5 October 2015

"Labour is coming home. Come home to Labour..."

Since the Labour conference in Brighton, I've been trying precisely to pin down why I found John McDonnell's "come home to Labour" riff so irritating. Alex Massie captures some of the reasons in his stinging Spectator blog. My article in the latest edition of the Drouth harps on a similar string. But the sense of Labour entitlement implicit in the phrase "come home" has always been vexing. It was, after all, common enough currency among Scottish Labour's old guard. Celebrating the party's stonking 2010 general election win, Douglas Alexander gushed: 
"Right across Scotland, people have come home to Labour. We've never taken Scotland for granted, we've worked for every vote this evening and we've enjoyed success as a consequence of a great deal of hard work."
And in pursuit of victory in that election, Gordon Brown repeated, again and again:
"At this moment of risk to our economy, at this moment of decision for our country, I ask you to come home to Labour."
A quick search on LexisNexis turns up a mighty 196 news articles which use some variation of the phrase. Entertainingly, one of the earliest instances emanated from one Anthony Charles Lynton Blair.  In his keynote address to 1996's October conference in Blackpool, the Labour leader told party delegates:
"I don’t care where you are coming from; it is where your country is going that matters. If you believe in what I believe, then join our team. Labour has come home to you, so come home to us. Labour’s coming home! Seventeen years of hurt never stopped us dreaming. Labour’s coming home! (Applause) As we did in 1945 and 1964, I know that was then, but it could be again – Labour’s coming home. (Applause) Labour’s coming home. The people are coming home."
And a mere nineteen years later, one of Blairism's most inveterate foes in the parliamentary Labour Party is giving it precisely the same "come home" patter? How's that for eternal recurrence? As seems increasingly to be the case with his efforts, the speech did the job for Blair in 1996, but today is nigh unreadable. This political message has been brought to you by the Simpsons' Nelson Muntz and the phenomenon of AWOL daddies who've just nipped out for a pint of milk and a packet of fags. Come home, papa. Come home. *sniffle* 

I'm conscious that gags about flipping political real estate may be regarded as being in poor taste at the moment - but we can only assume that the Labour party has moved neighbourhood in the intervening period. That said, it seems apt - or at least divertingly ironic - that both the inception and the death of the Blairite project in the Labour Party are being announced and celebrated in precisely the same terms. Labour is coming home. Come home to Labour.  Any number of wise clichés suggest themselves here: in my end is my beginning; and "history repeats first as tragedy then as farce."

But it isn't even this which really irked about McDonnell's presumptious, previous declaration that "Labour is now the only anti-austerity party" and that the Plain People of Scotland should biddably "come home". I couldn't quite put my finger on the real source of my disgruntlement, until I read Iain MacWhiter's bit in the Sunday Herald, and the thought suddenly crystallised. 

Labour's new left leadership are running two distinct and incompatible strategies which together conspire to make McDonnell's "come home" schtick simply unendurable. Across the UK, the new party leadership are currently all honey and amelioration and consultation. Shadow cabinet members have been unshackled by anything approaching collective responsibilty. To describe Labour Party policy as incoherent at present would be charitable: it is motley. I appreciate honest policy disgreement as much as the next fellow - more than most, in fact - but there is simply no coherent political expression to be plucked from this mangled policy haystack. You name it. Trident renewal, tuition fees, budget discipline, railways, energy, "people's quantitative easing": it is a boorach.

And worse, the leadership seems isolated and listless rather than fighting its corner within the fractuous and divided ranks of the parliamentary party. Whatever calculations the Corbyn-McDonnell axis are making behind the scenery, on policy, the spirit of left capitulation seems general, sacrificed on the altar of party unity. Consultation is the watchword of the day. And Jeremy seems more preoccupied with facilitating party democracy than he does with securing the victory for his own viewpoint. 

The impression may be unfair and mistaken -- but Mr Corbyn seems prepared biddably to assent to whatever policy compromise his party is prepared to yield up to him. As a saintly democrat - this all may be perfectly commendable - but if you wanted an invertebrate to lead the UK Labour Party, Andy Burham was already on the ballot paper. 

