In the wake of his decisive victory, I sat down with the Labour leader to discuss where he and the party go from here.
Ed: Jeremy, congratulations on your victory.
JC: Thank you.
Ed: But it was a pyrrhic victory, wasn’t it?
JC: I don’t know what you mean.
Ed: Oh, come on.
JC: No, I mean, I don’t know the word, what are you asking?
Ed: I’m suggesting that the 172 MPs who voted against you in the no confidence motion still don’t want you. You’ve essentially used the members to delegitimise both them and clause one of your own constitution, the party’s obligation to be a fighting force in parliament, gunning for government.
JC: But what does legitimacy mean in this context?
JC: Well, the current intake were elected on a prospectus which, as I’m sure is now obvious, no longer has any real relevance within the party. They’re products of an era of ideological infirmity within the Labour family, a time when we said, ‘Thatcherism’s the fashion and one has to wear the clothes to be accepted in polite society’. It’s not unlike when you’re a teenager and you feel you have to like a certain band or support a rugby team to fit in. But you grow out of it. We all grow out of it. I think we gave the PLP their head for a long time, and we were right to do so, because you have to give people their freedom to go out into the world and make their own mistakes, but rightly we’ve now taken a look at things and realised that mental discipline is more important. The party’s reasserting itself.
Ed: What did you wear when you were a teenager?
JC: Pretty much what I’m wearing now.
Ed: Are you saying your MPs are aberrations, then?
JC: No, that’s reductive journalism on your part, what I’m arguing, in fact saying, is that between say, 1983 and 2015, the Labour Party was subject to a period of faddism and silliness, which resulted in many people being brought up through the party who, through no fault of their own, simply weren’t up to it. They’d been conditioned to believe that the party had to reflect society as it was, and was becoming, rather than being clear that society must be rethought and remodelled, so it works for the party intellectually.
Ed: Rethought using old and flawed models like Maoism, that sort of thing?
JC: I see what you’re trying to do, I’ve read your blog, but collectivism is an evolving ideology, it’s not just a snapshot of late 19th, early 20th century political philosophy that dogmatically tunes out the experience of real people. It’s a lot more than that.
Ed: Right. So your MPs, then – you’re not going to deselect them?
JC: You’re obsessed with deselection, but I think you have to remember that the real question is about whether they’d want to continue, once their stabilisers are removed. Right now, many of them, and I do feel sorry for them because it’s not their fault, are going through that difficult period where they come to understand that every naïve and half-baked idea they’ve ever had is not reality. It was wrong of Ed Miliband to let them run on the basis that this would be the party’s programme going forward, because that was clearly a sort of waking dream on his part. So I’m saying to them now, ‘get on board, forget the past, understand that you’re a Labour MP and this is what we stand for’. Some will be able to internalise that and support the party and its members, and some won’t. But those who won’t should consider giving way to one of the new and enthused members of the party, the disciplined body that’s coming through, who understand our philosophy. Staying will only make them confused and unhappy.
Ed: But you’ve been an MP for the entire period you’re now saying has been a sort of child-like catatonic period. How is it that you and people like Diane Abbot and John McDonnell were immune from this infantilising?
JC: Have you seen the Brian De Palma film, “Sisters”?
JC: It’s very good. Basically, it’s about twins who grow up together, one normal, one psychotic. So it makes the point that differences in people’s makeup can cause them to veer off on dangerous tangents. For every me, there’s a Tony Blair. For every Diane, there’s a Harriet Harman. Not everyone’s mentally robust; some are well intentioned but intellectually wanting. There are men and women, and there are sheep. I like sheep, I have to say; there’s a place for them in the party, because Labour’s always been a broad church; but you can’t have them telling the farmer how to run his business. We got timid in the ‘80s, and we didn’t slaughter them, or shear them – we just let them get ridiculously puffed out and old.
Ed: Right, so they have to fall into line or lose their seats?
JC: Well many of them will lose their seats next time anyway. You know, there’s going to be a recalibration of British politics as the electorate adjusts to the breadth and depth of our policies. I’d expect some to stand down, because I don’t think they’d take themselves seriously in an ideologically rich climate – they’ve been reared on platitudes and nebulous notions of compassion, etc. And they’ll be boundary changes of course, and some of those new seats we’ll want contested by serious candidates who believe in a comprehensive re-landscaping of British culture, with affordable ideas built on top.
Ed: So you wouldn’t interpret a wipeout of MPs as failure, then?
JC: Heavens, no.
Ed: What, even if you were reduced to a ton?
JC: A ton of what?
Ed: MPs. A hundred MPs.
JC: Oh – no, because it’d be the right one hundred.
Ed: What about fifty?
JC: Yes, fine.
Ed: Wait, so there’s no number of MPs that would stop and make you think, ‘perhaps the country’s not going for this’?
JC: Ed, listen – the party is a mass membership movement – all the Ms. It doesn’t exist simply to bolster parliamentary representation. We’ll get there, but we first have to find the human distillate of our philosophy and offer it up for the people to taste and study. Scrutiny follows, then enlightenment, then government.
Ed: So if the Labour Party was just you, Diane and John, you’d be okay with that?
JC: It was for thirty years; it could be again. Change takes time.
Ed: Okay, just quickly then – could we discuss some of the issues with your leadership?
JC: The myths, you mean?
Ed: If you like.
JC: Well, it’s terrible tedious, but fine, ask your questions.
Ed: Were you a friend of the IRA?
JC: I believe in a United Ireland.
Ed: Brought about by terrorism?
JC: No, not terrorism. But I support armed revolutionary struggle; I think freedom fighters must use whatever means necessary to overcome armies of occupation.
Ed: Thanks, that’s clear. Israel, do you support it?
JC: I support it in the abstract, naturally.
Ed: What about in reality?
JC: Well it doesn’t exist at the moment.
JC: What exists now is the footprint of occupation; a gangster state. So when there’s a legitimate country there, backed by consent and democracy, of course it’ll have our support.
Ed: I think that’s what the Israelis already believe to exist.
JC: I know, tragic isn’t it?
Ed: Okay, what about the idea that you’re a hypocrite, because you’ve agitated to remove every Labour leader since Kinnock but now expect loyalty from people whose trust and respect you haven’t earned in parliament, whose entire political careers you’ve worked to undermine?
JC: Move on to your next question.
Ed: Many say you helped condemn Britain to Brexit by being deliberately low key and ambiguous during the campaign. They say you saw the EU as a capitalist cabal, that you’re secretly thrilled we’re leaving, and that the only thing you like about it – free movement of people – is antithetical to the values of the people you’re supposed to represent, namely the UK’s working classes, but you like it because it chimes with the metropolitan, café culture liberalism that you actually represent; a sort of left-wing middle class sect that doesn’t understand how ordinary people live. Any truth to that?
JC: Well, I don’t drink in cafés.
Ed: What about the more substantive points?
JC: I campaigned for Remain, I made it clear that I superficially understood the hopes and aspirations of young people who wanted to be a part of it. I understand it’s been fashionable for 40 years.
Ed: Fashionable? What, like, the movement to the right within the PLP? That kind of fashionable? Something that needs to be corrected?
JC: I’m very sorry, but your time is up. I have a rally to go to.
Ed: Fine. Jeremy Corbyn, thank you for your time.
JC: Thank you for filling it.
Jeremy Corbyn is represented by John McDonnell Management Ltd.