Corbyn under siege

The “vultures” are circling to “crush Corbyn”. That’s what a former Militant activist tweeted after Labour’s disastrous showing in last week’s European elections, said Sarah Baxter in The Sunday Times. Labour won a miserable 14% of the vote, losing half its seats in the European parliament. And as a result, the coalition that had sustained the Labour leader – between the old hard-left and the new Momentum activists (slogan: “Love Corbyn, Hate Brexit”) – has split apart. On the one side, we see Labour Party chairman Ian Lavery raging against “left-wing intellectuals” who sneer at working-class Brexiters; on the other, former Newsnight editor and “intellectual guru of Remain-supporting Corbynistas” Paul Mason calling for a purge of “the officials who designed this [election] fiasco”. His finger is pointing at the likes of Lavery, Seumas Milne and other hard-left members of Corbyn’s inner circle. But it should be pointing at Corbyn himself. He is the reason that “the air is going out of Labour’s balloon”.

It’s hard to disagree, said the New Statesman. The attraction of Jeremy Corbyn was always that he was a man of principle who spurned the New Labour fetish of deciding policy by focus group. But by facing both ways on Brexit, vowing to respect the referendum result while hinting that he might back a second referendum, “he has indulged in the opportunism he once denounced”. True, in the working-class North, Labour represents some of the country’s most pro-Leave seats, yet it was still madness to compete with Nigel Farage. As a recent poll shows, had Corbyn unambiguously backed Remain, support for Labour would have risen to 38%, putting it well ahead of the Brexit Party. Instead, it even came second in London, Corbynism’s citadel. Unbelievable, said Dan Hodges in The Mail on Sunday. Have the “Kamikaze Remainers” no idea of the “crisis brewing outside their metropolitan fortresses”? It’s best visualised in the recent history of the old pit constituency of Bolsover. In 1997, Dennis Skinner won it with 74% of the vote. At the last election, Corbyn’s high point, Skinner got just 51% and saw his majority slashed from 27,000 to 5,000. In short, Labour’s working-class base is crumbling, yet its leaders seem happy to stick two fingers up to its natural constituency.

Actually, Team Corbyn is still on the fence, said Andrew Rawnsley in The Observer. Rather than face the need to alter policy, they’ve created a diversion by booting Alastair Campbell out of the party for voting Lib Dem in the European elections. But the tactic has backfired. Tony Blair’s once reviled spin doctor has now become a martyr to a popular cause. Corbyn, by contrast, has lost his shine. His approval rating is even worse than Theresa May’s. But what can he do, asked Oliver Wright in The Times. Whichever way he turns on Brexit, he’ll alienate a key part of the electoral coalition needed to get him to No. 10. In the end, though, he won’t have to decide. Party members are overwhelmingly pro-Remain, and at the party’s conference in September they’ll use their majority to decide for him.