But in Scotland? In Scotland we are invited to conclude that only the views of the party's new leadership are in any sense consequential, however few followers Mr Corbyn and his vicar on earth actually command on their own Commons benches. We are invited to forget awkward memories of recent votes on the Welfare Reform Bill, which propelled Corbyn to the front line in the leadership contest. "Labour is now the only anti-austerity party".

In every other context, we are encouraged to believe that the new leader has a frail and self-depracating democratic voice - one among many, many of whom disagree with him. But in Scotland? In Scotland, only the sentiments of this isolated and embattled leadership matters. Come home to Labour. I'm reminded of King Richard the II's melancholy reflections on a Welsh beach, in Shakespeare's play of the same name. "For God's sake," said King Richard:

"... let us sit upon the ground And tell sad stories of the death of kings. How some have been deposed; some slain in war, Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed; Some poison'd by their wives: some sleeping kill'd; All murder'd: for within the hollow crown That rounds the mortal temples of a king Keeps Death his court and there the antic sits, Scoffing his state and grinning at his pomp, Allowing him a breath, a little scene, To monarchize, be fear'd and kill with looks, Infusing him with self and vain conceit, As if this flesh which walls about our life, Were brass impregnable, and humour'd thus Comes at the last and with a little pin Bores through his castle wall, and farewell king!"

There will be no monarchizing from Jeremy. No fear. No killing looks. As Iain MacWhirter lays out, it is difficult to find the policy issue where Corbyn hasn't tacked and trimmed, compromising and accommodating himself to his many deprecators in his own party. But in Scotland? In Scotland, we must think on the increasingly hollow crown Jeremy wears, enjoy its glitter, and "come home" to Labour like good bairns. And so farewell, king.


  1. "Let's choose executors and talk of wills...”


  2. From a different perspective, I too am immune to the Corbyn glamour. Someone observed of Senator Trent Lott (the inventor of Tartan Day and formerly friendly with both Labour and SNP heid yins) that for a professed non-racist, he is pally with quite a few segregationists. Corbyn, who is of course also a professed non-racist, seems pally with an awful lot of open antisemites, including a blood-libel promoter.

    1. This is lying rubbish of the kind recently put around by Jonathan Freedland. But as the Jewish authors of a letter to the Jewish Chronicle last week put it: 'According to Freedland “…15 years ago he attended meetings of a group called Deir Yassin Remembered, founded by Holocaust denier Paul Eisen.” Since Eisen didn’t reveal himself as a holocaust denier until 2004, Jeremy Corbyn and the many others attending a fund-raising concert in 2001, including rabbis and MPs, would have had to have had psychic gifts.' Corbyn is an anti-imperialist, an anti-racist and an anti-Zionist, with not a hint of sympathy or tolerance for anti-Semitism - as countless Jews have already testified. There should no longer be any need to insist on this, but I would not like to let this poisonous dishonesty go by without challenge.

      See http://jewssansfrontieres.blogspot.co.uk/2015/10/jews-for-jc-in-jc.html

    2. Strong language, sir. You quote a letter to the Jewish Chronicle - I shall quote the JC itself -


      'We are just a newspaper. But in this rare instance we are certain that we speak for the vast majority of British Jews in expressing deep foreboding at the prospect of Mr Corbyn’s election as Labour leader.
      Because, although there is no direct evidence that he has an issue himself with Jews, there is overwhelming evidence of his association with, support for — and even in one case, alleged funding of — Holocaust deniers, terrorists and some outright antisemites.
      If Mr Corbyn is not to be regarded from the day of his election as an enemy of Britain’s Jewish community, he has a number of questions which he must answer in full and immediately. The JC asked him earlier this week to respond. No response has been forthcoming.
      1. Did you donate, as alleged by its founder, to Deir Yassin Remembered (DYR), a group that publishes open antisemitism, run by Holocaust denier Paul Eisen — an organisation so extreme that even the Palestine Solidarity Campaign refuses to associate with it?
      2. Have you, as Mr Eisen claims, regularly attended DYR’s annual conference?
      3. Why have you accepted an invitation to appear at a conference on August 22 alongside Carlos Latuff, the notorious anti-Semitic cartoonist?
      4. Why did you write to the Church of England authorities to defend Rev Stephen Sizer, a vicar banned from social media because of his habit of posting anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, telling them that Rev Sizer was “under attack” because he had “dared to speak out over Zionism”?
      5. Why do you associate with Hamas and Hezbollah and refer to them as your “friends”?
      6. Why have you failed to condemn the anti-Semitic posters and banners that dominate the annual Al-Quds Day rally, sponsored by the Stop The War Coalition, which you chair?
      7. Why did you describe Raead Salah, a man convicted of the blood libel, as an ‘honoured citizen’?'

