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Editorial: Britain's left is facing a sustained ideological offensive

STOCKPORT MP Nav Mishra’s warning that “constant anonymous briefings and threats” risk poisoning the Labour leadership race is spot on.

Mishra’s anger is directed at stories suggesting Labour MPs might quit if Rebecca Long Bailey wins, but these are part of a wider problem.

MPs who briefed HuffPost UK gave wildly different figures for the number who would walk out — none, “about a dozen,” 35, 50 — suggesting that, as so often during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, talk of leaving is more about psychological warfare within the party than actual plans.

Claims that “continuity Corbynism” would be sticking “two fingers up to the public” are a bit rich from a parliamentary party that spent most of the last four years trying to sabotage the 2016 EU referendum result, sinking the Labour Party’s electoral prospects in the process. 

And we can safely ignore the contortions in Bermondsey and Old Southwark MP Neil Coyle’s claim that “the front bench will continue to fail to represent members” if the wrong leader is elected by, well, the members.

The record of those MPs who did break away from Labour (and for that matter from the Conservatives) does not inspire imitation.

Establishment pundits and politicians who bewail the rise of “populism” have left no stone unturned in their search for the lost “centre ground” before the bankers’ crash, Corbyn and Brexit turned their world upside down.

Some efforts have focused on winning back control over one of Britain’s two main parties, others on creating a new party, others have bet on the constantly deferred Lib Dem breakthrough. 

All the defectors who founded Change UK almost a year ago lost their seats, whether they stuck with that still-born vanity project, opted to go it alone or tried to piggy-back on a Lib Dem ticket. If any brand of politics was decisively rejected last December it was their bland, managerial, pro-status quo ticket.

In an election branded across the broadcast media “the Brexit election,” in which the winning party campaigned almost exclusively around its slogan “Get Brexit Done” and which saw Labour lose 54 seats to that party, 52 of them Leave-voting, there was one overwhelming reason for Labour’s defeat and it wasn’t a socialist manifesto.

Unfortunately it suits a lot of powerful figures in the Labour Party to pretend otherwise. The British Establishment had a nasty scare in 2017, when it almost got saddled with a prime minister who would have challenged its policies, privileges and assumptions across the board.

It does not want to risk such a close shave in the future. This explains why Corbyn’s defeat has not ended the ideological attacks. 

These include the public attempts to undermine any Long Bailey leadership in advance — which began before Christmas with Roy Hattersley’s call on MPs to refuse to co-operate in the event of her victory and continue now with her heckling by Labour councillors at a local government leadership hustings. 

They include the dangerous “10 demands” of the Board of Deputies signed up to by all Labour leadership candidates and all for deputy leader except Richard Burgon and Dawn Butler, as well as the disgusting smears against leading left cultural figures Michael Rosen and Ken Loach.

It probably also goes for the unexplained suspension of two candidates for Labour’s NEC, Jo Bird and Mo Azam, the timing of which is suspicious. 

Calls for unity behind a leader aren’t enough. The strength of support even among Corbyn supporters for a non-left candidate who actually resigned in the “chicken coup” in 2016 and is more associated with the electorally disastrous Remain cause than any other — Keir Starmer — indicates a much deeper problem. 

The unity we need is a unity of the socialist left — including a willingness to stand up and fight for comrades who are targeted by a political right, inside and outside Labour, that is running rings around us.

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