Who’s afraid of Jeremy Corbyn? Not me.
Labour people who might vote for Jeremy Corbyn have two possible rationales. One is political. These are the true believers, those who endured the cold, lonely years of power and responsibility in a sort of internal exile. I don’t hate those people. It takes a certain kind of iron will to dedicate your life to a political movement and consistently oppose it in power. I look at a Carswell or a Corbyn as a suburban vicar might contemplate a flagellant penitent. I don’t quite understand the point, but I rather admire the commitment.
The other appeal of Corbynism is more Dostoyevsky than Marx. Imagine you’re betting heavily on Red. Time and again, the wheel comes up black. It’s monstrous. Unjust. Incredible. How can you recoup those lost hours and resources? Concede that it is best not to play this game? Wonder why the Casino Manager welcomes you so?
That would be the rational response, perhaps. But I defy you not to examine the little you have left, see the Number 36, calculate the slender but real chance of triumphant redemption and not be tempted. Death or glory, comrades.
My point in this observation is not to sneer at Corbyn supporters. My motivations are no less doctrinal or emotional than theirs, as any reader of my twitter feed will attest. I just think I’m right and they’re wrong and don’t think I can persuade them.
If Jeremy Corbyn were to become leader of the Labour party, we would lose the next election with a likelihood of 99.99999% That would be a bad thing for millions of people. But Labour members, whether as true believers or desperate gamblers, will have known the risk and decided it was worth it. Fair enough.
No, the most dangerous people in the Labour party are not Corbynites or militants. The most dangerous people in the Labour party are the one-steppers.
Is this some long forgotten entryist sect? If only. One-steppers are simply people who have fallen for the greatest temptation in Labour politics. To be a one-stepper is to see someone saying something you largely agree with, but which others in your party do not, and to stand one step to their left and attack them for their heresy.
It’s an advantageous position to take, just one step to the left. You are not decrying everything the person to your right says, of course. They make many valuable points. Indeed, you would include much of their perspective in your own analysis. You’d appreciate their support. It’s just that here, and here, and here too, they depart from what is right and purposeful, from the values of our movement.
That is too far. It is not who we are, friends.
So moderate. So unifying. So reasonable. And so appealing to the base. You’re keeping the flame, preserving Labour values. Maybe even winning internal elections.
There are so many ways to be a one-stepper. You can one-step in pained disappointment. You can one-step in righteous fury. You can even one-step out of pure political calculation.
There have been one-steppers through Labour history. Wilson was a one-stepper until Gaitskell died. Gordon Brown became one around 2003, but only after the greatest refusal to one-step in Labour history. Ed Miliband one-stepped his brother and his old boss at once.
Why do I fear one-steppers so? After all, I agree with them on most things and it’s just one step. Surely that’s worth the irritation of their disdain for heretical thoughts?
I fear them because they lose elections.
Yes, sometimes they lose elections because they’re a step to the left of me, but that’s not really it. You can probably win an election a step to the left of me. Maybe even ten steps, if you’re willing to wait a few decades.
It’s not about the policy. It’s about the tactics.
The easiest political technique in the Labour party is to imply someone one step to your right is a Tory or not one of our tribe. It’s so simple to question their grasp of what it is to be truly, really Labour and to use that to box them in and cut them off.
In that very ease lies the great danger. What do you say when someone appears at your left shoulder saying the same about you, and they really mean it?
That’s why one-steppers lose you elections. In the rush to tactical advantage, they forget there’s always a place one step to the left, and someone will always see the advantage of occupying it. One place to the left of Tony. One place to the left of Gordon. One place to the left of Ed. One place to the left of Yvette. One place to the left of Andy. Or maybe the other way round.
After all, a leadership election can devolve into a contest to find out who one step to the left of who. Everyone loses that game, except the Corbyns. Spend your life working for the party, trying to make it electable, trying to keep the show together? Sorry, Harriet, but I’m afraid I’m going to have to one-step you there. Strictly business, you understand.
On and on it goes, until suddenly the steps are leagues, and you have lost again.
The problem with the one-stepper is not ideology. It is opportunism. That is what makes them so dangerous.
They think they’re the only step, but they’re just one of many, and at the end of that particular road you find only the true believers, the desperate gamblers, the cynics and, of course, the losers. What a swell party that would be.