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Are the cracks beginning to show in Corbynism?

PUBLISHED: 12:31 16 August 2018 | UPDATED: 13:17 16 August 2018

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is embroilled in a row about anti-Semitism within the party
Photo: PA / Aaron Chown

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is embroilled in a row about anti-Semitism within the party Photo: PA / Aaron Chown

PA Wire/PA Images

Corbynism will be picked over by political historians in years to come whatever happens next for Labour.

Jeremy Corbyn will remain a divisive figure because his politics is rooted in division – few people are lukewarm about him. He is political Marmite. The election result of last year was an extraordinary result for the Labour leader. In under two years he climbed from utter obscurity to within a whisker of Number 10. There has perhaps never been a political turnaround like it.

In the weeks before the election his party was as far as 24 points behind the Tories. How did he pull it off?

There are several reasons. Firstly Mr Corbyn is a very talented campaigner. He speaks well in front of a crowd. He is persuasive and rouses the rabble. He can make you hopeful, scared and angry in the space of a few sentences and he offers his own solutions.

For young people especially, this kind of political performer offers new hope. It is a comparison that has perhaps not been made very often but Mr Corbyn’s performance in 2017 reminded me of the 2008 Barack Obama campaign – even if their politics differ dramatically.

The second reason was the Conservatives were utterly rubbish. The manifesto was wrong, the campaign was wrong, everything was wrong.

But I doubt Mr Corbyn will ever walk through the door of Number 10 as prime minister. There will be no modern day return to all-out socialism in Britain.

And there are several reasons for this as well. The first is that division again: Parties that veer too far away from the centre ground in British politics do not win power.

The second is that he will never face a Tory party at an election that performs as poorly as Theresa May’s did last year. The likelihood is that by the time we get to the next election the Tories will have a new leader and Brexit will be either irreversibly under way or completed.

With Great Yarmouth MP Brandon Lewis installed as party chairman one thing is certain – they will be better prepared for the next election.

But the third is the fatal one. Mr Corbyn stumbles from one disaster to the next apparently sticking his head in the sand and hoping scandal will simply disappear. Up until recently his policy of ignoring criticism and playing to his own crowd has worked. But the mud is starting to stick.

Labour had the opportunity to address claims it has problems with anti-Semitism more than two years ago when Baroness Chakrabarti published a report into the party’s handling of it. Claims back then that the recommendations were too soft have, sadly, proved correct.

To claim, as some have, that Mr Corbyn is anti-Semitic misses the issue. He has long been an advocate of peace and reconciliation. But has he done enough to outline unacceptable behaviour?

The current row is just the latest. This has been rumbling on for a very long time now and it threatens to seriously damage the party. Mr Corbyn’s inability to deal with it hardly sends the right message to the electorate.

On Brexit as well the leader has looked the other way and hoped the issue would simply go away. Britain’s exit from the European Union is not going to just disappear and leave his party untouched.

Mr Corbyn is a traditional left-wing sceptic of the EU – that is undisputed. But the majority of his party membership, and especially the young people who have flocked to back him, are Remainers. They are starting to wake up to the fact that the party they are members of is not echoing their fears about Brexit.

Last year at party conference there was something of a stitch up to ensure Brexit was not even debated. Because this is where party policy is decided this was seen as a clear indication that the leadership wanted out of the EU in any manner.

But this year it is going to be tougher to ignore. As constituency parties begin to gather to decide what they want to see debated expect Brexit to be high on the agenda.

How Mr Corbyn handles these discussions – and there will be some more uncomfortable debates on anti-Semitiism as well – could determine his future. In the past he has had the backing of the vast majority of the members. But the cracks are starting to show.

Mr Corbyn has changed Labour – but some are starting to ask if he can take them any further.

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