The Guardian/Observer remains the house journal of the Blairites, and while they have temporarily turned down the volume on the Corbyn hate, it is a good place to assess how the right wing forces in Labour are planning to reassert themselves. And the answer is in part that they are clutching at racism like a drowning man clutching at a straw. Andrew Rawnsley, the epitome of the Blairite journalist who exudes overpaid entitlement, quotes with endorsement Gordon Brown protégé Natascha Engel, defeated Labour ex-MP for NE Derbyshire, who states “what we need to do is reconnect with our white working class voters”.
Now ask yourself, what is the purpose of the word “white” in that sentence?
Tom Watson, in a co-ordinated interview in the same edition also much quoted by Rawnsley, does not use the word white. He employs the euphemism “traditional”. He talks of the need to “give greater reassurance to our traditional working class voters.”
But we know exactly what the Labour right mean when they talk about reassuring the “white working class” or the “traditional working class”. They mean that Labour should mimic UKIP and the Tories and pander to popular anti-immigration racism.
“Deborah Mattinson, the strategy director of Britain Thinks, was involved in her first Labour campaign in 1987. She can’t be dismissed as a Tory stooge. After conducting extensive focus groups with swing voters in six marginal seats, she reports: “There were as many who voted Labour in spite of Corbyn as did because of Corbyn.”
That chimes with the views of the many Labour MPs who are still Corbyn-sceptics. They are keeping their heads down at the moment for fear of being monstered by Momentum activists and targeted for deselection, but their secret view is that the election result was not proof of a resounding endorsement of Corbynism. “Given that no one thought Labour could possibly win, it was a massive protest vote,” says one of their number.”
Mattinson certainly can be, and ought to be, dismissed as a Tory stooge – Britain Thinks is closely connected to right wing entryist group Progress. But all of this speaks to a determination by the right to continue to argue that only right wing policies can win votes. You have to be against immigration, for Trident, for military action abroad, for privatisation, or you can’t win votes.
The truth is that Corbyn got more votes than New Labour ever did, except once in 1997 – and in 1997 Labour fought on a left wing manifesto (which Blair then betrayed). But the re-assertion of the myth of the unelectability of the left is the only weapon in the Blairite arsenal. All of which hinges on a portrayal of the “traditional working class” as Alf Garnett.
It is worth noting – and is a symptom of the Labour right’s hopeless state – that the immigrant knocking plan is at odds with the Chukka single market plan, which entails freedom of movement. It is also extremely peculiar that the sixty MPs who defied the whip to vote for the single market correlate very closely with the MPs who voted to launch bombing and destruction on Syria. You need a warped mind to reconcile those views.
Rather than being grateful for the very well paid job the Labour Party has landed them, Labour MPs remain convinced it is they who are important and they should have a key role in determining party policy. Years of determined Blairite/Progress activity has given them a firm grip on party machinery. Most of the party’s paid staff are very right wing indeed. Jeremy Corbyn, at the moment. is in a much more powerful position within the party than he was six months ago. But the right will be digging relentlessly to undermine him again, starting now. Corbyn and his supporters need now to show a ruthless streak in purging their party structure of the Blairites, asserting membership control of policy and executive power, and of course introducing compulsory deselection and reselection of MPs. Otherwise, I predict this Corbyn phenomenon will be looked back on as a brief spark of hope, soon snuffed out.