The Real Labour Coup Is Its Transformation Into a Cult

When Momentum and the hardcore Corbynistas complain of a "Labour coup", they should not be looking towards the MPs trying to save their part from electoral oblivion to find the plotters; they need only look in a mirror.
Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

From the very beginning of Labour's current leadership struggles - when members of the Shadow Cabinet resigned en masse, and Corbyn lost a confidence vote among his own MPs by a margin that would ordinarily have been considered catastrophic - the phrase "Labour Coup" has been on the lips of Corbynistas and Momentum. Ironically, the phrase would better describe the takeover of the Party by the very people now speaking of a coup; like David Khoresh's transformation of the Branch Davidians, the Labour Party risks changing into a militant, intolerant group centred around an anointed leader courtesy of an increasingly vocal New Left, and it's unclear what anyone can do to stop it.

Yet, it must be said that these developments are not entirely surprising. Before nominations for last year's leadership ballot had even opened, the return of a majority Conservative government was met with unprecedented post-election violence by sections of the left (because democracy's only good when you win obviously), complete with the scandalous desecration of a war memorial. Before Corbyn won the leadership election in the first place, there were signs of what was to come, with supporters of other candidates - including Andy Burnham, viewed as perhaps Corbyn's closest rival in the race - being derided as "Tories". Since Corbyn's ascent, however, the situation has only gotten worse for those who value civilised discourse over the idea that all disagreement is profane, both within and without the Party.

Last year, it would have been inconceivable that Conservative delegates would be assaulted at their own party conference. Fast forward a year, and not only was this the case, but Jeremy Corbyn even addressed the mob himself - rendering his calls for civilitiy very shallow indeed. It would also have been inconceivable that Labour MPs would have to cancel their constituency surgeries because of the activity of supporters of their own party, yet this is exactly what happened to Angela Eagle when she dared to challenge Corbyn for the leadership election. And it would have been inconceivable that Labour would have been polling 14 points behind the Conservatives after the latter were deeply divided over the EU referendum. Again, that has come to pass.

Corbynism certainly seems to be breaking new ground for the Labour Party - just not the ground that the Corbynistas would like, yet his supporters seem oblivious to the obvious disaster in which their party finds itself. Instead, Corbynistas seem to bask in their own world as the real one burns around them. It's a world where John McDonnell is anointed the "People's Chancellor" despite having absolutely no experience in economics (evidenced not least by throwing Mao's Little Red Book at Osborne after the last Budget), and little evidence of the widespread support for his economic policies (whatever they might be; that's still unclear) that such a moniker would require. A world where MPs voting with their conscience, in favour of bombing the theocratic fascists of IS, on a free vote (the very point of which is to allow MPs to do so) are threatened with deselection and Stop the War (formerly headed, and still patroned, by Corbyn) describe IS as closer to the International Brigades than their opponents. And it's a word where all criticism of the Dear Leader is inherently profane (even when coming from the left's poster boys like Owen Jones), and where ordinary voters are cast not as rational agents capable of making up their own minds but as pawns of the "Murdoch Press" (including, it would seem, the Daily Mirror) - because the best way to win over hearts and minds is to tell people they're too feeble-minded or stupid if they don't already agree with you.

However, it's also perfectly plausible that Corbyn's inner circle are not oblivious to the fires engulfing the Party, and that they simply don't care - that, as with any cult, worship of the leader has become an end in itself. Certainly it seems unimaginable that an advisor to Ed Miliband would have said that winning elections was for "elites" - yet Jon Lansman, the head of the Corbynite vanguard, Momentum - has argued exactly that. More recently, in a moment formerly beyond parody, the GMB ballot for Labour leadership backing, won by Owen Smith, was said by Corbyn insiders to be loaded because it focussed on electability. What seems to be being forgotten here is that the very point of a political party is to actually win elections and be able to implement a program for the nation - unless, of course, the party has become a sideshow for the main event: namely, the cult of Corbyn.

There is little reason to suspect that this will get any better after the leadership election; realisitically, Corbyn will win once again, and already there is talk of mandatory re-selection facing MPs perceived to be "disloyal". And even were Corbyn to lose, what would Labour be left with? A leader promising to focus on equality of outcome rather than opportunity, the antithesis of a meritocratic society; a second referendum on EU membership (when we should already have left the EU by 2020); and hundreds of billions in extra public spending in what seemed to be a bizarre auction of imaginary money between the two candidates - which hardly looks like an election-winning formula in any case. Not only that, but the party will be left with an NEC controlled by allies of the ousted Corbyn, setting the stage potentially for yet another showdown - a never-endum until Corbyn or an ally is at the reins once more.

In the leadership contest, the Corbynistas seem to have found their Waco siege moment (albeit with their opponents very much lacking an equivalent to the FBI and ATF's muscle) - the rest of the country watching on in bemusement as the standoff shows no signs of ending. But, like Waco, the only way this will end is in tragedy - this time for a party which, not much more than a year ago, was going into a General Election as a seemingly credible force but today is being torn apart by leader-worship; conspiracy theorising; and a quest for ideological purity: all hallmarks of a political cult. So, when Momentum and the hardcore Corbynistas complain of a "Labour coup", they should not be looking towards the MPs trying to save their part from electoral oblivion to find the plotters; they need only look in a mirror.

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