One thing that has become stark in the Labour leadership election has been the division between factions – the trouble is, the descriptions used seem to be determined by those who have a distinct interest in the result. Jeremy Corbyn is of course described as ‘far left’ or ‘hard left’ – and though I disagree with both descriptions that isn’t really the point I want to make here. No, what I don’t agree with is the counter-description of those who seem to be lining up against Corbyn as ‘moderates’ or ‘modernisers’. Neither term is at all appropriate.
Anyone who has watched the increasing desperation by some within the anti-Corbyn campaign should have noticed the lack of moderation. The language used against him and his supporters has been vicious and personal. The tactics used – and even worse the tactics proposed – have been much less democratic than those used by his supporters. There have been stories of coups should he win, and most recently a call by John Mann MP for the whole contest to be called off. None of this is ‘moderate’ in any meaningful way. It’s the opposite: extremist, in a particular ‘centrist’ form. The level of control demanded – and part of John Mann’s call was based around an idea that the leadership election was ‘out of control’ – is the kind associated with the ‘hard left’ or ‘hard right’ than with anyone who pretends to be ‘moderate’. The narrowness of the ‘acceptable’ discussion is also far from moderate – it’s controlled and controlling. Moderates? Far from it.
The idea that the anti-Corbyn campaign is full of ‘modernisers’ is almost as misleading: in practice, many of them want the opposite of modernisation. What they want is a return to something that was modern, but has now become part of an almost mythical past. Labour circa 1997 is seen as the ideal – and this isn’t ‘modern’ any more. It’s harking back to the past, with nostalgia just as unrealistic as UKIP’s nostalgia for a mythical 50s. A true ‘moderniser’ is open to something new, ready to abandon their presumptions and prejudices, not to try to lock into place something that they liked in their youth. I liked Labour 1997 – but in 1997. It’s not 1997 anymore – and a real moderniser wouldn’t want it to be. They would want something really new – and not to go back to their version of the Blair model. That time has passed.
So no, the ‘anti-Corbyn’ campaign isn’t populated by moderates and modernisers so much as with extremists (of the centre) and nostalgia-driven conservatives (with a small ‘C’). A moderate would want debate, and show respect. A moderniser would be open to different options and to having their assumptions (including economic ones) challenged. Right now, those driving the campaign against Corbyn do neither.