The last week’s events in Westminster have provided the overture for a future opera of sabotage and betrayal. All the main themes - the leitmotifs - have been established. The audience has been introduced to the key characters, who have duly and predictably performed their parts. And all the usual clichés and tropes have been thrown in for good measure.
Whilst May and the Tories attempt to enact a bad pastiche of a Cold War spy novel, Labour’s Blairite backbenchers have been busy partaking in a dress rehearsal for their IRL rendition of A Very British Coup.
In the original 1982 novel by Chris Mullin (and the later adaptation for TV), Harry Perkins, the left-wing leader of the Labour Party, enters 10 Downing Street as Labour come to power. But Perkins - who is committed to taking on the billionaire press, ending the ‘special relationship’, and abolishing the UK’s nuclear arsenal - quickly finds himself under pressure from all corners of the British establishment.
From public attacks by rich media barons and fellow MPs, to behind-the-scenes intrigue by high-ranking officials in the civil service and MI5: the honest, working class Labour leader soon discovers that carrying out a left-wing programme is easier said than done.
For Queen and Country!
Fast forward to today, and the Labour right wing are all too eager to perform their reliable roles in the latest adaptation of Mullin’s drama.
The current Prime Minister and her buffoonish Foreign Secretary declare that Britain is under siege from enemies abroad. The leader of the opposition dares to question the government’s intelligence (or lack thereof) and suggests maintaining a cool head. Fawning Labour backbenchers rush to the defence of the country and the ‘national interest’, tripping over themselves in their efforts to prove what ‘respectable’ statesmen they are.
Along the way, these venerable ladies and gentlemen cannot help but have a jab at their party’s leader, who they have consistently sought to undermine from day one.
All the usual names were called on stage for the latest act in this long-running saga. John Woodcock MP, one of Corbyn’s most consistent internal critics, presented an early day motion supporting Theresa May in her response to the Skripal poisoning. Several dozen Labour right-wingers duly put their names to it, including familiar faces such as Wes Streeting, Chuka Umunna, and Stephen Kinnock.
Prominent Blairites such as Liz Kendall and Hilary Benn hastily lept to their feet in order to back the Tory Prime Minister and condemn the Labour leader for his equivocation. And even a few shadow frontbenchers, such as Owen Smith (remember him?), were trotted out for good measure to throw their weight behind the government and against Corbyn.
They were aided in this project, of course, by their friends in the media. See, for example, the recent farce of Corbyn’s photoshopped hat on Newsnight, where the BBC’s flagship political review show was called out by Guardian journalist Owen Jones (and others) for its attempt to smear the Labour leader as being a “Kremlin stooge”.
May not be getting a @BBCNewsnight invite ever again, but the way they stitched up the Opposition leader to portray him as the stooge of a foreign power is, ironically, the sort of thing you expect on Russian state TV, and they must apologise in full and unreservedly.— Owen Jones? (@OwenJones84) March 17, 2018
A history of errors
The arrogance of these Labour right-wingers knows no bounds. They have been proven wrong on every major foreign policy question this century: from the war in Iraq to the invasion of Libya. One might therefore expect a bit more humility from them, especially when one considers the Labour leader’s vastly superior track record on such matters.
Nevertheless, the belligerent Blairites still have the audacity to launch a tirade against Corbyn over his supposed ‘softness’ towards alleged Russian meddling. So desperate are they to be recognised for their services to the establishment, that they cannot help but run to the Prime Minister’s aid when she rings her jingoistic alarm bell. It is a knee-jerk reaction for them; a Pavlovian response.
And all of this hysteria without so much as a shred of evidence. Despite over two weeks of investigations by Britain’s revered secret services, no firm proof has emerged linking the Kremlin with the Salisbury events, vindicating the Labour leader’s original skepticism.
Indeed, it was bizarrely left to a presenter on Sky News (of all places) to highlight the ridiculousness of accusations that Corbyn had “let down his country” by refusing to directly blame Putin for the attempted assassination of the former double-agent and his daughter.
Outstanding journalism by Sky News. A forensic take-down of Tory smears against Jeremy Corbyn over the Salisbury attack. pic.twitter.com/JWUUU77QFA— Tory Fibs (@ToryFibs) March 19, 2018
Of course, none of this stops the establishment and its media mouthpieces regurgitating all the same spurious smears and tired trite banalities. The latest events, we are once again assured, are yet further evidence that Corbyn is cosy with authoritarians and terrorists: from Chavez and Castro, to Hamas and the IRA.
And all this hypocritical umbrage from those who are all too happy to roll-out the red carpet for the most reactionary of regimes, as was aptly demonstrated by the recent visit by the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman. Apparently such craven bootlicking is deemed acceptable because these people are our friends. With friends like this, who needs enemies!
Hitting a nerve
Yet the purported Russian attack has clearly hit a nerve with the Blairites.
The reason for this is that they have been pushed to the sidelines in the past year, put in their place by the success of the Corbyn-led general election campaign. In one arena after another they are losing their grip on the Party, as demonstrated by their resounding defeat at last September’s annual conference; by the shift to the left on the NEC; and most recently by the resignation of Iain McNicol and other right-wing bureaucrats from Labour HQ.
Now, after a brief hiatus of peace-and-quiet, the Labour right wing (and their allies in the press) are back to their usual tricks and shenanigans. Public denunciations against their party leader have resumed. Talk of resignations and splits is back on the agenda. The dormant idea of a new ‘centre’ party is once again being reheated.
“One of the most senior Labour moderates frets that his party “may not be salvageable” — meaning it is time to abandon ship. Listen carefully at Westminster and you can hear fresh whispers of a new party forming. Labour moderates are again talking up an exit and sometimes discussing it with Tory moderates, often in bars late at night in the House of Commons.”
From Downing Street relics like Tony Blair and George Osborne, to their modern-day acolytes like Chuka Umunna and Anna Soubry: the so-called ‘moderates’ on both sides of the aisle are coming together in defence of the failed ‘centre ground’.
Rumours are rife, once more, of a new party - a Frankenstein’s monster made up of an assortment of parts from political cadavers like the Blairites, Lib Dems, and pro-European Tories. This time, the project’s working title is apparently ‘Start Again’ (hardly the most inspiring of names).
Such a creation is doomed from the start (for now), given the political polarisation and collapse of the centre ground taking place in Britain (and across the globe). And this is before even mentioning the barriers that a first-past-the-post system presents to new parties and political formations.
Blairite Fifth Column
But the drama of the past week - including resurrected talk of a new centre party - is a harbinger of future events.
When the time comes, the Labour right wingers will once again be called upon to defend the ‘national interest’ (read: the ruling class’ interests), whether it be to stay in the capitalist club that is the EU; support imperialist intervention and aggression; or vote through austerity and attacks on the working class.
Anyone who thought that the Blairites had been completely buried can see from this latest episode that they were in fact only lingering in the shadows, biding their time. The Corbyn movement may have reclaimed large sections of the Labour Party, but the PLP is still a thieves’ kitchen.
Under a Corbyn Labour government, these careerist gangsters will act like a Trojan horse. When given the signal from their masters in the establishment, they will emerge from their hiding place and stab their ‘comrades’ in the back.
This is why the call for mandatory reselection must remain at the fore. At the end of the day, the Blairites are a Fifth Column for big business and the capitalist class - and it is these people that they will always reliably represent.
In their place, we need militant socialist political representatives that are prepared to fight against the Tories and the capitalists - not unite with them.