One step beyond

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.

26 Responses to “One step beyond”

  1. Quietzapple

    If Corbyn does as well as second it will be 1981 again and we may lose for two generations.

    Last time the Tory BBC and co hung the demonised SNP round our necks. Corbyn would be a sort of bad tempered almost eternal Benn, proof that Labour might reappear as a red monster eternally.

  2. botzarelli

    “If Jeremy Corbyn were to become leader of the Labour party, we would lose the next election with a likelihood of 99.99999% ”

    I’m not nearly so certain – the events concerning Greece have stirred up a lot of noisy left voices like Owen Jones and Richard Murphy to question whether we should remain in the EU given how beastly Germany has been to the Greeks. Were Corbyn to ride that wave by proposing Brexit on traditional Bennite grounds (it doesn’t take a lot of a leap to imagine this) he could well form an unholy alliance of the “flagellant penitents” and win a No vote in our EU referendum which would surely bring the government down.

    • Brian Hughes

      It may be more likely than Hopi suggests that a Corbyn led party could scrape into power at a general election but it’s highly unlikely that a Corbyn led government could survive for a full term.

      So many forces would line up against such an administration – even more so than they did against Wilson’s, Callaghan’s and Brown’s. The City, international finance and the media collectively wield even more power now than they did in the last century and they take great exception to breaking of their rules by national governments.

      Attlee’s much revered government collapsed under the barrage after only a term and a little bit despite having tried to appease the money-men by overpaying for bankrupt railway and mining shares.

      See also the current fate of France’s socialist president and Greece’s beleaguered government.

      It’s a tough world in which to be a leftie…

      • Robert

        It is even harder to be to the right, when your being offered light weight like Burnham and Cooper and the most ridicules Kendall , as they all start to move to the left.

        The problem for the Blair groupies is simple he’s hone and Cameron has the job, and labour has to try and get back fast but looking at it this could be in about 2030 .

        Simple really labour is not needed nor is it wanted be it left or right.

  3. Quietzapple

    The OUT of the EU poll is down to 27%. Labour just lost an election because the demonised SNP were hung round a candidate portrayed as on the left.

    The UK wouldn’t vote for a Corbyn led Labour campaign to leave the EU if we gave away free fine weather.

    Cameron will negotiate UK rights away and receive the endorsement of over 50% of the votes with Merckel’s imprimatur behind him.

    The real question is how does Yvette sort the mess out?

  4. SpinningHugo


    At this point it looks like the one steppers are going to win.

    What you need to urge Kendall to do is put forward one (or preferably more) BOLD policy proposals. These need not be leftwing. My recommendation would be to steal from the best of left and right: triangulate if you like.

    My best offer.

    Housing. This is the biggest problem facing the young. She needs to explain that rising house prices do nobody any good. If my house was only worth £5 it would mean I could afford to live in a mansion.


    1. A Land Value Tax. Not a Mansion tax (which was obviously just targeted at the richest in the way people dislike. This can be geared up to promote building.

    coupled with

    2. Planning deregulation. The Town and Country Planning Act is no longer fit for use. most ‘greenbelt’ is not very green, but there to stop urban sprawl.

    Build baby build.


    Do a press conference with a proper, serious economist, in tandem. Plenty of ideas here, Hendry is especially good.

    explain after the economist has spoken that interest rates are at an all time low and this allows room for investment sending while rates are at or near zero. that involves no slackening of bearing down on current spending. People like Hendry or Wren-Lewis love the exposure, and doing it jointly shows you are serious. Left leaning economics profs in Oxford and Cambridge are there to be used.

    She needs a powerful keynote policy that is eyecatching and differentiates her.

    Kendall is our best hope for 2020. We need something bold at this point. The reason that Corbyn is getting noticed is because he is able to differentiate himself. Miliband did it in 2010 with the Living Wage and a graduate tax. Kendall CAN do it, but she needs to be quick.

  5. Caroline Molloy

    Liz Kendall is a one-stepper too. A far more dangerous kind – one-stepper is the ‘one step to the left of the Tories, whatever batshit nonsense they come out with’.

