Make no mistake about it, the best man won. It’s difficult to imagine the agony of those who oppose Jeremy Corbyn. It must be like a nightmare on the scale of a Hieronymus Bosch painting. Imagine it, constant wailing and writhing by defenceless Smith supporters as they are tormented by hordes of demons. That may be just how the Labour Right sees Momentum in particular and the Corbyn base in general. But this twisted fantasy was not enough.
Minutes before the result was announced Owen Smith conceded defeat. I imagine that was quite a blow for people who actually believed the word of Pfizer’s favourite MP. Especially as Smith was touted – by his team at least – as the electable man worth just 38.2% of the vote. He was meant to stand for every good centre-left idea, and an electorally viable approach. Smith adopted a ‘soft left’ campaign to try and triangulate the Corbynista platform.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn received 61.8% of the vote with turnout at 77.6%. The majority of members (59%), registered supporters (70%) and affiliates (60%) backing the socialist candidate. This is an even bigger mandate than in 2015, when Corbyn won by 59% and over 250,000 votes. Despite a summer of smears and purges, the Blairite-Brownite wing of the Labour Party still couldn’t steal back the leadership.
However, the point was never to defeat Corbyn. There was never a scintilla of hope for Smith in this election. It was launched to undermine the Labour leadership and take the Corbynistas off the chessboard for the summer. This is evident by the fact that Smith conceded defeat at the last minute. The same can be said for Angela Eagle, who at least gave up early. The Blairites wanted to drag this out to ensure maximum destruction.
There was no attempt by the Smith camp to reinvigorate the New Labour project. Blairism-Brownism exhausted itself long ago, costing the party five million votes and nearly the whole of Scotland in the end. Instead the campaign was focused on soundbites about the failures of Corbyn. The media served as an echo-chamber for the right-wing narrative that the Labour Party was just fine until September 2015.
That’s right. It’s almost as if Gordon Brown won in 2010, and Ed Miliband won in 2015, and the whole of Scotland did not vote for a centre-left alternative. History ended in 1994 with the discovery of Third Way politics. All you need to win any election is a smile and the centre-ground. These old certainties have been shattered, but everywhere the pieces can still be seen in fragments. The real fanatics and dogmatists are the Blairites.
Will any of this register? Probably not. As journalist Aditya Chakrabortty tweeted: “After three months, all Corbyn’s challengers have succeeded in doing is entrenching his leadership of the party. Political genius.” This is the same point made by conservative writer Peter Hitchens last year: “Do all the attackers of Jeremy Corbyn not see that his supporters thrive on their assaults?” No one in the PLP can comprehend this.
Where does this leave us now? The anti-Corbyn faction will bunker down and continue its campaign to destabilise the leadership. I doubt this will take the form of a breakaway party, as the conditions don’t suit any kind of centrist push. It seems more likely that the anti-Corbynites will create a party within a party, a bit like the Militant Tendency, to plan a response to the Labour leadership on every policy front.
Again, the real aim will be long-term. The Labour Right does not mind losing elections. Bear in mind, the Kinnock years were a transitional period to purge Militant, corner the Bennites and redirect the party towards a compromised programme. This cost Labour the elections of 1987 and 1992. The long-term consequences was 13 years of New Labour, in which Thatcherite policies remained the consensus.
Blairism was only viable on the back of two decades of Conservative governments. It was only possible to win in 1997 because the Tories were exhausted themselves. Once in opposition, the Conservatives flailed and were incapable of outmanouevring Blair and his cohorts. This is because the Blairites triangulated right-wing policies and invalidated the opposition. The same strategy is not viable once you’re out of government.
Again, the message has yet to register in the minds of people like David Miliband. For such people, the Labour Party is only viable as long as it can win over Tory voters and deliver incremental change (or better yet, no change at all), disregarding millions of disillusioned working-class voters. Should the Labour Left take its party back and transform the party, the UK could be changed for decades to come. This is the real nightmare that wakes up the Blairites in the middle of the night.
Photograph courtesy of Chris Beckett. Published under a Creative Commons license.