God, outside the Tube station, the piles of Evening Standards, the free-sheet that was, at one time a, decent newspaper, more or less: “Comrade Corbyn Flies The Red Flag”. God. The Standard was edited, until recently, by Sarah Sands, a rah-rah type who has had just about every media job in London. She’s a high-Tory Telegraph type, happy to work for former KGB officer Evgeny Lebedev, who owns the rag now. Sands has departed to run the BBC Radio 4 Today show. Thank God we got rid of her. The new editor is … George Osborne, the former chancellor, and still a sitting Tory MP.
They are taking the piss now, they are really taking the piss. The dominance is so total that it’s cat-with-mouse time. Journalists, including the BBC, slated as left-wing blah blah blah, are so openly dismissive of Labour that they can barely get through an interview. You can sympathise, to a degree. The urge to say “ohhhhhh … why are we even bothering?” must be overwhelming. But the Standard cover, complete with a huge photo of our Jez, a man who has chosen to style himself into the dead-spit of Lenin — or, perhaps worse, Acker Bilk — was it. I just stood there and laughed. It was a lovely rain-soaked grey day, bow-shouldered crowds shambling down Charing Cross Road. I looked up, expecting the German bombs to fall any minute. Prayed for it.
But ehhhhhhhhhh it is not funny. Labour launched its manifesto yesterday, and they ballsed it up utterly. The thing had already been sabotaged, with a leak of some of the contents last week, although that hadn’t been any disaster, since Labour could refuse to answer questions about it. The disaster came when they had no option but to, after the real launch, and it quickly became apparent the whole frontbench team had no clue, none at all.
The manifesto’s pretty good, from a leftist point of view. It cues up taxes on financial transactions and companies paying mega-salaries — tax the company, not the salary — in order to pay for the health and education improvements, the staged return of rail to public ownership (and higher subsidy levels), re-nationalising the national power grid, setting up public energy companies, and re-nationalising water. When asked about the cost of all this, Labour’s front-end team said 1) about 250 billion pounds, using bond issue swaps, share dilution and corporate tax take, representing no more than 3% of the budget, or 2) look, the point is, it’s about being for the many, not the few. Did you guess correctly?
God knows I didn’t expect much from this group. This is, I expect, the last Labour leadership from a sort of ’70s-’80s student union protest gr- — oh Christ, that’s my mob — and the fact that they never expected to have a shot at power, and possibly don’t want it, is really showing. Jez had started the cycle a few days earlier, by saying he would recommission the Trident nuclear missiles, but would never use them. He added that he was no pacifist, and his team proved it by running over the foot of a TV cameraman, who had to be hospitalised. Three or four Labour MPs said there was no chance of winning the election, and then union boss Len McCluskey came out and said that 200 seats — i.e. a 20-seat loss — would be a good result for Labour. McCluskey is a Corbyn backer.
Yes, yes, it’s managing expectations, we get it, but even so. It’s one thing to play the underdog, quite another to play the remains of a Labrador buried beneath a lemon tree in the backyard. Especially when everyone is so actually crap at this. Diane Abbott, walking disaster — the sort of product of inner-city, multi-culti politics who has no enemies, but none of her supporters think she’d be any good … can’t think of who that’s like — having said that 10,000 new police officers would cost 300,000 pounds, was on TV last week to talk about Labour’s local council election losses.
“How many seats do you think you’ve lost?”
Abbott: “At time of recording, about 50.”
“We have a figure saying it’s 150.”
Abbott: “I heard it was 100.” (In the end, it was 350).
But John McDonnell really broke my heart. He’s always looked like the adult, a solid man who owns a suit, and wears a tie, and is to the left of Corbyn. But he didn’t have the figures. He didn’t have the figures. He just waffled. Cue Theresa May to make a pithy comment about “going back to the 1970s”.
There’s no point taking your party to the left, if you’re not going to attack preconceptions of right-wing “centrist” economics head on. In the great era of left-right politics, you could get away without having an account of how you’d do it, because the notion of profits, tax, distribution and equality were conceived of in moral terms, the details left to the politicians themselves.
Now, the notion of a national budget as akin to a family budget has become deeply embedded into public understanding. Doesn’t matter that it’s wrong — unless your family prints its own money, and pays the children a wage, so they can buy their meals back — it’s a way of recrudescing abstract social relations into concrete ideas where morality and practicality are bound up together. Some stuff — such as re-nationalising water, rather than price-capping it — has little appeal in its own right. What Labour needed was a platform to attack the Tories from, and they didn’t get that.
To be fair, the Corbyn circle isn’t deluded that they can win — well, most of them anyway. The Labour party, not Downing Street, is their objective, and they are already looking to consolidating their leadership after the election. One scurrilous story going round is that Team Corbyn are happy to let yet more middle-class seats be winnowed, as their hard core of support is in working-class seats. That accusation sounds wild, but to be fair, it would simply be the left doing what the right of Labour has done for decades.
For Corbyn, Corbynistas and Labour, the worst prospect after the election — and the left’s re-election to leadership by the rank and file — would be that a bunch of MPs would split off, form a Labour Party group in the Commons, elect a leader and ask the speaker to recognise them as the opposition. Parliament is sovereign; they would be there for five years, in which they would try and build a parallel “mainstream” Labour, and let the actual one wither away. The last mob that did that was the Provisional IRA, and they were wimps compared to some of these guys.
Really, it’s a bit of a piss-off. If you’re going to go out with a 1945 manifesto (or about a quarter of the strength of one), you better have the damn numbers, otherwise there might be the faint suspicion that you aren’t serious about the whole thing, which makes your supporters feel that they’re being used for a vanity politics.
Light relief of the day? The Lib-Dems, party of inner-city detox juice drinkers, has a leader who once opposed legal abortion:
Lib-Dem spinner: “It was 10 years ago, in one article.”
BBC: “It was also a vote, and he voted that way.”
Lib-Dem spinner: [David Brent voice] “wellllllllll …”
Boris Johnson went to a Sikh temple and be-saffron-turbanned and covered in orange powder, said he needed a stiff drink when — yeah, right: teetotal. You knew that. Everyone knows that. I mean it’s obvious, innit? Not to Boris. Thank god he’s not foreign secretary. “It’s shite being Scottish,” Renton says in Trainspotting, “we’re ruled by effete arseholes.” It’s not too damn hot being English either, for exactly the same reasons. Thank god everything that matters is in the hands of the Russians.