Headline: The mortal threat to Labour
Sub-headline: The party’s future is uncertain as it loses touch with the working class, writes Jon Cruddas
The framing of the headline and the sub-headline are familiar, yet Jon Cruddas shows himself to be one of the most able Anti-Corbyn propagandists yet to appear in the pages of The Financial Times: he casts a long shadow over, even the coterie of professional journalists, whose reportorial appetite for apostate hunting has reached a creative cul-de-sac. Three highlights of this essay provide a clue to the talent Mr. Cruddas brings to this endeavor. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that he is not New Labour to his core, his slight dig at Blair acts as mere rhetorical gesture. Like an experienced politician, he recognizes the power of both rhetoric and gesture to winning, if not the argument, then at the least the loyalty of his readers/auditors.
1) Demonstrates the power of historical analogy: The ‘realism’ of Lansbury as opposed to the the ‘lack of realism’ of Corbyn.
Supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour party, often compare him to the great radical interwar Labour leader George Lansbury. But this comparison does not help him today. When, on a collision course with his parliamentary party over intervention in Abyssinia, on a number of separate occasions Lansbury offered his resignation. Yet so loved was he by his parliamentary colleagues that they refused to let him go before eventually conceding to the inevitable. Unlike Mr Corbyn, Lansbury knew his pacifist beliefs would in the end prove irreconcilable with the task of leading the party and the need for support of Westminster representatives in a parliamentary democracy.
2) A quotation from a beloved political figure from a different national political context relevant to one of the political quandaries of the present:
The former leader of the UK Independence party, Nigel Farage, knew this better than most. His extraordinary political project caught alight in January 2014 when he started to talk about there being “some things that matter more than money”. This echoed Robert F Kennedy’s line about how emphasis on GDP measures everything apart from what is important in life.
3) An apt quotation from an American political philosopher, who advocates a civic patriotism as key to a renewal of the ‘mainstream left’, which is argumentatively equal to the election of Owen Jones, or someone like him, as antidote to the ‘radical’ Corbyn.
The US political philosopher Michael Sandel argued that for the mainstream left to survive it has to return to its foundations and offer a renewed civic patriotism rooted in a moral critique of the excesses of capitalism. Nowhere, he argues, is this happening. Both the Labour left and right tend toward the abstract, global and remote while the British people seek renewed national solutions. We have failed to build a philosophy of the common good expressed in an optimistic and generous national story. Maybe Mr Smith will rise to that challenge. Someone had better.
Earlier in the essay Mr. Cruddas makes another historical analogy, in which Corbyn is rhetorically cast in the role of a Spartacist Radical: a signal that the political crisis is of the greatest historical moment. Is the action contemplated by Mr. Cruddas anything like Carl Schmitt’s political exceptionalism?
The closest historical parallel with this situation lies not in Westminster but in Berlin in 1918. Friedrich Ebert led the Social Democratic party (SPD) and the national government in the Reichstag, claiming legitimacy from the democratic vote of the people, whereas the Spartacists, including Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Kautsky, claimed theirs from the workers’ movement, the factory committees and works councils. Ebert ultimately unleashed the Freikorps against the leaders of the insurrection leading to the establishment of the German Communist party and a wider political polarisation across German society and the eventual victory of fascism.
Let me offer my reorganization of the material as just an alternative reading.