  6. Richard Welbirg

    Chiming in to agree with Hugo. Liz needs something, quickly, that sets her apart in an appealing way.

    The relentless truth-telling is nice, but remember people want something to get behind. She’s going to get squished out here if there’s no change.

  7. Metatone

    I rarely agree with SpinningHugo on anything, but here I think he cuts the nub of things. One steppers are effective when people like you, Hopi, are timid and fail to produce policy proposals that can make a splash and actually be attractive to voters. Boldness has a power (as Osbourne illustrates) out of proportion to correctness.

    • Metatone

      To be less provocative – isn’t there a sense in which the centre-left has failed to recruit members into the part.

      What the scary polls of Corbyn’s rise suggest is that not enough centrist voters are Labour party members. And I think that is an important issue for the future. You can’t run a party for the long term by telling members to “grow up and understand the electorate” – you need members who are like the electorate.

  8. Newmania

    I have been wondering about you while I have watched the Labour election with slack jawed astonishment. One thing the media don’t seem to have picked up on is that the Unions endorsement of Corbyn is only to leave their real candidate ( Andy Burnham) able to claim he is not .
    Northern ‘Andy ‘has already committed himself to Union friendly wheezes like not reforming the NHS and taking the NUT`s part against parents .If anything lefter than Ed , his claim to be outside the Westminster bubble is laughable and while he certainly he is less hopeless than EM he is a slither into terminal decline.
    The spectacle of a Party who think Liz Kendall is so right wing as to be worthy of a virtual hate campaign is flabbergasting. She is, if anything, nothing like different enough to Ed Milliband and if Harriet Harman is supposed to be a Tory traitor ( for the same reasons roughly ) then god help the ex-opposition I need hardly discuss the idiot Corbyn.

    I do enjoy seeing Tristan Hunt have no career , he was oh so keen on nasty little envious policies and the Milliband agenda until recently .

    Nothing about Labour says it wants to survive at the moment and I do feel for you Hopi , it must be miserable to be in this slow motion crash

  9. Newmania

    Speccie are reporting the Kendall campaign is just about over. I can`t work out what the Labour Party are thinking ..more of the same basically suppose

  10. Wintergreen

    An interesting theory and I do think both Burnham and Cooper have been opportunist at times but in my view the main reason Kendall is going to come 4th is because her cheerleaders are just too damn sure of themselves.

    Where is the reflection on why the SNP did so well on an anti-austerity ticket? Where is the reflection on the Lib Dems getting absolutely hammered despite being the party most firmly rooted in the centre ground? Above all where is the reflection on how the more Labour gravitated towards the ultra-cautious costing-is-everything don’t-whatever-you-do-try-to-inspire-people strategy that you among others loudly advocated, the more their lead in the polls slipped away?

    No doubt you have thought a lot about these points and have a thoughtful response to them (which I’d love to hear), but it feels to me like most Kendall supporters would rather go for a TINA strategy that sweeps any evidence that challenges their pre-existing convictions under the carpet.

    PS: FWIW I’m still undecided. I hoped Hunt would make onto the ballot, more likely to go Cooper now but still waiting to be inspired by someone.

  11. Newmania

    The SNP did well on an anti austerity ticket… coo now why would that be …I can`t imagine .
    Hopi if Bearded JC actually wins can you really stay in the same Party ?

  12. bert

    Nobody has even mentioned the consequence of a Corbyn win for the Labour party itself. Who will form his Shadow Cabinet? Can anyone see Burnham, Cooper, Ummuna, Leslie, Flint, etc, sitting around his cabinet table?

    If he does win (and William Hill now have him at an eye-watering 1/5), the Labour party could split right down the middle and make themselves unelectable for another 25 years.

    Will they yet see a bit of sanity? That’s not to say any of the other candidates will ever become PM, but Jeremy Corbyn PM is about as likely as the moon being made of cheese.

