Monday 7 March 2016 may well go down as a momentous evening in the Corbyn regime. It was the night when Corbyn and the MPs who support him finally stopped allowing the agenda to be set by the internal opposition. It was the night Corbyn told them the sniping and sneering must stop. He is of course right - and about time too!
Everyone knows Corbyn’s style is to avoid conflict and promote consensus. But, faced with relentless hostility from the PLP, that approach quickly became unsustainable. The internal opposition will use any stick they can find to try to beat Corbyn. He was criticised widely for speaking at a CND rally instead of campaigning to stay in the EU on the day Labour had designated. But that totally ignored the fact that he campaigned in Yorkshire that morning at the launch of Labour IN before travelling to London to speak.
Corbyn at last standing up to the PLP gives us hope that the Party will be able to unite around him. But there are enough potential issues coming up to ensure that the calls to keep quiet will have to be repeated in the months to come.
Those elements of the PLP who want to see Corbyn gone are, we are told, plotting ‘one last push’ for a leadership challenge following the May elections. The positioning of potential candidates is clear from the media pronouncements of the internal opposition.
Dan Jarvis is clearly being touted as a preferred alternative and has come out of hiding to write an article about the need to tackle inequality – as if that’s not something Corbyn wants to do.
Then there is Jess Phillips, not so much stalking horse as attack dog. When she was interviewed last year she was open about how she would ‘stab him [Corbyn] in the front, not the back’ if he wasn’t making enough progress as Labour leader. She followed that up by answering the question of whether Labour could win an election with ‘absolutely not’.
It isn’t surprising that attention-hungry MPs are saying anything to get themselves into the media spotlight, but the fact that the queue of willing participants is so long means that the proclamations have to become more extreme to catch attention. While there are plenty of discussions going on around Westminster about when and how to make a move on Corbyn, the likes of Jess Phillips cannot be allowed to continually undermine the leadership in such a systematic way.
Corbyn’s excellent response to the Budget, cutting through the spin and fiddled figures to set out an alternative to austerity and billions of pounds of welfare cuts for the most vulnerable in society, has been widely acclaimed. This is exactly what Labour needs to be doing in the coming weeks. The pressure already building for a U-turn on Personal Independence Payments cuts, along with two opinion polls showing the Tory lead disappearing, should focus MPs minds on unity.
An increasing trend in some sections of the left is to look for a possible alternative candidate to Corbyn in the event of a leadership election. Well it’s time for a reality check on that front. There are no alternative candidates who would make it onto the ballot paper. There must also be total resistance to any suggestion of a candidate of the so-called soft-left being supported in order to compromise with the PLP. Prior to Corbyn announcing he was running, the hope of the left was that Andy Burnham might make a couple of pledges on renationalizing the railways. Anything other than a Corbyn leadership must be vigorously opposed on all fronts.
CORBYN IN THE COUNTRY
Contrast the feeling at Westminster, with talk of continuing disquiet in the PLP and leadership challenges, with what is happening in the labour movement. Corbyn has recently spoken at three large events, and on each occasion he was afforded the same level of adoration which came to symbolize his leadership campaign.
At the CND rally at the end of February tens of thousands of people stood in the cold of Trafalgar Square for almost two hours to hear him speak. Hundreds of party supporters went to see him speak in support of the London mayoral campaign at Goldsmiths College. He delivered the Keir Hardy Annual Lecture in Aberdare to the largest gathering for a political meeting in the Valleys for a generation.
That the movement is still fully behind Corbyn should give his supporters great comfort – and those plotting his downfall reason to think twice.