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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 1 New Delhi December 21, 2019 | ANNUAL NUMBER

United Kingdom: Collapse of Corbynism

Saturday 21 December 2019

by Sankar Ray

The shattering defeat of Jeremy Corbyn—‘Brexitquake, not Youthquake’—was more unexpected for the fellow-travellers the world over, not of Labour Party of the UK alone. They anticipated a victory of the charismatic challenger to the Conservative candidate, Boris Johnson, the sitting Prime Minister, but oblivious of the stark ground reality. A tweet from Matt Kenard read: “52% of voters—17.4 million people—voted to leave the EU in 2016, many of them Labour voters. They had absolutely no idea why they were being asked by Labour to vote again. And they were right. 2nd ref was always an establishment stitch up to reverse a result they didn’t like.”

Another reason inter alia was Corbyn and his shadow Cabinet’s obsession with ideology that blinded them so much that they ignored the electoral kinetics of calculated strategy of Right reaction which is reportedly invigorated by Israeli Rightwing interests. Refusal by the London daily Independent to carry counter-rejoinder by Slavoj Žižek to Andres Joyce’s vitriolic tirade, “ Slavoj Žižek’s ‘Pervert’s Guide’ to Anti-Semitism” cheers the hard core Conservatives. “To whom do I owe an unreserved apology? Not to those who are attacking me—they have their own ‘trouble with Palestinians’—but to those (like Gideon Levy) who remain faithful to the true Jewish legacy”, the Slovenian Leninist philosopher wrote, “Rabbi Mirvis wrote in his infamous letter: ‘a new poison—sanctioned from the top—has taken root in the Labour Party.’ My answer to this is that a new poison—sanctioned from the top — has taken root in Israeli politics” He referred to Levy’s comment in the Israeli daily Haaretz, captioned, “From Now On, Every Palestinian Is an anti-Semite.” Žižek added, “The plague is spreading. Under cover of the (just) war against anti-Semitism, Europe and the United States silence every voice daring to criticise Israel.”

But there is no scope of interpreting the defeat as a sequel to togetherness of anti-Left forces as even the Tory brass couldn’t imagine that Corbyn’s vote-share would fall from 40 per cent down to 33—Labour Party’s most ignominious defeat since 1945. Corbyn, who entered the House of Commons 36 years ago—‘the unlikely poster child for the Left, whose expectation-defying performance in the UK’s last election in 2017 caught eyes across Europe and won fans in the United States had no option other than owning the responsibility and stepping down. But insiders, a well-known academic, a political scientist on the staff of a top university, ‘needed a scapegoat’ as Brexit-quake is ‘very different causation’. Corbyn failed to hit back against the smear campaigns of his enemies despite his Zen-like calm, but to millions of others it looked like weakness.

London correspondent of Politico of Brussels, Emilio Casalicchio, in a revealing commentary, envisions a ‘civil war’ inside the Labour Party and end of Corbyn’s political career as a Left-wing social democrat. “The Labour Left was not scrabbling to save the blushes of Corbyn. Rather, it was seeking to frame the inevitable battle for the soul of the party in its own terms. For decades, the Left longed to hold the levers of power in Labour, and it will not release its grip without a fight,” he wrote.

While after the 2017 election that forced Theresa May to leave No 10 Downing Street and Corbynism appeared as a vast umbrella with various factions under it, apparently representing ‘the squirming, triangulating positions the Labour leader settled on over different issues. But as the Corbyn umbrella disappears, many in the party expect the structure beneath it to shatter into pieces,’ Casalicchio quipped.

For Matt Seaton, noted political commentator, Corbyn’s catastrophe is ‘The Strange Death of Social-Democratic England’—a lengthy essay in the New York Review of Books. Perhaps Corbyn’s shadow cabinet’s error was its over-estimation of “blue-collar voters who are older, more socially conservative, more nationalistic, and generally more anti-immigration than Labour’s far more progressive activist member-ship, yet the party feels, by all ties of history and sentiment, that they are nevertheless its people. But even in these heartland constituencies, polling evidence shows that actual Labour voters still broke Remain, not Leave; and that a good many of those “natural” Labour voters already defected, either first to the United Kingdom Independence Party or later to its successor Brexit Party. Many of them will have voted Tory in this election on the basis of Johnson’s promise to ‘get Brexit done’, Seaton assertively penned.

Corbyn confronts Marcus Brutus: “We, at the height, are ready to decline. There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat, and we must take the current when it serves, or lose our ventures." (William Shakespeare: Julius Caesar, Act IV Scene III). But the bard’s pessimism may turn upside down as the libertarian social democracy can’t be defeated forever.

A veteran journalist, the author is a Left intellectual based in Kolkata.

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