I remember the good old days when a small group of MPs were the front line in Parliamentary opposition to Blairite Labour. There were the 6 SNP MPs, 3 Plaid, Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, latterly Caroline Lucas and the rest of the small band of Labour Campaign Group MPs. Where we never operated as a group we were a sort of a nascent, embryonic ‘progressive alliance’ that conjured up the possibilities of securing a progressive agenda across the UK
Together as comrades we opposed Trident, ID cards, 90 days detention and the rest of the horrors of Blair’s anti-civil libertarian state. We railed against Labour’s foundation hospitals, tuition fees and that totem of high Blairism – the Iraq war. I have probably voted more with Jeremy and John over the years than Jeremy’s current deputy leader and the vast majority of former Scottish MPs. The SNP’s constitutional agenda was never a feature in how we operated. Our Labour comrades knew next to nothing about it and cared even less. I sometimes wonder whatever happened to all those involved in our little group and how they’ve fared since…?
I was our Chief Whip during this period and I regularly observed the Labour whips not even bothering to try and persuade Jeremy and John to support them. They were beyond their control and were dismissed with a ‘well, that’s just them’ shrug of the shoulders. Now Jeremy and John run the Labour Party and people chant Jeremy’s name before he gets up to speak. Knowing my old comrade I sense his discomfort at all the adulation and his embarrassment at all the attention.
The Corbyn surge has been a true political phenomenon that nobody predicted and no-one as yet fully understands. Jeremy is an unlikely working class hero and his shambling, self conscious geography teacher persona is probably a main feature of his appeal. He is the antithesis of the stereotypical traditional hard left leader. He and, say for instance, Tommy Sheridan, couldn’t be further apart. Jeremy speaks to you politely, almost apologetically, rather than trying to carry you away in a verbal sea of rhetoric. It’s hard not to like Jeremy and I’m almost disappointed that our old band has disbanded and has gone its own ways.
When Jeremy assumed the Labour leadership I suppose, like most, I presumed it would be short lived and the Labour establishment would soon be back. But instead Jeremy has become the Labour establishment and his victory over the old Blairites is almost totally complete. Only in Parliament is there an opposition to his leadership and that is pretty much reduced to the condition that Jeremy used to find himself in those far off days.
Was there ever any chance of our old band’s vision of some sort of ‘progressive alliance’ surviving Jeremy’s elevation? Well, that probably went the day the briefing from Scottish Labour arrived on the new leader’s desk. Tribal, and overwhelmingly hostile to anything to do with the SNP that briefing first inclusion would have probably been something along the lines of ‘under no circumstances ever work with the SNP’. The rest would have detailed all our plans to ‘break up Britain’ and their favourite ‘they are not a left wing party’. I could imagine Jeremy’s confusion trying to square all of this with his own experience of working with the SNP, noting that it was in fact Scottish Labour MPs who were in the opposite voting lobbies. Leaving Scotland in the hands of a chaotic Scottish Labour Party signalled that nothing would change in Labour/SNP relations.
Now Labour are predicting a comeback in Scotland having won 6 seats back from the 40 lost. Observing their current leadership contest this looks like so much wishful thinking. Scottish Labour remain on the wrong side of Scotland’s constitutional divide and their enthusiasm for Corbynism is at best embarrassingly skin deep having set itself so defiantly against it over the past few years.
Having become the establishment Jeremy is also curiously starting to behave like a fully paid up member of it. High Corbynism has probably passed already as the tensions over Brexit and worries such as ‘runs on the pound’ become the realities and the difficult compromises creep in. Jeremy was always going to be a better oppositionalist than establishment figure but it is quite amazing watching this new empire rise and fall.