    Is the Labour party so devoid of talent that a 66 year old Marxist, with no ministerial experience, can attract so much hype? Utterly bonkers, but it doesn’t come as that much of a surprise to me when you have a party that is far more comfortable in opposition than it ever has been in power.

  13. stanley raffel

    No one has yet remarked on the sheer originality of the one step to the left thesis so I must first say well done, Hopi. Two weeks later and with the Corbyn phenomenon in full swing it can be noticed that a new version of the merry dance has taken hold. Both Andy Burnham and Polly Toynbee could be said to be attempting to rebut Corgyn merely by moving one step to the right of him rather than confronting his arguments head on.

  14. Newmania

    So Corbyn it is . Do you think you might join the Conservative Party now Hopi ? You sureky cannot campaign on behalf of someone you so profoundly disagree with , and I do share your contempt

    • bert

      I kind of feel sorry for Sen. There must be many thousands of moderate Labour supporters like him who are being shouted down by a lunatic fringe, albeit a large one. He who shouts loudest and all that.

      And what’s to stop such a thing from happening all over again after Labour’s landslide defeat in 2020? Even Owen Jones, one of Corbyn’s chief apologists, says winning an election isn’t everything. So could someone yet more extreme than even Corbyn be elected as future Labour leader? Perhaps a failed African dictator, who’s a certifiable sociopath and lunatic, but ticks the relevant boxes? Maybe a Belorussian arms dealer, or an ex-IS commander? Perhaps Rose West could get on the ballot box from inside her cosy prison cell.

      I say these things only in half jest, because I truly believe the Labour party has lost its mind, its heart and its soul, and has been hi-jacked by a demographic who are so embittered by a sense of perceived injustice, they are incapable of rational thought. They even turned on their ex-Messiah, Russell Brand, for not being radical enough.

      So they will use Corbyn as a conduit for every single piece of economic madness and personal prejudice they can muster, becoming increasingly fervent and hysterical (via their favourite echo chamber, Twitter), making the Labour party more and more unelectable and irrelevant, and less and less a mainstream party.

      So when the first PMQs arrives after the recess, and the Labour MPs sit in complete silence when Corbyn rises to his feet, and the Tories bellow out the loudest cheer every likely to have been heard in the Commons, then I will know for sure that the twitching corpse of Labour will have finally been put out of its misery.

  15. Topher Dawson

    I’m a Green and a Scottish one at that, but I reckon what the Labour party needs is not one but about 3 steps to the left. Corbyn has articulated what a lot of people want. Austerity just makes the rich richer and the poor poorer. The inequality impoverishes us all.

    Labour may as well stand for something distinctive and let people choose. At the moment all it is is Tory lite. Where will they be if they lose on this ticket? Will they go even further right?

    Currently Corbyn is being criticised for being unelectable. Being elected, on policies watered down enough not to frighten the horses, is currently the party’s definition of success. They do not see how many people are leaving the party because it supports austerity. I would say success is winning an election by standing for recognisably different policies.

    How many new members have Kendall, Cooper and Burnham attracted?

  16. Alasdair

    “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.”

    Well, it seems that those groups now make up 60% of the Labour Party.

    Is this the point where we can declare that Labour no longer exists as a serious political party, but is basically now just another leftwing pressure group, dedicated to taking morally righteous positions with no ambition of ever winning power?

    (Mind you, I look forward to seeing someone try to ‘one-step’ Corbyn. That’ll be a laugh.)

  17. Newmania

    I feel sorry for Hopi , if he still has a job it must be due for purging , lets hope he can cling on long enought for Corbyn to disappear

  18. Newmania

    hem hem ..Hopi , I don`t knbiow if you still have a job in the Labour gift but if I were you I`d take the lats post down .
    You could be going somewhere chilly very soon

  19. Robert

    The problem is of course to many MP’s in labour are careerist, who came to the party under new labour, hand picked and who now dislike the socialism that is being offered, they tend to like the new labour Thatcher ideology better.

    But of course they are not of the right class to join the Tories so they want New labour, but it’s pretty much gone now, if your a voter who likes new labour then the offer is vote Tory Cameron is a clone of Blair.


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