It’s not surprising that allies of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn have drawn up a list of enemies within the party. After all, moderate Labour MPs have been plotting a coup against their left-wing leader for months. MP Dan Jarvis is already raising money for a run against Corbyn.
Corbyn disavowed the list to The Times but The New Stateman said it came from the desk of his political secretary, Katy Clark.
It’s actually smart that Corbyn knows who he can count on, and who he cannot. Only an idiot would go into battle without that information.
However, the appearance of an actual printed list — which ranks MPs as “Core group,” or “Hostile,” among other categories — confirms that the oldest, dumbest problem on the left is alive and well: the spiteful, petty sectarianism that keeps the left fighting itself more fiercely than it fights the Conservatives.
It’s the left’s worst-kept secret. They hate each other more than they hate the government, even though the differences between them are far smaller than the Tories they oppose.
My favourite example of this are Britain’s communists, a vanishingly small group on the left. There are probably only a few hundred actual communists in the UK. Yet they cannot agree on which communist party they should all join. Currently, you can choose between:
- The Communist Party of Britain.
- The Communist Party of Great Britain.
- The Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist).
- The Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee).
The lead article on that last one’s web site is titled, “End the cycle of splits.” (If you’ve ever seen the “People’s Front of Judea” scene in Monty Python’s “Life of Brian,” all this will feel familiar.)
None of these organisations has anything to do with Corbyn. But their sectarian gradations typify the culture of the left.
When Corbyn won the Labour leadership with a staggering majority of votes, he pulled off an astonishing feat: He had created a broad left coalition under the “Momentum” banner with enough power to elect an actual socialist as Labour’s top man. This victory cannot be under-estimated. People on the left have been trying to do this for more than 100 years. It’s a genuine achievement. For a moment, it looked as if the left might have the ability to put aside its internal differences and mount a new, imaginative criticism of the status quo, and build something more innovative and thoughtful.
But almost as soon as victory was won, the infighting began. Max Shanly, one of Momentum’s chief activists, began issuing threats to regional Momentum activists whom he deemed insufficiently respectful. He promised to publish “a rather interesting set of emails” about an activist he didn’t like, saying, “That’s not a threat, it’s an offer.” When another protested, Shanly replied, “I don’t know who you are … but by the looks of it you’re trouble.”
You can write this off as amateurish bluster.
Or you can see it as an example of the left’s darkest impulse: The creation of classes of people who must be opposed, purged, or worse … even when they are on your side.
Some Labour MPs thought the list’s categories (core group, core group plus, neutral but not hostile, core group negative, and hostile) were reminiscent of Stalin’s lists of enemies of the state. “Those categories really are: gallows, gulag, re-education, jury’s out and comrades,” one MP told The Times, jokingly. The fact that Corbyn’s media spokesman is Seumas Milne, an actual Stalinist who once edited a newspaper that represented the Communist Party of Great Britain, makes the joke less funny.
When Corbyn won the leadership, he knew he would have an enormously difficult task: The next general election is in 2020 and he will go into battle with MPs who largely regard him as beyond the pale. One option was for Corbyn to say to his colleagues, “Look, we disagree on many things. So let’s just focus on the things we do agree on, and otherwise oppose the Tories at every juncture.” That would include a pretty decent list of issues — funding the NHS, supporting doctors’ pay, reducing economic inequality, job creation, tackling the housing crisis. The Conservatives are weak on all those issues, and even the most right-wing Labour members want to win the next election.
And then this list came out.
“Fucking disaster. Worse week for Corbyn since he came in and that stupid fucking list makes us into a laughing stock,” tweeted Labour MP John Woodcock.
But worse than that, it confirms the suspicions of those outside the Corbyn-Momentum “core group.” That if you disagree with Corbyn, you’re on a “hostile” list. It will be extremely awkward for Corbyn to attend campaign events alongside Sadiq Khan or Chuka Umunna. Both men are on the “hostile” list even though both are potential future cabinet members and Khan is on the verge of becoming the Mayor of London (and thus a potential future prime minister).
That is the price that people on the left will pay for their enemies lists. Khan and Corbyn have differences, sure. But they have much more in common than they have to fight about. Yet the Corbyn list labels him as hostile. It’s not smart.
NOW WATCH: Briefing videos
Business Insider Emails & Alerts
Site highlights each day to your inbox.