Saturday, 10 September 2016

Labour and Abuse

Devoid of any political arguments with which to confront Jeremy Corbyn, his opponents have instead resorted to a campaign of slanders and abuse, alongside their attempt to undermine the Labour Party itself, and its democracy.  Yet one of the strands of that campaign has been to accuse Corbyn himself of allowing abusive behaviour to persist amongst his supporters.  In doing so, his opponents show that not only are they devoid of any political arguments, but they are also devoid of any political principles or ethics.  The debate between Corbyn and Smith on the BBC's "Question Time", last Thursday illustrated the point.

In terms of the debate itself, Corbyn won hands down, he seems to be growing in stature and confidence by the day.  When I saw him speak to around 2-3,000 in Hanley over a week ago, (video and report to follow) it seemed to me one of his better performances.  The audience last week we were told were drawn from equal numbers of Corbyn and Smith supporters, plus some non-aligned Labour Party supporters, and some supporters of other parties.  That in itself would be likely to give Smith an advantage, and certainly more anti-Corbyn, rather than pro-Corbyn supporters seemed to be called to speak.  Yet, it seemed clear that it was Corbyn that raised the most support and enthusiasm from the audience.

That was not surprising.  It was Corbyn that offered an optimistic vision of the future for Labour. Smith could only run down Labour.  Smith falsely claimed that Labour had been polling poorly under Corbyn.  When Corbyn and a member of the audience pointed out that it was only after the attempted coup, and the launching of the campaign by some members of the PLP to unseat him, that Labour's poll ratings had declined, Smith bluntly refused to accept it.  He seemed to want it to be true that Labour was doing badly, in order to be able to blame that on Corbyn.

Yet, a look at the polls at the time of the 2015 election through to today, shows that Labour under Corbyn has been increasing its support, until the time that the 172 launched their coup against him.  On the 9th May 2015, a Survation Poll in the Mail on Sunday had the Tories on 40% and Labour on 31%, a YouGov Poll on 26th May 2015 had Tories on 41% and Labour on 30%, whilst a ComRes Poll on the 29th May 2015 had Tories on 41% and Labour on 29%.

Those kinds of readings continued through the Summer and Autumn of 2015.  For example, a ComRes Poll on 23rd August 2015 had the Tories on 42% and Labour on 28%.  After Corbyn was elected Leader, Labour's poll ratings began to improve.  On 13th March, this year, an ICM Poll had Labour level with the Tories on 36%, whilst a YouGov Poll had Labour ahead of the Tories, with Labour on 34% and Tories on 33%.  All of the other polls around that time had Labour neck and neck with the Tories, and within the 3% margin of error, that could have meant Labour was actually ahead.

The fact is also that in actual elections, Labour did well under Corbyn during this period.  They not only won a series of By-Elections, where the media egged on by right-wing sections of the PLP had claimed that they would lose, but extended existing majorities; they won all of the Mayoral Elections, some of the Police Commissioner elections, and did at least as well as Miliband had done in his best performance, in the Local Council elections.  Moreover, Labour voters voted 65:35 to remain in the EU, a similar proportion to the solidly pro-EU Liberals, and SNP.  Yet, the right continue the lie that the referendum was lost because Corbyn failed to advocate remain, rather than that the referendum was lost because years of pandering to nationalism and racism, and a neglect of the urban working-class over the last 30 years, has bred resentment seeking easy solutions, and was never going to be overturned by a few weeks of campaigning for an EU, which many of those abandoned workers saw as a symbol of their neglect by a bureaucratic establishment.

Instead of being pleased by the successes of Labour, the Labour right have continually tried to diminish and undermine them for their own sectarian ends.  Owen Smith continued that rubbishing of the Labour Party in the Question Time debate, even when it meant denying the facts to do so.  A look at those same opinion polls shows that Labour's standing only dropped sharply after the PLP launched their coup, and Smith launched his leadership bid.  Even on 25th June, two days after the referendum, Labour was equal with the Tories on 32% each.  But, a big gap opens following the coup attempt, as the Tories opened a 10 point gap from the 15th July.

If we want to know who is responsible for Labour's current poor standing in the polls, the facts are quite clear.  It is the consequence of the sectarian, divisive, abusive and smear tactics of the right, including the supporters of Owen Smith.  Yet, the Labour Right have relied almost exclusively on trying to put the blame on Corbyn, and on accusing his supporters of abuse, and him of failing to deal with it.  In large part that has descended into farce and bad amateuar dramatics every time one of them is able to appear in front of a TV camera.

We have had all of the complaints about Internet Trolls, as though anyone who uses social media is not familiar with the nature of such trolls, and the fact that usually they are just social inadequates unconnected with any political organisation, and simply engaged in their own form of entertainment. Why anyone should think that such people have anything to do with Corbyn, or Momentum or why Corbyn should be able to control the activity of such people is incomprehensible.  And, of course, the right know that to be the case, but use it without scruple simply in order to throw mud at Corbyn. The same is true about the brick thrown through the office window of Angela Eagle.  Without any evidence whatsoever as to who may have been responsible, the right claimed that it was up to Corbyn to stop such behaviour!

The tactic had been established long before with the accusations over anti-semitism.  Yet anti-semitism in the Labour Party long predated Corbyn's Leadership.  Indeed, many of those that were suspended, were suspended for statements made not during Corbyn's Leadership, but for statements made several years before under Ed Miliband's Leadership.  Moreover, some on the left had criticised Ken Livingstone for his "Left-wing anti-semitism" many years ago.  Yet, that had not prevented Tony Blair inviting him back into the Labour Party to stand for London Mayor, when Blair thought that was in his interest.  It is an indication of the lack of any ethics that the opponents of Corbyn today, try to hold him accountable for such actions for which he has no responsibility.

