The Labour party leadership race in Britain has entered an unexpected and slightly hysterical phase: as it begins to look as if the dark horse in the race (the old fashioned, leftist, principled contender Jeremy Corbyn) might actually have a chance of winning, much ado is being made about this being the result of a sinister anti-democratic plot.
Consider for example the screaming front-page headline in one Sunday paper last week: ‘Hard left plot to infiltrate Labour race’. The story (‘report’?) was about the rumour that “evidence had emerged that hard-left infiltration is fuelling a huge party membership…with many signing up to back the hard-left candidate Jeremy Corbyn”.
You will notice the extremely alarmist tone of this story, and this tone is being echoed in much of the UK press coverage of the leadership race. Not just is it alarmist, it is eerily reminiscent of the anti-communist paranoia of the McCarthy era, when witch-hunts to unmask ‘red infiltrators’ were considered noble crusades of a sort. The narrative as it is being spun here is that Corbyn is a ‘dangerous’ figure who will be responsible for a “leftward lurch of Labour” which will inevitably “split the party”. Prophets of doom and gloom further pontificate that this will ensure that the party “would be out of power for at least a decade.”
The hysteria is being fuelled because this time the selection process for Labour leader is different from what it has been in the past and anybody who pays three pounds to register as a party supporter can have a say in the selection of leader. I know several people who have registered specifically to support Corbyn’s campaign.
They have done so because they think he is solid on basic progressive values, believes in welfare state and seems to have political integrity and credibility. These people are not hard-left loonies or sinister totalitarian communists but are individuals who have witnessed, over the years, the transformation of the Labour party into a watered-down version of the Conservative party. Many sympathisers now see Labour as a toothless tiger, a party that has forgotten its raison d’etre.
Corbyn was mostly ridiculed when he scraped into the contest, but now he is being perceived as a threat. The leading candidates, the two bright young things with ministerial experience (Cooper and Burnham), are bland and inoffensive and completely… blah. The fourth one is something of a dark horse herself — the Blairite Liz Kendall sounds astonishingly like a Tory.
So no wonder then that Corbyn seems to have found a following: he is so unlike these carefully packaged, unremarkable, eager-to-please candidates.
It will be interesting to see how the UK media covers the contest and whether they will continue in this alarmist, hold-back-the-Reds tone.
Also, I’m finding it just a little ironic that it should be a huge story if left-leaning supporters of a left-of-centre party should make efforts to elect a leftist candidate. After all, to draw a parallel, would it be such a hugely alarming or sinister story if right wing capitalists and bankers were trying to have a say in the Conservative party? Doubtful.
Anyway left or right, there’s nothing like a political scandal to keep things lively on the parliamentary front. It’s usually sex, drugs and financial misconduct that make for a juicy scandal and the case of the (former) Deputy Speaker of the House of Lords had all these elements. Lord Sewel was filmed snorting cocaine with prostitutes, chatting casually about parliamentary allowances and what he spent them on and …. wearing a salmon pink bra!
How’s that for an alarming image?