      Oh and thank you for linking me to Jonathan Freedland. I don’t always agree with him, but on Corbyn he is spot on.

      Where exactly is the lie you speak of in my post? For there is no question at all that Corbyn has been friendly with vile anti-semites.

    3. Oh and that long term anti-zionist Peter Tatchell - and backer of Corbyn in the Labour leadership race - also expressed the same concerns over Corbyn’s repulsive platform-sharers -


      "He does need to explain in more detail why he has attended and spoken at meetings alongside some pretty unsavoury bigots who advocate human rights abuses – and especially why he did so without publicly criticising their totalitarian politics.”

    4. Oh and must add Corbyn's responses to the Jewish Chronicle's questions -


    5. I would encourage anyone to look at Corbyn's responses above and see for themselves whether there is any foundation to the Jewish Chronicle's insinuations.

      It is in any case not very useful simply to quote the Chronicle, which is itself a player in this whole seedy game, as noted at the time in a letter to the Guardian.

      "You report that the Jewish Chronicle claims to speak for the vast majority of British Jews in opposing Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader (Jewish Chronicle accuses Corbyn of associating with Holocaust deniers, 13 August). The JC certainly doesn’t represent progressive British Jewry. Corbyn has an outstanding record of opposing racism, including antisemitism in all its forms. He was particularly prominent in the campaign against apartheid in South Africa. He has consistently supported oppressed peoples such as the Kurds and the Palestinians.
      The allegation that Corbyn supports or associates with Holocaust deniers is malicious and unfounded. It is based on an article in the Daily Mail, which was dependent on the word of a self-confessed Holocaust denier, Paul Eisen. The JC reports him as saying that Corbyn donated to Deir Yassin Remembered. So did many people, before DYR was taken over by antisemites and Holocaust deniers. The JC’s efforts to paint Corbyn as a closet antisemite can only help legitimise those who are antisemitic.

      Tony Greenstein
      Graham Bash
      Rica Bird
      Prof Haim Bresheeth
      Mike Cushman
      Tom Eisner
      Deborah Fink
      Kenneth Fryde
      Lynda Gilbert
      Abe Hayeem
      Rosamine Hayeem
      Paul Kaufman
      Richard Kuper
      Rachel Lever
      Dr Les Levidow
      Deborah Maccoby
      Miriam Margolyes
      Beryl Maizels
      Diana Neslen
      Dr Daniel Ozarow
      Prof Ilan Pappe
      Roland Rance
      Valerie Remy
      Frances Rifkin
      Dr Brian Robinson
      Mike Rosen
      Prof Jonathan Rosenhead
      Brian Rotman
      Ben Samuel
      Prof Avi Shlaim
      Glyn Secker
      Inbar Tamari
      Naomi Wimborne Idrissi
      Devra Wiseman"


      The campaign against Corbyn that Edwin Moore is participating in is simultaneously an attack on the left and a rearguard action in defence of an Israeli state that is increasingly losing credibility. Everyone here is (or should be) aware of the issues at stake in Israel/Palestine. What is not, and never has been an issue, is Jeremy Corbyn's personal or political integrity in the matter of anti-Semitism.

      As far as Tatchell is concerned, as a gay man I will say that he doesn't understand that support for Palestinian self-determination – and the political work and the poltical contacts that follow from it – do not depend on the Palestinians renouncing patriarchy or adopting pro-gay positions.

