by Martin Odoni

The long-running, patronising refrain of centrists against the left is that left wing adherents are not living in the real world – unlike the centrists themselves. The last five years have shown a remarkable propensity from centrists to live off of theatrics, lies, smears, distortions, half-truths, broken promises and vintage spin-doctoring. Much too much for a faction that supposedly ‘lives in the real world.’

I am genuinely sorry to keep picking on Jo Swinson, but if realism is a centrist characteristic, surely that means that the Labour powers-that-be think that the LibDems are right, and therefore that Swinson was not completely off her head when she made this crazy boast?

One might have thought that such unremitting and hugely awkward fantasy was unnecessary if the centrists are the ones who are in contact with reality. Surely if they were right, the likes of Keir Starmer, Luciana Berger, Tom Watson, Jess Phillips, Stephen Kinnock, Ruth Smeeth, Ian Austin, Margaret Hodge, John Mann, and worst of all, Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair, would not need to lie? Surely the truth would be enough to win the argument, saving them the bother of thinking up bizarre rationalisations for their lies?

Equally, surely if they were living in the real world, the centrists would never get so many of their predictions wrong?

The Labour Right’s recent history of prediction

In 2015 the Labour Right predicted that if Jeremy Corbyn stood for Labour leader, he would not stand a chance of winning. He ended up winning in the first round of voting, and by such a crushing margin that even the cynical purging (under false pretences) of thousands of Corbyn supporters from the party ranks left the second-placed Andy Burnham with about a third as many votes.

The following year, a theatrical, again falsely-pretexted ‘coup’ against Corbyn was confidently predicted to push him aside. In the end, Corbyn won the new contest against Owen Smith (remember him? No? Me neither…) by an even bigger margin.

Labour went into the 2017 General Election with the centrist camp loudly expecting Corbyn to lead them to “annihilation” and a 100-seat-plus majority for Theresa May and the Conservatives. Instead, Corbyn not only avoided annihilation, he overturned almost all of a supposed twenty-four point deficit in the opinion polls at the start of campaigning, gained thirty seats, and forced a Hung Parliament. Most Labour MPs who had been stabbing Corbyn in the back for nearly two years were eating enough humble pie on the morning after the Election to feed all the Syrian refugees in northern France. Tony Blair, who had been confidently predicting a re-run of 1983, was noticeably silent for weeks afterwards.

In the end, for people who were so confident that they were right and Corbyn was wrong, and that a left winger could never become Prime Minister, the Labour Right sure had to fight damned hard to make certain that he failed. In the end, what brought Corbyn down was the alienation of the Brexit-supporting constituencies of the north when Keir Starmer lied to the country that Labour was taking a pro-Remain position. Once again, if reality was on the side of Corbyn’s opponents, why did they need to lie?

And then most recently, the Labour Right predicted that the LibDems (centrists themselves, note, and therefore, if the centre ground really is where all the votes are, surely there was every reason for LibDem confidence?) could not possibly win last week’s by-Election in North Shropshire.

Does Fakehurst *ever* manage to get a political prediction right?

Win the LibDems did, while Labour slumped to third. But more on that later.

The rise of Starmer and the decline of reality

The behaviour of the centrists has not grown any more honest, realistic or accurate since Corbyn stepped down either. Starmer only took over as Labour leader by making ten pledges to the party membership, all of which he withdrew subsequent to winning the leadership contest. So he lied. The man ‘in touch with reality’ was dependent on lies. He also would not reveal where he was getting his financial support from until after he had won. The man ‘in touch with reality’ concealed it. Surely if he was right and true, he would not have done so, and moreover, would have had no need to do so?

Starmer’s time as leader of the Labour Party has shown him frequently agreeing with Boris Johnson (the centrists agree with the most innate pathological liar of all Prime Ministers! “Realism,” you say?), even offering him a coalition early on. This offer of support for the sitting Government was actually spun as, “The Opposition is back!”

Every time Labour has been ahead in the opinion polls under Starmer (which has not been often), it has been hailed as down to Starmer’s leadership. Every time Labour has fallen behind in the opinion polls (which has been startlingly frequent), it has been blamed on Corbyn.

In truth, Starmer has been given far more sympathy from the media, and considerably more support from most of the Parliamentary Labour Party than Corbyn ever got. One looks at how close Corbyn came in 2017 and can only speculate what he might have achieved with just half of the advantages Starmer is presently enjoying. Starmer is, at best, doing about the same as Corbyn did.

