The election result came like the final scene of Titus Andronicus – leaving almost everybody in varying states of mortal injury (sorry if that’s a spoiler, but it has been 400 years). Just about the only person to come out of it feeling happy was Jeremy Corbyn, despite losing by scores of seats.
One reason for his happiness, of course, is that his loss wasn’t anywhere near as bad as just about everyone – including his own operation – expected. But to fully understand the Corbynite view of the result, it’s important to consider that while he may have lost to the Conservatives publicly, the result offers the chance of a crushing victory internally.
The last two years have made two things clear about Corbyn’s leadership. First, that he and the Labour Party are not synonymous – the interests of the two don’t always match up, and are still often at conflict, even after the lengthy war waged on the latter by the former. And second, that what happens within that internal conflict is equally or even more important to him than the public battle to lead the country.
Seen through that lens, the election stores up major problems for Labour. Yes, of course the Conservatives would much rather have won with a maintained or increased majority. But, amid the grim self-scrutiny of a lost majority, we shouldn’t imagine that everything’s rosy on the other side of the aisle.
The election stabilised Corbyn’s leadership, staving off what would otherwise have been yet another attempt to oust him. Instead, what we are now about to see is the Corbynites going on the offensive against their internal opponents. Corbyn isn’t just feeling more secure, he and those around him are feeling utterly and absolutely vindicated, and will now cite the election endlessly to silence and then crush their critics.
This is doubly dangerous for Labour. Most immediately because it will spark a new round of bloodletting. But more fundamentally, because it has led a bunch of people who didn’t really know what they were doing, and who survived the election only by outperforming very low expectations against a severely misfiring Conservative campaign, to sincerely believe that they are strategic geniuses who are the unchallengeable voice of the people. They got – and still get – plenty of things wrong, but have mistaken Tory failure for Corbynite success, and they intend to make the most of it.
We’ve seen that latter trend develop over the last few weeks as various prominent Corbynites have taken the opportunity to tell relative moderates to shut up, get in line or face the consequences. There’s another example in a Huffington Post interview today with Claudia Webbe, a key Corbyn ally and Labour NEC member, which is worth reading in full.
Among various highlights, she declares that “I accept theoretically we didn’t win…It wasn’t because Theresa May won why she is still prime minister. It wasn’t because Jeremy lost. Jeremy, in a sense, didn’t lose, the Labour party didn’t lose.”
That feat of redefinition is a core requirement to what comes next – the use of the election result to bludgeon non-Corbynite MPs. Webbe blasts those who “didn’t believe that you could win politics from the left”, ignoring the fact that they ended up being proven right. More troublingly for those in her sights, she says that the only reason why some MPs didn’t face deselection was the snap nature of the election, and is absolutely clear that she expects the whole party to be remodelled along purist Corbynite lines:
“…even though there isn’t the open resistance to Jeremy now, we can’t rest really. We have to continue the project and we have to be confident that we have the people in the party structures that are going to take forward and support Jeremy’s agenda. Now that might upset a few people or upset people that think that is a bit controlling and we are not as open as a party. We are. But we have an agenda. We set out a manifesto. We elected a leader. We have to drive that agenda. We can’t just say all of that doesn’t matter. We have to have people in the party structures that believe in all of this.”
If you’re someone who believes the former part of her thesis – that Corbyn only “theoretically didn’t win”, that “Jeremy didn’t lose” and that the result is a conclusive vindication of his approach – then the latter part, the Corbynite purification of the entire Labour Party, will come as good news. If you’re any other kind of Labour supporter, however, the sight of Corbynism full of vindication and brooking no dissent will be rather more worrying.