Labour must kill vam­pire Jezza


The Scottish Mail on Sunday - - The Brexit Bombshell - By DAN HODGES

EARLY yes­ter­day morn­ing I awoke to the sound of my mo­bile phone buzzing. Reach­ing out a slightly weary hand, I picked it up, to see a mes­sage from a Labour Shadow Min­is­ter. It con­tained a sin­gle word: ‘Jexit.’ Sit­ting watch­ing the ref­er­en­dum re­sults rolling in on Fri­day morn­ing, Labour MPs saw their TVs turn into crys­tal balls. As Labour strong­hold af­ter Labour strong­hold fell to Nigel Farage and Boris John­son’s In­de­pen­dence Day army, they were cat­a­pulted for­ward to an­other night – a Gen­eral Election night.

‘It sud­denly be­came real,’ said one Shadow Min­is­ter. ‘All that stuff about what Jeremy Cor­byn was do­ing to our core sup­port and to pre­vi­ously safe Labour seats. It was there in front of our eyes.’

As a re­sult, the talk­ing has fi­nally stopped. The coup against Cor­byn – signed off in prin­ci­ple in March – is now un­der way. The What­sApp group used by the plot­ters has ex­ploded into life. The timetable is roughly this: over the next few hours dozens of Labour MPs will be con­tact­ing John Cryer de­mand­ing he ta­ble a no confidence mo­tion in Cor­byn at to­mor­row night’s meet­ing of the Par­lia­men­tary Labour Party – of which he is chair­man.

If he agrees, the mo­tion will be de­bated, fol­lowed by a show of hands. If there is a ma­jor­ity in the room, a secret bal­lot of all Labour MPs will be held on Tues­day. An­other ma­jor­ity will trigger the lead­er­ship con­test. All of this will be done along­side a se­ries of stag­gered front­bench res­ig­na­tions.

At the same time, a sec­ond front is open­ing. Pres­sure is also be­ing brought to bear on mem­bers of the Shadow Cabi­net who – in the eyes of their col­leagues – have be­come ac­com­plices to Cor­byn’s de­struc­tion of their party.

AT Fri­day’s marathon three-hour emer­gency Shadow Cabi­net meet­ing – and de­spite much pre­brief­ing about con­fronting their leader – only Shadow Scot­tish Sec­re­tary Ian Mur­ray dared to chal­lenge Cor­byn di­rectly. ‘It’s go­ing to be made very clear to them that this is de­ci­sion time,’ said one vet­eran back­bencher. ‘There is no hid­ing place. This is the fi­nal chance to save the party. It’s bi­nary: do you move against Cor­byn, or do you back him? It’s go­ing to be made very clear to them their choice will de­fine their ca­reers.’

Labour has been a party dy­ing a cow­ard’s death. Supine. Silent. Its se­nior politi­cians had de­cided to sim­ply pros­trate them­selves, and wait to be car­ried qui­etly into the dark night. But now, fi­nally, there are signs of life. Signs that if a once proud party is pre­pared to go down, it will at least do so fight­ing.

Be­lat­edly we are wit­ness­ing the des­per­a­tion of the damned. ‘I don’t care any more,’ one MP told me. ‘Mov­ing against Cor­byn may work. It may not. But I’m not car­ry­ing on like this.’ Thank God. Over the past few weeks, we have heard much about Cor­byn’s toxic in­flu­ence – or non-in­flu­ence – over the ref­er­en­dum cam­paign. How his in­ter­ven­tions pro­mot­ing the virtues of un­con­trolled im­mi­gra­tion drove nail af­ter nail into the Re­main cam­paign’s cof­fin.

But in truth the most damn­ing thing about his con­tri­bu­tion was its ut­ter ir­rel­e­vance. It’s not that Labour couldn’t con­jure com­pelling ar­gu­ments to res­onate with its core sup­port; it couldn’t even con­jure a pres­ence in the de­bate. The prob­lem with the Labour Party is not that it doesn’t have com­pelling ideas, or charis­matic lead­ers, though as we have seen over the past weeks, they are cer­tainly in short sup­ply.

Labour’s prob­lem is that, un­til the past 48 hours, it had sim­ply lost the will to live. Speak to any Labour MP and you will even­tu­ally hear the phrase: ‘What can we do?’

But they know what they have to do. They have to fight Jeremy Cor­byn – and they have to keep fight­ing him till he is de­feated.

