of capitalism.

    The problem is one of education and false consciousness on one hand, and a mass propaganda media which is the unashamed and unopposed mouthpiece of the establishment, and how to combat those.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    She should join the tories.

  • hgreen

    And I have no interest in a Labour Party that is just a softer version of the Tories. There’s very little radical or “ideologically pure” about the current Labour policies under Corbyn.

  • hgreen

    Well I think both have their strengths and weaknesses.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    That’s the irony – for all the railing against “Blairites” and “closet Tories”, Momentum Labour haven’t actually got any radical solutions for anything. They have similar domestic policies to Miliband, only put forward with utter incompetence.

    Where they have made themselves unelectable is on defence, foreign policy (fruitcake anti-West stuff) and Brexit (confused, unclear, appalling leadership).

    But above all the problem is the people. Emily Thornbury is the only politician in Labour backing Corbyn who has any intellectual heft at all; the rest are basically backbenchers who in normal times would not be considered smart enough / talented enough / experienced enough for the positions they hold.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I think some people are exploited and I think some at the top are exploitative but the problem is the vast majority of the population isn’t either of those things. Sorry but I don’t see this as purely about some outdated idea of class struggle, capitalism against the people etc. We need more regulated markets and more redistribution but we kid ourselves if we think the least well off can be healthy or prosperous without successful business. Even Corbyn gets that – he just doesn’t sound very convincing about it.

  • hgreen

    Flip your argument round. If there’s little radical about current policies why has Corbyn come under sustained attack from members in his own party? It’s not momentum and Corbyn railing against the Blairites it’s the other way round.

    Their Brexit policy is the right one but sadly the electorate don’t do nuance these days.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    The idea of ‘class struggle’ is not outdated. There has been a concerted attempt in the last 40 or so years to make out that this is so, and that the capitalist system is the only option. However, it is clear to anyone who is not a defender of capitalism that if you are not an exploiter then you are being exploited, even if it is just as an uncomplaining cog which helps keep the wheels turning.

    It is also clear if you honestly study history, that this has been the case for the last 5000 years or so. Your complacency is not convincing.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Anyone who characterises the Labour left as being ‘starry-eyed’ and the right as being ‘pragmatic’ is really just a fellow traveller for toryism with a small ‘t’ The right of Labour have repeatedly voted along with the tories on a number issues which are disadvantageous to the poor but generally to the benefit of the better off. Shameful behaviour, really.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    “Followed . . orders” I’ve heard that one before. It wasn’t a good excuse then either.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    But there is no point in being in power if your policies are practically indistinguishable from the other parties.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    “Anti-west stuff” – you mean not following the US’s warmongering like a blind poodle? What you are really saying is that any attempt to deal with Russia and Syria in an even-handed and rational way is “anti-west”. How reasonable!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    No I mean the whole narrative thread of the likes of Milne and Corbyn, which seems to think Western power is the root of all evil in the world and who regard the bad behaviour of other countries as somehow not their responsibility really. It’s a complete double standard, that overlooks awful human rights records and murderous brutality from Russia, Syria, Hamas, the IRA or whoever, the only common thread being that they are all people with a dislike for Western governments.

    I’m not of the right but the Bagehot column in The Economist has it right here:

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Or you could be a serial voter against the party whip like Corbyn was as a backbencher. That’s worked well for his authority in parliament, hasn’t it?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    My wife, who’s a history professor, might disagree. Though she’s kinder to Marxism than I would be.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    The Labour Brexit policy isn’t terrible now – Starmer is a good man – it’s just not that clear. The big failure on Brexit was Corbyn’s half-hearted, negligent efforts for the Remain campaign in 2016. He is part of the reason we are going through Brexit at all right now.

    McDonnell and he have tried to not do anything too radical domestically so they can keep people on board, I’d accept that. And there isn’t huge discord on that, though Corbyn’s responsible for it being badly fronted up and badly communicated. The bigger problems are with security, defence and foreign policy issues: not backing anti-terrorist police ability to shoot dead terrorists mid-attack; unilateralism on nuclear weapons leaving us letting down the NATO alliance; supporting Putin’s invasions of Georgia and proxy invasion of Ukraine; an unrealistic and silly policy on Syria, insisting on referring political progress to the UN Security Council, on which Russia has a veto; and of course palling up with civilian-killing terrorists claiming to be freedom fighters, from Hamas to the Provos. These things make him simply unelectable.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    MU – Western power IS the root of all evil in the world – they were first on the scene – they set the example for other governments. They continually to spout hypocritical moral standards for others to meet, while quietly ignoring these standards themselves. Thats not to say that others have to respond in kind, but if they don’t they will be in danger of being taken over by western capitalism.

    Your own posts are examples of such double standards. You castigate Russia and Syria and the IRA, but we hear very little from you of the crimes of the USA, UK or DUP. This double standard is a characteristic which I find constantly with right wingers like yourself (and don’t tell me you voted for New Labour – that’s another sign of right-wingery).

  • MainlandUlsterman

    So anyone not on the Momentum left is right wing now? No wonder Labour is in a nose dive.

    This analysis of international affairs that traces everything back to how awful the West is is unintentionally guilty of the very colonial, Westerncentric thinking it criticises. It gives no agency to people outside Europe and projects critiques of our own society onto very different societies with very different issues.

  • hgreen

    And all of these things are simply lies and supposition and could be refuted if I could be arsed. Not having a compliant media makes it easy for these fallacies to take root in you mind and others.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I wasn’t talking about the Labour Left, I was talking about the new members. They would be starry-eyed if they stuck to the Corbyn / Momentum path after a heavy general election defeat; and pragmatic if they looked around for another approach that might have a better chance of success. I wasn’t saying the Left of the party was generally starry-eyed and the “Right” pragmatic, though there is some truth in that. I think the Left of Labour is not just idealistic, it does nasty, gritty aggressive internal politics. And the so-called “right” of the party, that is the Centre Left to most people, actually has a more optimistic worldview.

    The hard Left has a pessimistic belief system. It basically doesn’t believe the Left can ever win enough people over through rational argument, so it urges change through uses of other levers outside the democratic system. On the far left, it’s revolution by force; in the Momentum version of the hard left it’s the belief in supplementing parliamentary action with widescale disruption through strikes, boycotts and so on.

    You can agree with them or not, I’m just saying from my interactions with them that they come across as aggressive towards people they disagree with rather than persuading of them; and they want to go around people, not take them with them. The hard left talks on its own terms, rooted where it is, and leaves the centre ground free for the Tories to move in – which they are doing. The hard left effectively asks the mountain to come to Mohammed.

    The Centre Left by contrast believes there is a centre ground in Britain that can be won over to change. Indeed it believes that change only really happens when people come to believe it is the right thing to do. Blair for all his faults had the Tories running to catch up with the country, which was moving with Labour towards putting big investments into schools and hospitals and seeing tax for those as a fair investment, not money down the drain. The Centre Left seeks to change the terms of the national debate by engaging in it and dealing with people’s real needs. And crucially, it’s the only version of Labour that ever has a chance of getting into government to do anything about them.