A party on the edge of bankruptcy

Corbyn bequeathed Starmer a party with still hundreds of thousands of members, and party coffers that were very healthy, in-the-black to the tune of over thirteen million pounds. In not much more than a year, Starmer had squandered it all, purging thousands of left wingers, and alienating tens of thousands of others, until the party membership was cut by about two-fifths, and the party coffers were close to bankruptcy levels. Party staff are now being routinely paid off and fired to cut costs at Labour HQ. Apparently these are signs of a party leader more in touch with the public, by having fewer members of the public actively involved in the party, and less prone to blunders, by leaving the party penniless.

If this is success, the Labour Party are in desperate need for some failure

The Labour Right keep telling the left that they must get behind Starmer, even as Starmer is purging and dislocating them. This is somehow seen as a reasonable and realistic demand on the part of Starmer’s lackeys. Even if the demand could be cast as ‘pragmatic,’ the reasons for refusing are more than just the anti-left bullying; it is also the aforementioned stupidity. Why get behind a party leader and General Secretary who seem intent on bankrupting the whole organisation and throwing out its own ‘foot soldiers’?

Electoral performance is startlingly bad

All of this is before we have even begun to assess Labour’s abject performance in actual elections since Starmer took over. Given the terrible mess the Conservatives have got themselves into over sleaze and general ineptitude, there is an outside chance of Starmer doing okay at a General Election. Only an outside chance, because a party with empty coffers cannot put up a serious campaign, but that is still a better chance than Labour had back in the early-Autumn.

But the actual portents still look terrible. At council elections and by-elections, the Labour Party is doing amazingly badly against a Government so mired in corruption and the utter mishandling of the SARS-Cov2 pandemic that they should be as unpopular as Richard Dawkins at a Creationist beauty pageant.

In May, Labour got absolutely hammered in the Local Government elections. It is clear for anyone to see that Starmer’s promise-breaking lurches to the right and unending campaign of persecution against the Labour left have alienated the party’s core vote, while failing to draw in much public support from the centre.

The Parliamentary seat in Hartlepool fell at the same time. The message from the Labour Right was that people were rejecting Corbyn, even though Corbyn had been gone for over a year-and-a-half, and had retained the seat quite emphatically at the 2017 General Election, and fairly comfortably in 2019. That Starmer has not only been anti-left, but also has been anti-Brexit, and Hartlepool was a heavily pro-Leave constituency, are far likelier to be the real reasons. But such notions cannot be tolerated, because that would mean admitting that a leftwards platform, and a Corbyn administration, were more palatable to voters than the centrists thought.

“Realism”?

In the late summer, there was a terribly bitter by-Election for Batley-and-Spen, again retained comfortably by Labour at GE2019. There was a serious worry that Labour might lose the seat altogether. In the event, they managed to retain it, but by less than three hundred and fifty votes.

Starmer is shedding more support than he is gaining, but the centrists refuse to let that register with them.

Just another Frenzied Thursday

Thursday’s by-Election in Shropshire for the seat vacated by the disgraced Owen Paterson was certainly a catastrophe for the Tories. This was a safe Tory heartland, and to lose the seat to the Liberal Democrats was a shock, and a sign of just how badly Boris Johnson has misgoverned. The swing to the LibDems of over thirty-four percent was the seventh-largest in UK by-Election history.

But it has been bizarre in the days that have followed the by-Election listening to the Labour Right actually crowing about it as though this was a great triumph for Starmer. The Labour centrists, who went into the by-Election calling for LibDem supporters to vote tactically for Labour, were effectively saying that the LibDems were never going to win, so their supporters might just as well switch to Labour, who were second in the seat in 2019.

This clearly did not happen at all. Instead, Labour finished third in the by-Election under Starmer last week. Their vote-count in the constituency absolutely dropped through the floorboards from twelve thousand under Corbyn to a little over three-and-a-half thousand under Starmer. Had they dropped to third in the seat under Corbyn, we know what the centrists would be saying now, but under Starmer this is progress, apparently. A silver medal two years ago is apparently inferior to a bronze medal now.

This genuinely seems to be how New Labour and the centrists are interpreting the North Shropshire by-Election. Quite amazing how divorced from the real world they allow themselves to become

Instead, it appears that Labour voters switched their support to the LibDems, and that was what forced the Tories out. How this works as a ‘Labour success’ is not very clear. Does it suggest the potential for an alliance between Labour and the Liberal Democrats? I do not think it does, at least not of the type Starmer might like. What it suggests to me is that, at best, it would be a very one-way alliance. Labour voters, so unenthused by Starmer, would be willing to switch their votes to the Liberal Democrats, but LibDem voters are also so unenthused by Starmer that they would be unwilling to switch their votes to Labour.

