The apologies are scheduled right after the introductions. It’s “sorry time,” as they say, in the Labour Party, while the leadership race starts officially on Jan. 7. In a Sunday column that Jeremy Corbyn penned in the only “Daily” that is not actively hostile to him, the Mirror—which almost manages to be readable at times—he has personally asked for forgiveness. He was forced to do so after losing almost 60 seats in the UK’s northern regions, which have just welcomed their new Conservative MPs, who came down to London in large numbers on Monday to take up their seats.
“I’m sorry that we came up short and I take my responsibility for it,” wrote the soon-to-be-ex-leader, pointing the finger at Brexit as the cornerstone of this defeat. He refused, however, to do what was expected of him most of all: a show of pain and contrition about the political direction he took. Quite the opposite: “I’m proud that our message was one of hope, rather than fear,” he had the audacity to add.
To add insult to injury, it would be impossible for him to resign immediately, fulfilling the fevered expectations of many in the Labour Party ever since that 2015 when he was propelled into the leadership position, suddenly and incomprehensibly for some. That’s because there is no one to serve as an immediate replacement: Tom Watson, his second-in-command, left just before the elections, while John McDonnell, his friend and chief strategist, also announced his resignation.
But what is certain is that the post-Corbyn Labour Party will not immediately return to the marketing-focused politics of Blairism: the economic and social preconditions for such politics are gone, and will not return.
The potential successors to the leadership are all from the country’s north, and many would follow in the footsteps of the outgoing leader: the roster of candidates so far includes Lisa Nandy, Clive James, Keir Starmer (all from the non-Corbynian soft left), the fiery centrist Jess Phillips and the two Corbynian women candidates, Rebecca Long-Bailey and Angela Rayner. None of them have launched their official candidacy yet, while the new Labour parliamentary group is set to meet today for the first time—hopefully with enough first responders waiting nearby.
Since its foundation, the Labour Party has been marked by a peculiarly Protestant and anti-machiavellian strand of penance-focused Christianity, and this has forced Corbyn to bear a heavy cross for months. Before the elections, when there was still the “danger” that he might win, it was because he refused to believe that the issue of anti-Semitism was somehow peculiar and specific to the Labour Party, or to the left that he represented. His obvious and undisguised annoyance at this media operation was palpable during the embarrassing tour he had to make of the morning and evening TV shows before the elections in order to show “our viewers back at home” that he was not in fact the reincarnation of Lavrentiy Beria in Islington North.
He did apologize. Through gritted teeth, but he did: most of all to try to make up for his previous disastrous interview with Andrew Neil, the feared attack dog of the BBC, whose impartiality is unquestioned even as he presides over the group that controls The Spectator, the illustrious Tory-affiliated weekly paper owned by the Barclay brothers.
As for the “danger” that the approximately 200,000 British Jews supposedly escaped with Labour’s loss: one would have every legitimate expectation now that media should be just as inflexible in denouncing the true anti-Semitism, that of the right. Otherwise, we might delude ourselves into thinking that the fascists have abandoned what has always been their main raison d’être.
Now that he has lost so decisively, Corbyn must apologize again: especially as it’s not just a loss for him and his team, but a loss for everyone. This too is part of a long Labour tradition, consolidated over the last half-century because of the dynamics between the center-right majority and the left-wing minority, for which Corbyn represented the first real opportunity to take power since the 1980s. The dynamic can be roughly summarized as follows: in the pre-Brexit era, the centrists would lose, apologize and give way to other representatives who were a little less centrist, and who diligently applied the same remedies that were worse than the evils that had caused the defeat.
Corbyn interrupted this vicious cycle, thus becoming a very useful scapegoat/alibi which others are using to accuse the return to socialism itself of being a harbinger of certain defeat, as well as giving them an excuse to reaffirm the same neoliberal style of politics whose failures Corbyn’s own unexpected ascent had unmistakably highlighted.
In this light, Brexit has become the blessing in disguise that the center-right faction of Labour can use to take up the leadership once again, even though it’s obvious that they themselves are the ones who dug the ditch to undermine the former “red wall” in the north, which, together with the hand-me-down nationalism which “Boris” skillfully managed to ride, determined the outcome of the elections.
As for Corbyn, he inexplicably ended up at the head of a fearful party, narrowly corporatist and imperialist at its worst and Fabian/Keynesian and indomitable fighter for civil rights at its best—and he lost while trying to bridge this gap.