    6. To paraphrase George Orwell, you can't throw a brick through some left-wing meetings at the moment without hitting a Holocaust denier.

      I don't take a hard line on this. It's sad that the Palestinian struggle has gone on for so long and many people who have campaigned on it for half their lives are driven towards despair, confusion, dubious racial distinctions, and conspiracy theories. There is a wretched or fatalistic quality to the anti-Semitism that you very occasionally encounter. It is a sign of defeat; it is politically inconsequential.

  3. Not really getting why you are so irked. Labour politicians are entitled to ask voters for support. If said voters used to vote Labour and now don't, "please come home" is v appropriate IMO. Can't understand why it annoys you so much.

    As you say, current Labour policy positions might be described as "motley". But that's true of other parties. The SNP is more motley than most, dappled even - if you want examples I will supply myriads - but you don't seem so upset about that.

    And the Blessed George Osborne gave a speech yesterday in which he openly admitted stealing a number of policies from the Labour manifesto because he thinks they will appeal to Labour voters, in effect: come home to the Tories.

    I've always thought of LPW as that rare commodity - a Nat with a bit of self awareness and some humour, something to be valued amongst all the braying and blind adhesion to the cause.

    Are you sure it's just ire that Corbyn instills in your breast, not fear?.

    1. Good point, Alex. Scottish Labour is world-renowned for its self-awareness and self-effacing humour. (The councillors, especially.)

      I watched John McDonnell's speech, and although his fibs were thoroughly objectionable, I can't say the "come home" line especially bothered me. Like the majority of Scottish voters, I've never voted Labour, but there's a substantial minority for whom the sentiment may not be totally meaningless. Unfortunately for McDonnell, though, those people have largely moved on. It took a seismic event to shift them away from their allegiance, and it'll take an equally seismic event to shift them back again.

    2. Thanks for the compliment (see outstanding example of humour below).

      Just a thought: if the people hadn't largely moved on he wouldn't have had to ask them to come home.

      :- )

  4. Cannot help thinking, some bright spark, somewhere in the bowels of SLAB HQ is probably, even as we speak, re-writing the Lightning Seeds/Baddeil and Skinner classic 'Football's Coming Home' to something like 'Labour's Coming Home' for the 2016 Holyrood Elections.

    In which case: bang goes the Tartan Army vote.

  5. But this is difficult for the SNP and SNP supporters simply because their actions have an undeniable air of farce about them.

    A great deal of the Scottish left have recently decamped to the SNP due to Blairism. They didn't like Blairism and the New Labour project because it was too right-wing, too privatising, too "out of touch" (whatever that means). Suddenly, however, Labour has lurched unexpectedly to the left and the Scottish left find themselves stranded in the deserts of a Blairite political party, the New Labour think-tank which is the SNP.

    And so the "come home" jingle riles because the Scottish left have lost the idea, somewhere down the road, that they are an active part of the UK Labour movement. They never saw it as their mission to engage, to campaign, to turn the party upside down from within. They were merely the Labour movement's disappointed customers, rather than its plugged-in, at-home inhabitants.

    Disappointed customers. It pretty much sums up the Scottish left. They've switched from Tesco to Asda and now Tesco's cheaper again. Not an attractive or empowering view of politics in a mass democracy.

    1. Just reading the Times obit of Denis Healey - I had forgotten that he did ads for Sainsburys. A Middle Way perhaps, between the mince pies of Greggs and the fair trade asparagus of the Byres Rd Waitrose

    2. We need a Labour leader who makes them tremble in Waitrose.

    3. The day it came out I saw a lady buy a whole armful of Nationals at the Byres Rd Waitrose - including the one I put back.

    4. Cheaper than toilet paper. But not as good a read.

  6. Excellent article As a typical ( ie one of several family generations) SLAB voter I left them a long time ago and have seen no reason to return. In an independent Scotland a true Labour Party without any of those who sold out might win my vote back. Then again once we are rid of WM there will be a number of parties to vote for!!

  7. Off-topic perhaps, but, I am eagerly awaiting LPW's take on "Thomsongate".