Corbyn should stop talking and start acting on intimidation
It’s unacceptable. It has no place in the Labour party. It will not be tolerated.
These are phrases we have been hearing a lot in the last 48 hours following the avalanche of abuse and intimidation directed towards those Labour MPs who voted - or were merely weighing up - intervention in Syria. We have heard them uttered by Jeremy Corbyn. We have heard them uttered by members of his shadow cabinet. We have heard them uttered by back-bench Labour MPs.
They are representative of noble sentiment. They are also representative of false sentiment.
The fact is abuse and intimidation do currently have a place within the Labour party. As I type the Twitter and Facebook pages of those MPs who supported military action are continuing to fill up with grotesque images, vile abuse and threats of deselection.
And they have a place within the Labour party because they are tolerated within the Labour party. Or more specifically, they have a place within the Labour party because, despite his warm words, they are tolerated by the leader of the Labour party.
Harassment and intimidation of those who have the temerity not to throw in their lot with the Corbyn revolution have been part of Labour’s discourse since the leadership election. Jeremy Corbyn has been aware of this, and has done nothing. And the reason he has done nothing is because the harassment and intimidation are being conducted by his supporters on his behalf.
Momentum, the leaders of the current de-selection crusade, are an extension of his leadership campaign. Indeed, the organisation self-identifies as “a successor to the Corbyn campaign”.
Stop The War, who in the run up to Wednesday’s vote stated “all possible pressure must be put on MPs, particularly Labour MPs”, was established by Jeremy Corbyn, led by Jeremy Corbyn and continues to be supported, through fundraising, by Jeremy Corbyn. In response to complaints about the intimidation of Labour MPs, the organisation responded "[Stop The War] condemns the whining complaints from those MPs who apparently do not like being lobbied. If an MP is not robust enough to withstand emails and tweets, they should really not be voting for bombing other people - those who wish to be alone with their consciences would do better to consider a life of religious contemplation".
Ken Livingstone, a key ally, was yesterday issuing his own de-selection calls. This despite the fact he has just been reprimanded for his attack on Kevan Jones and comments on the 7/7 bombers.
So when Jeremy Corbyn issues another of his regular statements calling for “respectful debate” I don’t believe him. I think he actually welcomes the intimidation. And I believe he welcomes it because it helps pile pressure on his political opponents at a time when he is struggling – and failing – to assert his authority.
But there is a simple way Jeremy Corbyn could prove me wrong. There is an easy way for him to show he is serious about stopping the intimidation. He could stop talking. He could stop issuing statements. And he could do something.
At present his only proposed plan of action appears to centre around some form of “code of conduct” for Twitter. But as has been reported, this is primarily designed to prevent criticism of Jeremy Corbyn himself from his own MPs.
Here are three concrete things he could. And should do.
First, he should wind up Momentum. If Momentum members want to campaign for the de-selection of Labour MPs then they should do so at the ballot box. Labour members should be banned from joining Momentum in the same way they are banned from membership of Militant.
The same should go for membership of Stop The War. If the organisation wants to specifically campaign against Labour MPs and mount protests against Labour HQ, that’s fine. But Labour MPs and members who wish to join those protests should be asked to stop being Labour MPs and members first.
The third thing he should do is remove Ken Livingstone from his position on Labour’s defence review. Jeremy Corbyn has claimed he doesn’t support de-selection threats. Ken Livingstone has ignored him and keeps making de-selection threats. And that should be it.
Of course, Jeremy Corbyn will do none of these things. That’s because, as I say, when he calls for an end to the intimidation he doesn’t mean it.
So Labour MPs should demand it. There is no longer any point them issuing their own calls for the bullying of their colleagues to stop if they are not prepared to take concrete action to ensure it stops. We hear a lot about solidarity from the parliamentary Labour party. Now is the time for them to demonstrate it some. Their friends and colleagues are being harassed. They are being threatened with the removal of their livelihoods. Some are now being threatened with the removal of their lives.
They should demand concrete action. And if it is not forthcoming they should threaten to resign the Labour whip en-masse.
We are told the vicious intimidation of the past 48 hours has no place within the Labour party. But it does. The question now is what, if anything, will the Labour party do about it.