by Stuart Littlewood
Well I don’t know why I came here tonight
I got the feeling that something ain’t right,
I’m so scared in case I fall off my chair,
And I’m wondering how I’ll get down the stairs,
Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you.
Yes I’m stuck in the middle with you,
And I’m wondering what it is I should do,
It’s so hard to keep this smile from my face,
Losing control, yeah, I’m all over the place,
Clowns to the left of me, Jokers to the right…
— Lyrics from ‘Stuck in the Middle with You’
Only last December I was writing a piece titled ‘You have better things to do than captain a sinking ship – Message to Corbyn: dump the baggage, build from new’.
That message said:
Last Wednesday – ‘Let’s Bomb Syria Day’ – was a day of infamy. Tomorrow you’ll need to come to terms with the UK Labour party’s unswerving death-wish.
Its integrity is in tatter, brand image beyond repair, and the very voters it needs to win round regard it as a joke. And the thousands who became your supporters in the heady days of the leadership campaign, exhilarated and inspired by the promise of better politics, are dismayed that their high hopes can never be delivered through such a bitterly divided party machine.”
In that debate on bombing Syria senior Labour MPs and shadow ministers supported the Tory warmongers. In particular Hilary Benn (son of the illustrious Tony) played on human fears, ignored operational shortcomings and discounted the risk of reprisals against ‘soft’ targets on our streets. His scare tactics were exactly what the warmongers wanted to hear and his speech was triumphantly applauded by Tory Government benches and praised in the media. The party’s Blairite rump, who had shamed the nation by blindly voting for the Iraq war 12 years earlier, trooped into the lobbies to vote for war in Syria.
In a recent speech to Labour Friends of Israel Benn, the shadow foreign secretary, dishonestly called the rogue state “a vibrant democracy”, talked of shared values and claimed the bonds between it and the Labour party were “strong and run deep”. The puzzle was how Jeremy Corbyn could have appointed such a person to that key post. Earlier this week Corbyn finally sacked him, a move that set off a vengeful chain reaction.
Only 10 months ago Corbyn came from nowhere and panicked the Westminster Establishment by winning the Labour leadership with nearly 60% of first-choice votes. His nearest rival mustered only 19% so he had sufficient mandate to silence plotters who threatened a coup if he won. They have smouldered ever since.
The Conservatives reacted by broadcasting that Corbyn and Labour were “a serious risk to our nation’s security, our economy’s security and your family’s security. Whether it’s weakening our defences, raising taxes on jobs and earnings, racking up more debt and welfare or driving up the cost of living by printing money – Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party will hurt working people.”
So slender was his support in the Parliamentary Labour Party (as opposed to the party membership) that his shadow team inevitably included many critics. Mounting an effective opposition has thus been near impossible with so many colleagues willing him to fail, although he has chalked up a number of successes. Of course, the effectiveness of a leader depends in large measure on the performance of his senior colleagues.
Just lately the pressure on Corbyn to step down has been ratcheted-up, with accusations that he didn’t try hard enough to galvanise the Remain vote in the EU referendum. The official party line is pro-EU but ‘Old Labour’ Corbyn has been opposed to the EU for decades and knew perfectly well that at least one-third of Labour supporters would vote Leave.
This week there were mass resignations from his shadow team, at such regular intervals that they were clearly orchestrated for maximum effect. Replacements were hurriedly appointed. In the House of Commons David Cameron made an unusually good joke of it. Welcoming the newly elected Labour MP for Tooting he advised her to “keep her mobile switched on – you might be in the shadow cabinet by the end of the day”.
On Corbyn’s referendum effort Cameron quipped: “I know he says he put his back into it. All I’d say is, I’d hate to see him when he’s not trying.” That might have been funny except that Cameron, when setting up the referendum, couldn’t be bothered to appoint a team to examine the way forward in the event of a Brexit win. Hence the damaging post-Brexit confusion that will probably go on for months.
Then, very rudely, Cameron turned on Corbyn, telling the House: “It might be in my party’s interest for him to sit there, it’s not in the national interest and I would say, for heaven’s sake man, go!”
To illustrate the depths of silliness to which the campaign to oust Corbyn has sunk, the Labour Party today released a report on antisemitism. In a speech introducing it Corbyn said: “Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organisations.”
Fair comment, you might think. But it was eagerly seized on for wild accusations that he was making direct comparison between the Israeli government and Isis, which calls itself the Islamic State, although several other terrorist groups use the same name. A Labour councillor said on Twitter: “For that alone, he should resign. I am red with fury.”
The Telegraph quoted a statement by Lord Sacks in which the former Chief Rabbi accused the Labour leader’s of comparing the State of Israel to ISIS and “demonisation of the highest order, an outrage and unacceptable”. He added: “Israel is a democratic state with an independent judiciary, a free press and a diverse population of many cultures, religions and creeds. ISIS is a terrorist entity whose barbarities have been condemned by all those who value our common humanity.”
No, you couldn’t make it up.
And the current Chief Rabbi is reported calling Corbyn’s comments “offensive, and rather than rebuilding trust among the Jewish community, are likely to cause even greater concern”.
On top of everything Ruth Smeeth, a Labour MP, stormed out of the press conference complaining she was verbally abused by a Corbyn supporter who accused her of being part of a ‘media conspiracy’, and Corbyn failed to intervene. “I call on Jeremy Corbyn to resign immediately and make way for someone with the backbone to confront racism and antisemitism in our party and in the country,” she announced. Reports omit to mention that Smeeth is a former director of BICOM, a pro-Israel propaganda organisation.
So the picture is bleak for Jeremy.
Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right, here I am…
That song is possibly running through his mind repeatedly, and won’t go away.