Corbyn, Momentum and the new Tea Party


Jeremy Corbyn is 1/100 on to win the Labour leadership election. For non-aficionados of the ways of bookmakers, if you bet £100 on the current Labour leader, you’d make £1 in profit. It is safe to say, that the result is somewhat of a foregone conclusion. What that means for British politics though, is far less certain, but the similarities between Momentum – the Labour pressure group with strong ties to Corbyn – and The US Tea Party, are too great to overlook. Momentum’s claims to be a ‘grassroots’ movement, and a ‘voice of the people’ echo the language of the Republican agitators across the pond. More sinisterly, their proposed modus operandi: the deselection of disloyal MPs echoes the entryist tactics of the Tea Party also. This is a practice which has distorted the meaning of democracy, making politicians fearful of selection, not election; fearful of activists not voters. In the USA, it has turned the once proud Republican party – the party that opposed and defeated slavery, and faced down the threat of Soviet communism – into a cabal of populist race-baiters and bigots, each more anxious than the next to show how anti-abortion, equal marriage or science the next is. A victory for Jeremy Corbyn, would be a victory for Momentum and would carry with it the same threat faced by moderate Republicans in the USA: that you must be loyal to activists with the loudest microphone first, and to the electorate second, if at all.

Jeremy Corbyn has himself stated, that he wishes for mandatory reselections ahead of the 2020 general election, assuming the governments redrawing of constituency boundaries goes ahead, and there is great appetite for this in Labour’s left flank, Len Mccluskey, head of the influential Unite union has repeated that sentiment. Many on the left of Labour – including many of the recent surge of new members – view the moderate, and even soft left parts of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) as disloyal to Jeremy Corbyn, and by proxy, disloyal to them. This is not without reason, much of the PLP has consistently briefed against Jeremy Corbyn both publically and privately. In June, following Corbyn’s lacklustre efforts to persuade the country to remain in the EU, the majority of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet resigned and days later, a motion of no confidence was passed with a huge majority by his parliamentary colleagues.

However, what Momentum, and the deselection mob on Labour’s far left fail to understand, is that an elected official ought to be able to oppose their own leader, especially on the grounds of gross incompetence and the inability to provide any real option of electoral success, both of which Jeremy Corbyn stands accused. This is derived from the mandate that Labour MPs have, which comes not from the selection of local party members, but from winning general elections, when put to the wider electorate. Ultimately, there will always be trade-offs, but it is a woeful MP who values the former over the latter.

However, to understand the malaise that is likely to face Labour, it is necessary to understand the electoral climate in which general elections take place. For Labour MPs, the majority of seats need little campaigning to ensure a Labour MP is returned. This is dangerous enough for democracy, but when a pressure group is able to threaten a sitting member in a safe seat with deselection, or indeed get them deselected and one of their own selected in their place, it creates an environment where perverse incentives are rife. When there is both the threat of deselection, and a safe seat, loyalty is to those selecting the candidate, not to the electorate who must suffer through their term.

As aforementioned, The Tea Party has already mastered this strategy. With boundary lines in the USA so ‘Gerrymandered’ as to make any electoral competition almost non-existent, the battle is then to win over party activists, with complete abandon for what the wider public may want. Instead of the possibility of reselection that Labour MPs may now face, in the US, most politicians are selected to run via primary contests, which mean that the majority of incumbents face challenges from within their own parties in order to be on the ticket. The list of Tea Party affiliated politicians is a litany of the some of the worst people in US politics, with the venom-laced threats of the group with the snake insignia hanging over them, they have appealed to the worst instincts of the far right in order to win Tea Party approval.

Momentum and its affiliates already sound like the Tea Party. Their anger, particularly online, has lead to droves of suspensions from The Labour Party. To look at their real threat to British politics and to the Labour party, we need look no further than their paladin, Jeremy Corbyn. It was, after all, his campaign to become Labour leader in 2015 that lead to the group’s creation.

If the Tea Party’s hankering for small government was founded in the harbours of Boston’s shores, then Momentum’s cues come from Jeremy Corbyn’s world view, deeply pernicious in its own way. His domestic policies of opposing austerity and renationalising the railways (I won’t mention that the problematic bit – network rail – is government owned) are misguided, but harmless enough. It is elsewhere that the real issues lie. Jeremy Corbyn’s foreign policy positions have demonstrated an almost conspiratorial disdain for the West. From opposing NATOs genocide-preventing intervention in the Balkans to his all to comfortable relationship with his ‘friends’ in Hamas and his refusal to condemn the actions of the IRA it is clear that Corbyn holds unpalatable views on the use of force. The only maxim that seems to guide his judgement is whether or not the aggressor is in league with the USA or not. That he voted against the Iraq war is to be commended, but so did plenty of others, Charles Kennedy and Alex Salmond managed to do so, without supporting a host of thuggish populists and brutal terrorists throughout the globe. Then again, they do say that even a broken clock is right twice a day.

But whilst Jeremy Corbyn’s misguided foreign policy may smack of his simplistic worldview, it is without any serious political harms. Not so however, are his language towards NATO, that he would not guarantee defence for a NATO member if attacked. This should be an outrage. NATO, and it’s commitment to collective defence, has provided the security for much of Europe and North America in what has become an increasingly peaceful world, when before it, there was almost unrelenting violence between, in particular, the European states for the best part of a millennium. It is doubly disappointing when viewed within the current context of an expansionist Russian state which has already behaved with impunity in annexing Crimea. When small Eastern European states, unable to individually mount any serious defence against Russian aggression, are growing increasingly fearful.

Domestically too, this anti-western doctrine has caused rifts. The anti-semitism now seemingly rife within Labour has been fomented on the back of Corbyn’s rise to power. That he tought it appropriate to compare Israel, and imperfect, but ultimately democratic state which upholds the rights of Jews and Arabs, and sexual minorities to the barbarism of the Islamic State – while staggeringly trying to make an anti-semitic statement, he exposed his judgement, worldview and the premises on which these are based to be every bit as absurd as his worst rambling on the Troubles, the Balkans or Falklands.

Momentum are not yet the Tea Party, but a win for Jeremy Corbyn in this month’s Labour leadership election would give them the platform to imitate the Tea Party’s damaging effect on British politics. It seems ironic that a group on the far-left of British politics, who often complain that politicians are beholden to special interests rather than representing ‘the people’, will become to Labour MPs, a more important influence than the electorates that they are supposed to represent.


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