The article by John Rentoul is interesting, but not everyone agrees that this is “sudden.” Below is a comment from another Labour Party member. Personally, I know just how long and hard mainstream Labour members have had to work to defeat the far left Stalinists and Trotskyists who use “entryist” tactics to take over the Labour Party under Corbyn. The far left did not “melt away” – they were defeated by long, hard work.
“The tide turned on Corbyn in Sept 2016 disguised by: 1) the amplification effect of social media 2) the gullibility of sufficient numbers of Remain voters in June 2017 duped by his self defeating ridiculous face-both-ways Brexit policy into believing that Labour was pro Remain (in which Sir Keir was knowingly complicit btw) 3) May’s incompetence 4) the maddening, self indulgent, posturing insistence on resigning from the party of enough sensible Labour members to have beaten Corbyn in the 2018 NEC ballot. Corbynism’s collapse has not been sudden. It’s happened years ago, hidden in plain sight. Maddening. 25% of those who left the pitch to sit in the stands and jeer and insult those of us who carried on would have been enough to have made a real difference. Brexit might never have happened. And a 2019 Tory landslide could have been avoided.”
The sudden collapse of Corbynism at the Labour grassroots is transforming the landscape for Keir Starmer
The Labour leader has more room for manoeuvre than many thought possible when he assumed his position, writes John Rentoul
The Corbynite army is melting away. The solid base of Jeremy Corbyn’s power during his four-year insurgency was his majority support among grassroots members of the Labour Party. That gave Corbyn his grip on the leadership, his control of the national executive, and the support of the party’s sovereign body, its annual conference – even if the parliamentary party and local government remained in other hands all that time.
That majority among the membership, it was thought, would constrain Keir Starmer. It reluctantly elected him after the disaster of defeat in 2019, hoping he would be a more credible alternative prime minister but tied to Corbynite policies. Either he would stick to those policies because he agreed with them, or because the threat of civil war in the party was too great if he tried to depart from them.
That is not how things are turning out. The Corbynite majority is retreating almost as fast as this month’s snow. Several constituency Labour parties held their annual general meetings this week, and Corbyn supporters lost ground in most of them. Momentum, the Corbynite faction, lost control of Hampstead & Kilburn, the London seat of Tulip Siddiq, and Erith & Thamesmead, held by Abena Oppong-Asare; and came close to losing Battersea and Hornsey & Wood Green. Recent internal elections have confirmed the Corbynite retreat in Enfield Southgate and Hackney South, and, outside London, in Bristol West, Harlow, Stevenage, Banbury and North Norfolk.
“The far left are now struggling in even their deepest redoubts,” one activist tells me. “Despite all the noises off, the party wants Starmer to succeed.” The party membership remains Corbynite in its support for policies such as nationalisation and nuclear disarmament, but it always has been. I recently came across Patrick Seyd and Paul Whiteley’s study of Labour members’ attitudes in 1989 to 1990: they found 82 per cent wanted privatised companies returned to the public sector, and 86 per cent wanted to spend less on defence. The members have always thought of themselves as left wing, but what varies is their willingness to compromise those beliefs in order to win.
The Corbyn membership, who joined or rejoined since 2015, briefly convinced themselves that they could win without compromising in 2017, only to be rudely reminded of the usual rules in 2019. Some of the more ideological of the Corbynites have left, but most of those who supported Corbyn now support Starmer. “There is no adulation for Starmer as there was for Corbyn – or even, briefly, for TB,” says my activist friend. “So it can feel that one side is ‘full of passionate intensity’ and the other is unenthusiastic, but that’s not right.” One side is the long-run Labour tradition that has always been broadly loyal to the leadership, this activist says, and the other is “an insurgency that is now dying off, perhaps more rapidly than any of us ever expected”.
That means Starmer has more room for manoeuvre than many people thought possible when he became leader. Corbyn managed to exclude himself from the parliamentary party, and Starmer is under surprisingly little pressure to readmit him. Not only did Momentum fall well short of winning a majority of votes in the national executive elections in November, gaining just 37 per cent of first preferences and losing four seats under the new proportional representation system, but it is not obvious that, when Labour does eventually hold a national conference, Momentum could command a majority there.
Which may explain why Starmer is prepared to take risks such as opposing any immediate rise in corporation tax in next week’s Budget. Even many of the pragmatic non-Corbynites and ex-Corbynites who increasingly hold sway in local Labour parties find that hard to swallow. If Rishi Sunak, a Tory in social-democrat clothing, wants to put up taxes on the big companies that have profited during the pandemic, that’s good enough for them – and enough to overcome their punk-Keynesian desire to boost government borrowing in a recession.
But it is the astonishing collapse of Corbynism at the grassroots of the Labour Party that explains why Starmer feels able to make such a controversial raid to seize the Tories’ title as the “pro-business party”.