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The current Labour leadership is completely outside Labour’s mainstream tradition

6 min read

The truth is that Jeremy Corbyn and the hard left have taken over the Labour Party and want to turn it from a mainstream social democratic party into something very different, says Ian Austin MP. 

One of the great ironies of the Jeremy Corbyn leadership is that his supporters want to claim he both represents a “return to Labour’s socialist tradition” and a radical departure from Labour’s past.

Take Owen Jones. When John McDonnell recently spoke at the Marx 200 conference on “Marxism as a force for change today”, I said I couldn’t imagine any previous Labour Chancellor or Shadow Chancellor doing the same thing.

Owen accused me of ignorance, told me to read up on history and said “Clement Attlee’s Labour Party issued a special centenary edition of The Communist Manifesto in 1948”.

He does this all the time and knows what the result will be. Winding up his 740,000 followers with tweets attacking Labour MPs who then send us thousands of abusive messages for days on end.

The truth is that Harold Laski, who chaired the Labour Party in 1945/46, wrote an introduction for a centenary edition of the Communist Manifesto in 1948. He was a significant left-wing figure but advocating class conflict and a workers’ revolution had seen him disowned by Labour’s moderate leadership in the 1945 election.

In fact, Attlee later told Laski bluntly: “You have no right whatever to speak on behalf of the Government … there is widespread resentment in the Party at your activities and a period of silence on your part would be welcome.”

And if Owen actually knew his history, he would never claim that Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell stand in the tradition of the great Labour government of 1945.

Led by Clement Attlee, it was avowedly anti-communist, at the forefront of opposing the Soviet Union and even expelled members of the hard left.

Its great foreign secretary Ernest Bevin was the driving force behind NATO who insisted Britain would have an independent nuclear deterrent.

Attlee secured full employment and the welfare state by building on the ideas of economists John Maynard Keynes and William Beveridge, not on the Communism of Marx or Lenin.

It is ludicrous to pretend Jeremy Corbyn or John McDonnell would have supported a government led by Attlee and Bevin.

The fact is that Labour has never in its history had a leadership as far to the left as this one. Never. And whilst Marxism has always been an important strand of thought for some in the party, previous Labour chancellors would never have said they were working to “overthrow capitalism” as John McDonnell did or when asked to name the “most significant” influences on his thought, reply: “The fundamental Marxist writers of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, basically.”

Jeremy’s supporters – for whom he can do no wrong – will dismiss this as the usual bitter smears to undermine him. But it is much more fundamental than that. The reason I didn’t support Jeremy’s candidacy and have not been persuaded since is because I just don’t think people with track records of extreme views like Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell should lead a mainstream party.

No senior Labour figure would ever have backed violent street protest as John McDonnell did when as recently as between 2010 and 2012, he called for “insurrection” to “bring down” the government or praise rioters who had “kicked the s---” out of the Conservative Party’s offices in Westminster.

On Northern Ireland, they were both completely outside the mainstream of the Labour Party. It might be ancient history for lots of the party’s new young recruits, but lots of older people will never forget what they said about the IRA during a brutal war which saw bombs planted and people murdered in shopping centres, hotels and pubs.

A few weeks after the IRA blew up the Grand Hotel in Brighton and murdered five people at the Tory Party Conference in 1984, Jeremy Corbyn invited two suspected IRA terrorists to the House of Commons. When the man responsible for planting the bomb was put on trial, he demonstrated outside the court.

As recently as 2003, John McDonnell said “those people involved in the armed struggle” should be honoured - people who he said had used “bombs and bullets”.

Let’s be really clear about this. It is not true to claim as John McDonnell does, that he did “everything I possibly could to secure the peace process in Northern Ireland". It is just not true. People like him and Jeremy Corbyn were campaigning for a victory for the republican cause, not working for a peaceful agreement between the two bitterly divided sides.

That’s why Jeremy Corbyn was amongst a handful who voted against the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 and why John McDonnell opposed setting up a power-sharing assembly which eventually became the Good Friday Agreement because “an assembly is not what people have laid down their lives for over thirty years… the settlement must be for a united Ireland.”

Previous Labour leaders fought the hard-left. Neil Kinnock battled to expel Militant, Jeremy Corbyn campaigned against their exclusion, was the “provisional convenor” of the “Defeat the Witch Hunt” campaign and said: “If expulsions are in order for Militant, they should apply to us, too”.

It’s the same story abroad. No previous Labour leadership would have supported totalitarian dictatorships in Cuba or Venezuela, echoed the Russian dictatorship’s line on Ukraine or have taken money from the Iranian dictatorship’s official state broadcaster.

No previous Labour Leader would have repeated Kremlin conspiracy theories when Russia was trying to kill people on the streets of the UK

No previous Labour leader would have defended a grotesque racist caricature or failed to deal properly with the anti-semitism crisis.

No previous Labour leadership would have invited "friends" from Hamas and Hezbollah to an event in Parliament, praised as a “very honoured citizen” someone like Raed Salah who had been found by a British court judge to have used the antisemitic “blood libel”, or defended someone like Stephen Sizer, a vicar disciplined by the Church of England which said he spread ideas which were ‘clearly anti-Semitic’.

And no previous Labour leader would have chaired the so-called Stop the War coalition which actually praised what it said was the “internationalism and solidarity” of ISIS, and compared it to the International Brigades, supported what it called the Iraqi “struggle” against British troops “by any means necessary”, said that it stood with Saddam Hussein, compared Assad to Churchill, and promoted or provided a platform for Assad apologists.

The truth is that Jeremy Corbyn and the hard left have taken over the Labour Party and want to turn it from a mainstream social democratic party into something very different.

It’s got a different leadership, different policies and different values.

They want to create a different party. That’s why mainstream social democrats do not support Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

Ian Austin is the Labour MP for Dudley North. 

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Read the most recent article written by Lord Austin of Dudley - Lords Diary: Lord Austin


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