What Darwin teaches us about Corbyn’s leadership
Robert Hoskins says it’s time for Corbyn to step down and a new leader to emerge to deliver the McDonnell project in government.
In politics there are times when the fleetness of foot of Her Majesty’s Opposition is tested like no other. None more so than when it needs to adapt quickly to a dramatic change in the political environment. The election of Boris Johnson as PM is a perfect example of a dramatic change in the political environment.
Within days of coming to office, PM Johnson has not only packed his cabinet with hard right Brexiteers and appointed Dominic Cummings, who masterminded the vote leave campaign, as his chief strategist, he has put his party on a General Election footing and more importantly, according to early polling, is well on the way to hijacking the Brexit Party vote and making the Tories THE party of Brexit. Not bad going for a Prime Minister who many think will be an unmitigated disaster.
How has the leader of the opposition, who many think is an unmitigated disaster, responded to the consolidation of the Brexit vote under Johnson’s premiership? Does he act decisively by ditching the disastrous Brexit policy of constructive ambiguity once and for all? Does he outflank the Lib Dems and the Greens even, by dispensing with the need for a referendum completely by announcing that Labour will Revoke Article 50 on day 1 of a Labour Government? No of course he doesn’t, he does precisely erm … nothing – nothing at all, apart from reiterating his continuing commitment to fight an election on a soft Brexit ticket.
The total paralysis, the utter inertia, the complete inability to change tack or make any strategic response whatsoever to Brexit, the most important issue of the day, has been the hallmark of Jeremy’s leadership. One could also argue that this lack of leadership not only applies to Brexit but also to his response to Syria, to the Novichok poisonings and of course to the anti-Semitism crisis.
Jeremy and his entourage of hard left acolytes remind me of Darwin’s great maxim that ”it is not the most intellectual or the strongest of the species that survives; but the species that is able to adapt to and to adjust best to the changing environment in which it finds itself”. Corbyn and his advisors have failed repeatedly to adapt their strategy to a changing political environment and, more importantly, have refused to even acknowledge that the political environment has actually changed at all.
It is after all 2019 and not the 1980s. For every crisis involving Russia, be it Syria or the Novichok incident, the same old narrative that is frozen in Cold War ideology is triggered. Russia is always right and the US, the UK and the west are always wrong. On Syria, Corbyn has repeatedly refused to condemn the Russian backed Assad regime or the Russian bombing of civilians or its use of chemical weapons. His solution to this and every middle east problem is identical – no military intervention of any kind, ever, only a peaceful UN solution will suffice. On the attempted murder of double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter by the nerve agent Novichok, Corbyn refused to blame the Kremlin for the incident, suggesting that someone else other than the Russian state could have planted it instead. He couldn’t even bring himself to believe the scientific evidence provided by UK scientists that the nerve agent was made in Russia. He suggested that it would be a good idea to send a sample to Moscow to see what the Russians thought.
With the amount of ideological baggage that Jeremy brings to the table, his leadership was always going to come down to a choice between wanting power or wanting ideological purity, especially with regards to foreign policy issues which have always been close to his heart. If he really wanted power at the expense of ideological purity one of the most effective ways of adapting to a new political environment such as the election of a radical left wing labour leader would have been to prevent political enemies from making political capital out of any past misdemeanours by apologising for them at the beginning of one’s leadership.
An apology can have such a dramatic effect in shutting down a damaging narrative, enabling a line to be drawn underneath previous rhetorical excesses. Check out his old pal, John McDonnell, for example who within a week of becoming shadow Chancellor not only apologised on Question Time but apologised ”from the bottom of my heart” for his many inflammatory pro IRA and anti British Army statements made during the troubles which were far more incendiary than anything Jeremy has ever said. The result? The issue has never been used against him again. Compare and contrast with Corbyn, who sees Israel as the major obstacle to implementing a foreign policy built around recognising the legitimacy of Palestine as a state in its own right. Can you imagine the difference a Corbyn apology at the beginning of his leadership could have made with regards to all his many past associations with known anti-Semites? Apologising unreservedly would have given him the authority to empower party structures to ruthlessly boot out anti Jewish racists from the start of his leadership by adopting and implementing IHRA guidelines immediately. But again fossilised ideological thinking combined with the unwillingness to strategically adapt to a worsening political situation has seen the steady drip of anti-Semitism toxify the legitimacy of the leader and the Labour Party.