Labour MPs have been skulk­ing be­hind a moral­ity of self-in­ter­est. ‘We have to be care­ful and pick the right time. We have to move when we can be sure of de­feat­ing him.’ It’s a lie, and they know it’s a lie. As one Shadow Min­is­ter said: ‘It’s about am­bi­tion, that’s all. You’ve got peo­ple like Lisa Nandy and Owen Smith think­ing they can be the next leader. And you’ve got peo­ple like John Healey think­ing, “If I play this right I can be Labour’s chief spokesman on ur­ban plan­ning for the next cou­ple of years”.’

Al­ready we hear de­mands for ‘unity’. In truth they are de­mands for un­con­di­tional sur­ren­der from self-in­ter­ested Cor­bynite ap­peasers within the Shadow Cabi­net.

If not now, when? What will it take for se­nior Shadow Min­is­ters fi­nally to have the courage to act? Their party has just ex­pe­ri­enced proxy an­ni­hi­la­tion at the hands of the elec­torate. Nigel Farage has emerged as a Pied Piper to Labour’s work­ing-class base. And yet still we hear the Harpies cry: ‘Don’t rock the boat. Don’t do any­thing to make the Cor­bynites mad.’

Stag­ger­ingly, given ev­ery­thing that has hap­pened, Labour has been pre­sented with an op­por­tu­nity. The next Tory man­i­festo has al­ready been writ­ten by the Leave cam­paign. Vast new amounts of spend­ing on the NHS. A dra­matic cut in im­mi­gra­tion. An end to the pres­sure on GPs’ surg­eries, schools and pub­lic ser­vices. And when the next Tory leader fails to meet these strato­spher­i­cally high ex­pec­ta­tions, Labour will be able to pounce.

But it can­not pounce if it is cow­er­ing. And it can­not pounce if it is be­ing pinned to the ground by Jeremy Cor­byn. He has ceased to be a leader, and has in­stead be­come a po­lit­i­cal vam­pire. Paralysing and then feed­ing on his party, slowly suck­ing the blood from its veins.

Labour MPs have got to stop plac­ing ob­sta­cles in their own path. ‘We haven’t got a can­di­date.’ Find one. Deputy leader Tom Wat­son al­ready has a man­date from the party. An­gela Ea­gle is well re­spected. Dan Jarvis’s bi­og­ra­phy res­onates with Labour ac­tivists on all wings.

‘The mem­bers won’t like it.’ Stop hid­ing be­hind mem­bers. Be­ing an MP is a lead­er­ship po­si­tion. Lead.

The days when the lead­ers of Labour’s plas­tic rebel army could ra­tio­nalise their spine­less­ness are over. Un­til now, their ar­gu­ment has been that all that was re­quired was for peo­ple to wait. Let Cor­byn sham­ble from one po­lit­i­cal dis­as­ter to an­other, let dis­il­lu­sion­ment sink into the grass­roots – then move.

BUT the wait­ing game is go­ing to have to end. Hav­ing talked to Labour and Tory MPs, in­clud­ing MPs from both sides of the ref­er­en­dum de­bate, there is one thing they all agree on. We are a few months away from a new Gen­eral Election. The ref­er­en­dum ef­fec­tively di­vided the na­tion down the mid­dle. Who­ever is our new Prime Min­is­ter will re­quire their own man­date to unite the coun­try.

Which means Labour stands on the brink of ex­tinc­tion. ‘If we fight the up­com­ing election with Jeremy Cor­byn as leader we’ll be re­duced to 100 seats,’ one Labour MP told to me. That’s overly op­ti­mistic. Cor­byn pledged to mo­bilise vot­ers in his party’s heart­lands, and on Thurs­day that’s just what he did. Work­ing-class Labour vot­ers turned out in un­prece­dented num­bers. To kick Labour in the teeth.

Last week I was in the House of Com­mons for the memo­rial ser­vice for Jo Cox. I saw Labour MP af­ter Labour MP ris­ing to pay their trib­utes. They spoke of self­less­ness. They spoke of courage. They spoke of a com­mit­ment – in­deed an obli­ga­tion – to place the col­lec­tive good be­fore per­sonal ad­vance­ment.

For a for­mer mem­ber who has be­come es­tranged from the Labour Party, it was a poignant mo­ment. Not just be­cause those speeches cap­tured the essence of Jo, but be­cause they cap­tured the essence of the Labour Party.

Labour has been pre­sented with one fi­nal chance to save it­self. To­mor­row, Labour MPs will ei­ther vote for Jexit, or they will vote for oblivion.

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