When Corbyn did act swiftly to crack down on anti-semitism, the right simply used it to attack him further, and in so doing exposed their own lack of decency once more.  They tried to distort his words at the launch of the Chakrabarti Report, which led to Chakrabarti herself having to intervene to slap them down.  Since then, they have used every opportunity to both suggest with weasel words that the report was a whitewash, and that Corbyn and Chakrabarti are corrupt, and that the peerage for Chakrabarti was the evidence of it.  Yet, these are the people who shed crocodile tears if anyone is merely to accuse them of being "Red Tories", or even just Blairites.

And they have no regard for the collateral damage that their short term point-scoring tactics might have.  For example, at the launch of the Chakrabarti Report, one supporter of Momentum Marc Wadsworth had seen Ruth Smeeth MP talking to a reporter from the Daily Telegraph, one of the most anti-Labour papers in Britain.  Wadsworth referred to this activity, and made no reference to the fact that Smeeth is Jewish, a fact he says, he was unaware of.  Yet, his statement was turned by Smeeth and opponents of Corbyn into being itself an instance of "anti-semitism"!  As former UK Ambassador, and Human Rights activist Craig Murray says on his blog,

"I do accept that there is a pernicious anti-semitic meme about Jewish control of the media (plus the banking system, TV and Hollywood, Bilderberg etc etc). And I do accept that these memes are offensive and should be countered, just as the Chakrabarti report states. But it seems to me an untenable interpretation of what Mr Wadsworth said to characterise it as an accusation that Jewish people control the media, as opposed to an observation about a particular action of a particular MP with a particular journalist.

This however is where I may lose some of you. It seems to me not unnatural that, as the Chakrabarti report was the subject of the meeting, the idea of anti-semitic memes was at the front of Ms Smeeth’s mind. It therefore seems to me quite probable that her reaction was genuine, and she read into the remark something not intended.

Nonetheless, I really cannot see any way that Mr Wadsworth’s statement could bear the interpretation that Ms Smeeth put on it. Unless we take the position that nobody can ever be accused of doing anything wrong, lest it further “traditional slurs” against the ethnic group to which they belong."

In fact, the only people that have made the connection between the disclosure of this actual meeting between comrade Smeeth and the Telegraph, and a Jewish conspiracy, has been comrade Smeeth herself and the opponents of Corbyn, who rushed to the media to make that connection and spin that connotation on to it.  Had they not done so, the vast majority of the British public would have been oblivious to any such connotation, and probably to the existence of comrade Smeeth.  None of that justifies the subsequent abuse that comrade Smeeth has received, of course, and she has every right to demand that the party provide her with support against such abuse or any other attacks, and Corbyn was absolutely correct to give her that support in his statement during the Question Time debate.

Another example, was provided of this mindless attempt to utilise smears and a meme about abuse and bullying during the debate.  One of Smith's supporters complained about the fact that some members of the audience had booed comments by Smith, describing this as a form of abuse.  Again the reason for making such a comment is clear.  The opponents of Corbyn really have nothing of substance to say, and so they play these establishment politics games about trying to create a narrative about bullying abuse, anti-semitism, and, of course, ridiculously tie that in to the idea that the large rise in party membership and support for Corbyn being all down to Trotskyist infiltration.  Given that Trotsky was a Jew, those same Trotskyists might accuse the opponents of Corbyn, thereby of themselves engaging in anti-semitic conspiracy mongering, of Corbyn leading a Jewish-Communist conspiracy to take over the Labour Party!

Just as Murray correctly points out that claiming that any criticism of anyone runs the risk of being described as "anti-semitic", in recent years, the same has been true about claims that criticisms of people who happened to be Muslims were "Islamophobic", and that has been extended on university campuses to ridiculous levels that closes down debate. Similarly, claiming that booing comments, during a political rally, amounts to abuse, is an even more ridiculous attempt to close down debate.  Such booing is as much a part of British political culture, as are shouts of "Hear-Hear" during parliamentary debates.  Anyone who thinks that such exclamations amount to some form of abuse, is either being disingenuous, or else needs to acclimatise themselves to the nature of British political democracy and debate.  If no one is allowed to express such responses to political statements, we might as well abandon all open political debate whatsoever.

Then when one member of the audience criticised Owen Smith for saying that he would not serve in Corbyn's Shadow Cabinet, and questioned what that said about his commitment to Labour, Smith again responded by claiming offence at such abuse that inferred he was not a supporter of Labour. Yet, during the debate, Smith repeatedly accused Corbyn of such faults.  Smith repeatedly charged Corbyn with not wanting to become Prime Minister, a charge for which there is no justification whatsoever; Smith charged Corbyn with not being committed to a Remain vote in the EU referendum, despite the fact that it was Corbyn that undertook more rallies for staying in the EU than any other Labour MP, despite the fact that Corbyn's own constituency voted overwhelmingly for Remain, whilst Smith's constituency voted overwhelmingly to Leave!

In the aftermath of the referendum, some of Corbyn's opponents went further, spreading a scurrilous rumour that Corbyn, in the secrecy of the polling booth, had actually voted to Leave.  Talk about conspiracy theories!  And, of course, the Tory media were happy to allow them to spread such rumours, and to repeat the calumny themselves.  The whole of the campaign against Corbyn has been based upon such abuse, smears, lies deceit and bullying, of which the attempted coup was simply the most obvious expression.  They have resorted to such tactics because they know they have nothing of substance to offer, nothing useful to say, no justification for their own failures over the last thirty years, which saw Scotland lost to the SNP, and large swathes of urban Britain deindustrialised by Tory and Blair-right economic policies, that drove sections of Labour's traditional core vote into the hands of the reactionaries of the BNP and UKIP.

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