Fair is foul and foul is fair… STEVEN DOWNES on how the witch-hunt within the Labour Party is going in Croydon
It’s not Halloween for a couple of days yet, but the Murdoch press has banded together with right-wingers who still fondly remember the Bliar years and they are out with their pitchforks and burning torches on a witch-hunt.
Corbyn may have got 60 per cent of the vote in Labour’s leadership election, while the “Heir to Blair” candidate, Progress’s Liz Kendall, managed a gobsmackingly modest 4 per cent, but the left-wing Islington MP lacks support among his parliamentary colleagues.
And they are determined that he won’t be allowed to forget it.
Unable to force a re-run of the leadership election – which Corbyn, just through his sheer common decency, might well win with an enhanced majority – elements within the Parliamentary Labour Party, and their chums in Progress, therefore appear to have decided to “get at him” through his staff and advisers.
To witness the sort of bogus tests of loyalty and party allegiances that have gone on this week in a relentless assault is to experience some element of what it must have been like to live through McCarthyism.
First up for the show trial treatment has been Andrew Fisher, the Croydon resident, occasional Inside Croydon commenter, and Corbyn’s political adviser.
It was a Croydon councillor, The Hon Emily Benn, who was used as the attack dog last week, her complaint to the party about one of Fisher’s comments on Twitter in August 2014 and call for his expulsion somehow making it into the pages of The Observer on Sunday. Guido Fawkes, the goading columnist for The Sun, has gleefully followed up with further extracts from Fisher’s often opinionated and direct Twitter timeline.
All of them, it is worth reminding ourselves, were published by Fisher when he held no official position within the Labour Party, apart from that of a member who was not afraid to air his opinion. Ahh, but you don’t want to have an opinion…
Without wishing to extend the Halloween metaphor too far, the flaw in the choice of The Hon Emily (she is the daughter of a hereditary peer) as the injured party is that she’s managed to have a couple of skeletons in her tweeting cupboard, too.
But it is hard not to consider that the pressure on Fisher is mounting. Last night, he withdrew from giving a talk to a Croydon Central constituency meeting. Today, he deleted his Twitter account.
He may be responding to what appears to be a chiding from Corbyn, if a report for the New Statesman by the Mirror‘s political editor, Kevin Maguire, is anything to go by.
“Jeremy Corbyn, Labour’s genial leader, read what (for him) passes as the riot act to staff recently, pleading that they be more professional,” wrote Maguire. “… a frustrated Comrade Corbyn was forced to ‘have a word’ with his apparatchiks, winning enemies and alienating friends.”
According to reports, the latest MP to complain formally about Fisher has been Chuka Umunna, the MP for Streatham whose own leadership ambitions failed to last more than a week. Umunna, the one-time “rising star” of the right of the Labour Party who was not prepared to take a job in Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, complained that members of his CLP would not be persuaded to campaign in nearby Croydon South because of Fisher’s Twitter activity. Seriously.
How long do we need to maintain the pretence that the General Election campaign for The Hon Emily in the overwhelmingly safe Tory seat of Croydon South was anything other than window-dressing, when the real campaigning was going on in Croydon Central?
Umunna’s Streatham constituency is, of course, in Lambeth, a heartland of political support for Steve Reed OBE, the former leader of the “Co-operative Council” there and now MP for Croydon North/Lambeth South. Reed remains a vice-chair of Progress since taking a job in Corbyn’s shadow team.
Among Reed’s firmest supporters in Croydon are the couple who run the Croydon South CLP, Andy Bagnall and Joanne Milligan, who backed The Hon Emily’s candidacy for the General Election in which campaign highlights included a launch staged outside the constituency and a concert by a string quartet.
Reed and Umunna are thought not to get on, ever since the then council leader felt he was usurped from the constituency he thought would be his as of right. If they are in some way working together to de-stabilise Fisher, and therefore Corbyn, it will be the most unholy of alliances since the witches in Macbeth got together.
Maguire writes that the “potentially explosive complaint” from City banker Emily Benn is troubling Corbyn, because she is the niece of Corbyn’s shadow foreign affairs spokesman, Hilary Benn, and granddaughter of Tony Benn. “Tony Benn was his political hero”.
Fisher has indicated this week that he won’t resign. That will leave his position in the hands of Corbyn, and the National Executive Committee, who will have to weigh a few sharp tweets against a lifetime of activism and campaigning for the socialist cause.
But if Fisher is forced out, the blood-letting won’t end there, as Corbyn’s recently appointed communications chief, Seumas Milne, appears next in line for the holier-than-thou Progressers as they attempt to strip away from their democratically elected party leader those closest to him.
That’s Progress for you.
- Want to find out what Andrew Fisher really thinks, in more than 140 characters? His Inside Croydon article archive can be found here
- Andrew Fisher and John McDonnell are among those due to speak at the Croydon People’s Assembly on Nov 7
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