The mass, opportunist resignation of right-wing Labour MPs (and those weak enough to be influenced by them) and the eventual leadership challenge that ensued will be well known to most readers, as will the fact that Corbyn was re-elected with an increased mandate – in spite of extensive gerrymandering via a huge purge of Corbyn supporters by the Labour ‘machine’ he inherited and has had to work with.
What may be less well-known to some is that only the day after his victory, his recidivist opponents in the PLP, the party structure and deposed members of the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) launched a ‘silent coup‘, by ignoring party rules and Conference procedures to force through the appointment of two additional anti-Corbyn representatives to the NEC. The aim was to nullify Corbyn’s democratically-achieved majority on the NEC that took office after the conference closed – 6 new members had been elected, all from the left-wing, Corbyn-supporting ‘Labour Grassroots’ slate, giving Corbyn a firm majority until the anti-democractic imposition of new members undid it.
Launching this move the day after the announcement of the leadership result showed beyond question that Corbyn’s opponents, despite mouthing ‘unity’, had no intention of stepping back and allowing him to lead. This was doubly underline by subsequent revelations in the HuffPost of deputy leader Tom Watson’s ‘Project Anaconda’ plan to strangle Corbyn’s leadership and arch-Blairite group Progress’ determination to insult and undermine the party leader.
The ‘rebels’ were delirious, even boasting to the Independent that they’d worked for months to rig the party conference in their favour:
Clearly already patting themselves on the back on a ‘job well done’ to hobble Corbyn.
For all of two weeks.
That’s how long it took Corbyn, via simple and clever measures (the cleverest things are usually simple) and decisive, but deft leadership, to undo the laborious and labyrinthine efforts of his right-wing Labour opponents.
Here’s how he did it:
- Use his strengthened mandate as leader to ‘reshuffle’ his Shadow Cabinet, constructing the most gender-balanced and ethnically diverse Cabinet/Shadow Cabinet in history and including a good number of those who previously resigned, while maintaining a majority of loyal supporters
- Promote Jon Ashworth – who has consistently voted against him on the NEC and who, almost certainly, only declined to participate in the mass resignations in order to retain his position as a Shadow Cabinet member of that body opposed to Corbyn – from ‘Shadow Minister without Portfolio’ to the major position of Shadow Health Secretary. This was a role that Ashworth would find hard to turn down, but also one in which he could do little harm to the momentum of Corbyn’s Labour – and one in which, on first showing, he will do excellently. And, most significantly, it cut the legs out from opponents who would otherwise want to claim Corbyn was victimising (they do love the victim role) his opponents
- Using his position of strength, Corbyn then removed Ashworth from the NEC, knowing that his mostly-loyal Cabinet would approve the decision in spite of Ashworth’s protests, replacing him with the excellent Kate Osamor:
In just a couple of weeks and 3 moves, Corbyn turned what his opponents considered checkmate to them into a decisive win for himself and his vision for the Labour party. He faced criticism during the Conservative conference for being out of the public view (even though that’s the normal courtesy of party leaders during another party’s conference) – but it was evidently time well spent.
If you’re not a particular follower of politics, you might not have realised just what an unusual blend of strength and deftness Corbyn has just demonstrated. But now you know.
His opponents have mistaken his integrity for naivety and his exceptional forebearance and refusal to engage in abuse for weakness. They obviously didn’t expect him to not only see but open a path to the necessary outcome of undoing their attempted Machiavellian ‘silent coup’, or to have the skill and strength of will to take it.
Corbyn is clearly neither naive nor weak. And – as if it wasn’t already clear to those willing to see it – he has just demonstrated beyond question that he is an exceptional leader, resisting every attempt to crowbar him out, maintaining good grace toward people who definitely do not deserve it and bringing down a carefully-constructed siege tower with little more than a flick of his wrist.
Well done, Jez lad – you played a blinder.
It will be interesting to see whether the media acknowledges Corbyn’s art and muscle this evening. As for those who oppose and underestimated him – again – it would be foolish to think they’re going to stop agitating until they’re decisively removed from the Labour party.
But they will tonight – again – be crying into their Prosecco. Long may it continue.