10 Sep 2015

Jeremy Corbyn: Lenin or Citizen Smith?

‘More Wolfie than Lenin’, was one Labour MP’s verdict on Jeremy Corbyn – and he was a colleague who knows him quite well.


For years, Jeremy Corbyn’s allies in the old leadership of Islington Council had a bust of Lenin outside the council chamber. It now sits in Islington Museum.

Many Labour MPs admit they just don’t know Jeremy Corbyn. Some contemptuously boast that they’ve spent years not talking to him. Even within the Socialist Campaign Group of MPs you find long-serving Labour MPs who say “don’t really know him.”

There’s an unwritten cultural division even in this small group between the northern MPs who over the years have sat on the front bench below the gangway and the London types who sit on the back.

So would Jeremy Corbyn as leader be tough or consensual?

Jeremy Corbyn consistently (even in private, I am told) talks about bringing people with him and working by consensus. And he’ll put policy areas like Trident into a “review.” But who decides the policy at the end of the review?

Bennites in the late 1970’s and 1980’s ground away through committees, associations and rulebooks to advance their cause. This moment of Leftist triumph, if it has come, is very different. There’s been some organisation but there’s also been a spontaneous and unexpected uprising of support – it’s got elements of a stork dropping victory into their laps.

The ground troops of the Left are not in quite the same shape as they were and the bushy-tailed enthusiastic new registered supporters will need coaxing, herding and direction if they’re going to help Jeremy Corbyn entrench a decisive shift to the left.

Many trained eyes in the PLP next week will be on who gets jobs around the leader – not just the Shadow Cabinet but the adviser roles in the leader’s office. Are they people with a history of organising, with a history outside the Labour Party?

On Radio 4 this morning, Jon Cruddas spoke for many Labour MPs when he said he feared this moment “might turn into an early 80’s Trotskyite tribute band.”

As for the Shadow Cabinet itself, it sounds like there is not secret draft plan for appointments. Appointing Cabinets when you’re the Prime Minister with tons of patronage can take a while as some refuse jobs, kick up rough or can’t be contacted.

Appointing a Shadow Cabinet when you are Jeremy Corbyn and relatively friendless amongst parliamentary colleagues could be a mighty challenge. You need a Shadow Foreign Secretary and a Shadow Defence Secretary who will not resign the moment you put Labour commitment to Trident up for review. Ideally, you want people in those jobs who would defend the cancellation of Trident.

I mentioned yesterday the jitters in the Corbyn camp that they might have peaked too soon, that full-fat members are pulling back from them. But the YouGov polls and the anecdotal evidence and phone bank data suggests they had a long way to fall to lose this.

You could forgive the Left fear of failure after years on the sidelines and years as the bogeymen. Even at this moment on the brink of possible victory you find Left figures in the Party who are convinced they will lose out in the end even if they win on Saturday, that the Centre Right will come back and eject them, forcing them to create their own party.

There are deep wounds, long memories and great hopes vying for supremacy in this battle. You can see Jeremy Corbyn’s last thoughts as he speaks to Jon Snow live from his last campaign rally on Channel 4 News tonight.

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