So we are now in August 2019. Labour’s polling has flatlined in the low 20s, way behind the Tories. Corbyn’s approval ratings trail well behind Boris Johnson’s and are the lowest recorded of any labour leader ever. And the smart money is now on a General Election being called before October 31st or soon after it.
For Labour to win a working majority it has to do 3 things and do them pretty damn quickly. Firstly it has to remove Jeremy and his entourage lock stock and barrel. In hindsight Jeremy should have bowed out the day after depriving the Tories of a majority and delivering the largest share of the vote since Clement Attlee. If he had done so, his rightful place in Labour history would have been sealed as a leader who recalibrated the party and against all odds nearly pulled off a stunning victory.
Secondly, this abdication has to be completed with the unopposed election of an agreed candidate who all wings of the party endorse.
Thirdly, the next leader must be an unequivocal Remainer and must give firm assurances to leave John McDonnell as the Shadow Chancellor and implement his radical manifesto (and it goes without saying promise not to install Jeremy as Foreign Secretary – obviously!). I would have thought that the Blairite camp and many MPs in the Love Socialism hate Brexit group and Tribune group would bight your hand off for a deal which included the immediate standing down of Jeremy and the complete removal of all his appointed staff, in return for the unopposed election of a new leader who commits to deliver the McDonnell project.
With the Tories shaping up for a snap election, I wonder if discreet soundings with these discrete PLP groups have already taken place before the summer recess? There is only one MP who could achieve all 3 objectives and it is not Tom Watson.
The only person who has the stature and gravitas within the left to convince Jeremy to stand down is John McDonnell. But would he really stab his old friend in the front? If it came to a choice for the 67 year old Shadow Chancellor to tell Jeremy and his entourage that their time is up or risk missing out on the once in a lifetime chance of radically transforming the UK economy, I think he would choose the former.
McDonnell must see his friend now as a major obstacle blocking the way to a majority labour government. He has been clearly frustrated at Corbyn’s intransigence on all the issues that I have highlighted. If this scenario ever materialised McDonnell would also have a major say as to who his successor should be. I would be happy with Keir Starmer, but I endorse Len McCluskey’s view that the next leader of the Labour Party should be Emily Thornberry who voted for Jeremy first time round and is respected throughout the PLP and wider labour movement. Emily, like McDonnell, has repeatedly gone out on a limb and stated that Labour should back remain in the next General Election.
The McDonnell of old reminds me of the 60s Chelsea footballer Ron ”Chopper” Harris who earned his moniker due to his fearsome reputation for playing the man and not the ball, but was only sent off once during a lengthy and distinguished career. In the last couple of years McDonnell has obviously taken the calculated decision to drop the ad hominem attacks that he has been notorious for as the tantalising prospect of power looms ever closer. He now exudes effortless charm on camera. He now uses the velvet glove to reassure the City that they have nothing to fear from a labour Government. His ability to reach out to appoint non hard left MPs such as Liz Kendall supporter Jonathan Reynolds and Andy Burnham supporter Peter Dowd to his Shadow Treasury Team demonstrates strategical nous and a deft political touch. It is also a shrewd move which will have given McDonnell’s transformative plans for the economy a much needed veneer of legitimacy and will have reassured the PLP that the McDonnell project is economically viable and wont bankrupt the country.
In the space of three short years the ”Chopper” McDonnell of old has managed to completely reinvent himself from tribal rottweiler to collegiate team player. Alas his old pal has not managed such a Darwinian evolution and as a result his leadership is now facing imminent extinction. It remains to be seen if his old pal still has the ruthlessness to administer the extinction event and pave the way for a radical transformative majority Labour government which will redistribute power and wealth for the many not the few.