This good, noble Corbyn vs. the evil, bad Blairites is probably the most unhelpful and self-pitying false dichotomy I’ve come across in a long time. It’s a profound misrepresentation of an extremely complex situation that simplifies and distorts the total rejection of Jeremy Corbyn by the PLP into some ridiculous good vs evil narrative, ignoring Corbyn’s own complicity in sabotaging the Labour Remain campaign and putting his own personal positions above the good of his party.
There are a whole range of positions in between Blairite and Corbynite, some of which are in fact also anti-austerity – most prominently, the soft left (which is where the PLP have drawn their candidate for this leadership contest) – Ed Miliband, Stephen Kinnock (although a hashtag like#StandUpForSteel being used by the son of that well-known member of team blue, Neil Kinnock? Basically Tory!!!111) and Angela Eagle are not blue Labour. Moreover, do some basic research into the names that honestly none of us know from the Shadow Cabinet, and you’ll also see plenty of soft left and even Corbynite resignations: Karl Turner; Lisa Nandy (who is so left Owen Jones once considered trying to make her leader when Miliband resigned); Kate Green; Luciana Berger. All fall to the left of centre by some margin.
Several former prominent allies have turned on him. Economic advisers such as Richard Murphy, David Blanchflower, and Simon Wren-Lewis have disavowed Corbyn, whilst well-known socialist blogger and columnist Owen Jones has turned on Jeremy Corbyn – for not being radical enough.
Yet when Owen Jones – a prominent Chavista – has been dismissed as a Blairite by angry Corbynistas, then clearly things have gone too far. This is not a case of the Blairites vs Corbyn the underdog, it is a case of a broad spectrum of progressive ideologies – including even some who subscribe to Corbyn’s politics – within Labour, where essentially all have recognised Corbyn is simply unfit to lead the party.
What does Blairite even mean? I always picture a little cult lead by Alistair Campbell, meeting up in hood-and-cloak and using the dodgy dossier as their bible – before sacrificing a Bennite backbencher to a statue of their glorious leader, screaming “elections are won from the centre ground”.
But I don’t know. I mean, if you like budget surpluses, investing in the NHS and the minimum wage, but aren’t so keen on illegal wars, does that make you a Blairite? Can you despise Blair but subscribe to New Labour and be a Blairite? What if you served in cabinet under Blair? What if you thought New Labour was right at the time but now want to move the party in a different direction; a new clause iv moment?
Because of this, “Blairite” is a useless pejorative designed to tie up New Labour and its successes (economic stability and budget surpluses, tackling monopolies, investing in schools and the NHS, introducing the minimum wage, same-sex adoption) with the personal failures of Blair (illegal wars and allowing Labour to drift away from the borrowing to invest mantra of the early years in the later years). It’s a cheap and tacky way to associate even the hint of support for New Labour policy with condoning the personal actions of Blair, and has no place in enlightened and reasonable political discourse.
Finally, let’s get some perspective when attributing motivation. Looking at this through this good v evil, Blairite or Corbynite lens, it’s easy to paint this as a self-interested coup by Blairites trying to get an edge before Chilcot. However, try and view the split with a bit more nuance and objectivity (as much as is possible in such things), and without imposing your own motivations and beliefs onto others, and you will see that from the start of Corbyn’s leadership of Labour, the opposition of the PLP to Corbyn has been that he has only appeals to the core of the party, and to very few outside of this core.
Similar to Trump in the Republican primaries, it is the parochial nature of his appeal that both guaranteed his success in a narrow vote (his “historic mandate” measures at less than 1% of the total number who voted in the 2015 GE) by Labour activists, and dooms him to failure in a general election (YouGov, Ipsos Mori, candidate polling during the 2015 leadership contest, leaked internal Labour polling of 2015 Labour voters all attest to his fundamental unelectability, even in the rare windows when his personal approval ratings were above Cameron’s).
Most of these MPs are probably scared that many of their colleagues and friends (20-60 depending on whose estimates you believe) are going to lose their jobs – in 2020, or perhaps in 6 months if Theresa May chooses to try and overcome the 66% commons vote needed to secure an early general election per the FTPA.
More than that, most of these MPs are scared that their party is on the verge of a split and preparing the country for a massive Tory majority – and the brutal policies that will accompany this. Furthermore, don’t dismiss the EU referendum as merely an excuse for this vote – I’ve no doubt that some “ringleaders” have been plotting for a while, but many from the soft left, including some of Corbyn’s allies, have either resigned from their positions or spoken out against him, generally citing personal reasons.
So basically, as much as we like the greedy, self-serving MP narrative, most MPs have at least some ideological preferences, and even if some in the PLP are 100% Machiavellian, I can guarantee that the overwhelming majority of those voting against Corbyn simply don’t want a blue decade. I don’t support the coup and would just personally leave Corbyn to lose next election as Labour regardless are unlikely to win, but I can fully understand the motivations and actions of those in the PLP, which are largely about the good of the party – and neither motivated by self-interested nor Blairism.