All Starmer is really achieving with his hard-right shift is to lose votes from the left, while handing Tory votes to the LibDems. He is not achieving what he thought he would, but rather than process that reality, he tries to convince everyone, including himself, that the people who voted for Corbyn while he was Labour leader are being alienated by Corbyn now he is not in a position to do anything. The mental contortions required for such a ridiculous narrative must be outright painful for those clinging to it.

Doublethink

At the root of all this obscene, self-deceiving doublethink is a desperation among Labour centrists that I have commented on before; a desperation not to accept that they might have been wrong all of this time, since way back in 1983. While telling the left that they are out of touch with reality, the centrists draw the most absurd conclusions imaginable about events, conclusions that are so glaringly at odds with the plain facts that they sound like a teenager insisting that the girl who refuses to speak to him is really madly in love with him.

There comes a point where people become so used to lying and breaking their word that they cease to notice doing it. Even as they spin more lies to explain away the initial lie, the centrists still seem to think they are right, and that what they are doing is for the best in the long run. It never seems to occur to them that if they were right, there would be no need to be deceitful about what they are doing. The divorce from reality is not measured in how truthful, honest, accurate or consistent a person’s words or deeds are. Instead, they are measured entirely in how closely they coincide with the prevailing narrative. And that there is always a prevailing narrative in place is cardinal.

The right wing is more disciplined, not more realistic

It is not that the right wing of the Labour Party is more realistic than they left. That has never been true, not in the century or so since the inter-war collapse of the old Liberal Party under David Lloyd-George, and the shift to Labour by Liberal entryists in the late-1920s. There is certainly a weird machismo-type attitude playing a role here. As just one single example among hundreds, recall Gloria de Piero in the 2015 General Election campaign bending over backwards not to admit that the notorious ‘Barbie Bus’ was a patronising pink colour? It did not matter that her denials made her and Labour look even more ridiculous, what mattered was not formalising the reality that Labour had made a stupid mistake. Not formalising reality is only achieved by not accepting reality.

No, the Labour Right is not realistic at all. What they have over the left is they are more regimented. More able to stick to a message, no matter how absurd or dishonest. More able to stick to the aforementioned narrative, even when they do not believe in it, than the left can manage. The Labour Right are in a sense more disciplined than the left. Often that can be seen as a virtue, but the problem is they tend to be more disciplined even where morality demands the breaking of ranks.

In a manner of speaking, the Labour Right and other centrist groups would not be able to maintain their position if they were realists, for if they were, they would frequently break up into in-fighting. They would be forced to argue with the position of the left on the basis of what the left’s position actually is, instead of the massively simplified and distorted ‘fairy tale politics’ to which they like to reduce it.

Regimented insanity

But even that tendency, that habit is not what classifies the Labour Right as actually insane. What does is that, having divorced themselves from reality almost entirely, the Labour Right still tell themselves that they are being completely honest, and refuse to acknowledge that their lies mean they are by definition doing something corrupt and wrong. If a policy or course of action can only be sustained by lies, and would be destroyed by the truth, it cannot be a good policy or course of action. It should be destroyed by the truth.

The Labour Right know that if the media were to perform an industry-wide volte-face and admit the real truth of the last few years, it would all be over. If it was conceded that the anti-Semitism hysteria is a lot of fuss about next-to-nothing, that Starmer has been purging members of his own party for reasons of ideological/strategic convenience and not to fight racism, and that his leadership is alienating more support than it reels in, while leaving the party financially unsustainable – all objectively true – the Labour Party would collapse. Its support would evaporate, there would be enormously expensive legal action taken by tens of thousands of unfairly-purged members, there would probably be prosecutions for fraudulent and anti-constitutional conduct that the party cannot afford to defend itself against, there would be compensation payments for the misuse of party subscription funds, libel and slander actions, and the resurgence of the internal civil war between right and left. The party’s status quo can only be maintained by the complete fiction of the right being the good guys and the left being the uncompromising, extremist troublemakers.

Formalisation of the reality of the right being theatrical liars and internal saboteurs, and of the left being their victims, is the right wing’s greatest nightmare, not its strength. That has been true going back to Neil Kinnock’s leadership at the very least, and probably even to Hugh Gaitskell’s completely unnecessary conflict with the Trade Unions in the 1950s. All these conflicts have been fought by the Labour Right with the most flagrant dishonesty, underhandedness and unscrupulous malice imaginable. There were all self-evidently won by the wrong side. But the centrists cannot accept being the wrong side, because the moment they do they would not be able to justify leaving things unchanged.

That is why the mental state of the Labour Right and other centrists has long been, and will probably always be, a kind of calm insanity.