Jeremy Corbyn once again put Cameron on the back foot at PMQs last week, pressing him yet again on his plans on tax credits since the defeat in the Lords. Corbyn’s remark – ‘this is not a constitutional crisis, but a crisis for hardworking families’ – is a memorable put down for a Prime Minister who has attempted repeatedly to shift the debate away from the impact of the cut in tax credits to the alleged scandal of its rejection by the Lords.
But despite these successes, the right have not let up on their anti-Corbyn offensive.
The most grotesque step to date has been the suspension of Corbyn advisor, Andrew Fisher, for a few humorous, if ill-judged, tweets aimed at Labour’s right. The decision to suspend Fisher was taken by Labour General Secretary, Iain McNicol, after receiving formal complaints from a small number of Blairite MPs. The decision will now go to the NEC to determine whether he should face disciplinary action.
The suspension followed three weeks when – despite the Tories’ problems on tax credits, the introduction of the Trade Union bill, and the announcement of new attacks on civil liberties – the PLP meetings are reported as dominated by attacks on Fisher.
The suspension of Fisher is an unprecedented assault on the Leader’s office – it is hard to imagine such a step being taken against any previous Labour Leader’s personal staff. And it is not because Andrew Fisher has done anything uniquely terrible. As has been pointed out, Emily Benn, one of the original complainants against Fisher, has made similar twitter suggestions that anyone dissatisfied with Corbyn’s shadow cabinet should ‘join the Women’s Equality Party’.
Of course, the whole furore is not actually about Fisher at all, but just a cynical attempt to weaken Corbyn by any possible means; in this case by scapegoating one of his advisors.
But it does indicate that the right are seriously organising to advance their campaign to oust Corbyn and reassert the right’s control over the Labour Party.
This was underlined when on 5 November, in the elections for the chairs of the backbench committees – which parallel the work of the shadow frontbench and make policy suggestions – the right swept the board taking most of the 17 seats that were up for grabs. The über-Blairites, who had supported Liz Kendall in the leadership election took a staggering 11 chairs – despite only mustering 4.5% in the leadership campaign. Corbyn can now expect endless trouble from this these committees.
Hilariously the Guardian insisted on calling this tightly-organised extreme right caucus the ‘Labour moderates’. If these are the ‘moderates’, then presumably even those who supported Burnham and Cooper are dangerously left-wing? And who on earth is on the Labour ‘right’?
The Sunday Politics reported on the right’s triumphalism following these backbench successes and led from this into yet another discussion that the ambiguity in Labour’s rules for a leadership challenge might be used to get rid of Corbyn. Once again the timescale of ‘after May 2016’ was raised.
But it hasn’t just been the Labour right on an anti-Corbyn offensive.
The Murdoch press engaged in a vile, disreputable and dishonest campaign to suggest that Jeremy Corbyn had not shown sufficient respect at the Cenotaph on Remembrance Sunday as he failed to bow his head ‘low enough’. Plastered all over the front pages of the Sun on Monday this non-story was given huge publicity.
As intended, this will of course do Corbyn some damage as gullible sections of the public give it credence. But within Labour even the centre ground distanced itself from the story, tweeting and commenting that it was rubbish.
The response was more muted when senior General Sir Nicholas Houghton breached the constitutional principle that the military should be neutral on political matters to directly attack Jeremy Corbyn for his position on Britain’s nuclear ‘deterrent’ on the Andrew Marr Show. Despite criticism from various quarters for this break with protocol, Number 10 jumped to Houghton’s defence and assured he would not be disciplined.
In a tour of the media on Sunday, Houghton also told Sky News that he thought Britain was ‘letting down its allies’ by not launching bombing raids in Syria. This came on top of September’s statement to the Times by an ‘unnamed senior general’ that there might by a military coup if Jeremy Corbyn became Prime Minister and did not do as they wanted: ‘The Army just wouldn’t stand for it. The general staff would not allow a prime minister to jeopardise the security of this country and I think people would use whatever means possible, fair or foul to prevent that. You can’t put a maverick in charge of a country’s security.’
In the light of these interventions anyone still labouring under the naïve belief that the state is neutral and above society or politics might have got an initial wake-up call.
This week has been yet again dominated by an hour by hour, day by day campaign by the British establishment, its media and its supporters in Labour to undermine and prepare for the destruction of the Corbyn leadership of the Labour Party.
It has fought back effectively in Parliament, pushing the Tories on the defensive on tax credits and exposing its lies that it stands for ‘working families’ as opposed to alleged ‘benefit scroungers’. The only way to defeat the right’s attack is to go on the offensive, putting forward Labour’s alternatives to the Tory agenda, especially on economic policy.
The Autumn Statement will give Labour a major opportunity to spell out this alternative, giving details of how investment – via its proposed Investment Bank – can grow the economy out of crisis and make cuts unnecessary.