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And so it has come to pass, the UK Government has been forced – or persuaded, perhaps nudged – into what the Telegraph (here) calls ‘measures … [going] far beyond anything seen in wartime’, which, conceivably turns Johnson into some kind of uber-Churchill. What has been interesting in the last few days is the extent to which the Government has been told to get on with it, maybe ‘get it done’; we the British public want martial law, but don’t call it that, not yet. And yes, one might agree that martial law is a tad extreme, an over‑reaction of sorts; the police might be empowered to hand out fines if they suspect someone of dodgy behaviour, but we don’t yet have tanks on the street.

The Government has, repeatedly, been accused of inaction; we are way behind what other countries have done to confront the ongoing crisis. It might be better to say such commentators need to learn how to read the activities of ministers. Jonathan Cook puts it well when he points out (here) that ‘so many major countries – meaning major economies – are today run by the very men least equipped ideologically, emotionally and spiritually to deal with the virus’. Whether or not Dominic Cummings said anything even remotely resembling the ‘defamatory’ remarks attributed to him over the weekend, one can easily see that ‘inaction’ is the default position for politicians who think activity obscene. You might do it in private, but not in public. It’s an oft‑repeated mistake to claim that neoliberal governments are non‑interventionist and prefer a small state; they happily intervene to legislate against, for example, workers and trade unions. As the past days have shown, Johnson and Sunak will support businesses and landlords, while remaining reluctant to do anything that might benefit workers and tenants. To do the latter, they fear, would set the wrong kind of precedent.

Remember Cameron (here) arguing for the so-called ‘deregulation agenda’? He later said (here) he wanted to ‘kill off the health and safety culture for good’; his Government was  ‘waging war against the excessive health and safety culture that has become an albatross around the neck of British businesses; and he wanted ‘2012 to go down in history not just as Olympics year or Diamond Jubilee year, but the year we get a lot of this pointless time-wasting out of the British economy and British life once and for all’. Given that we could use some health and safety at the moment, those comments haven’t aged well. For an earlier stage in the development of this kind of government, one can go back to the 1980s and Thatcher’s anti-union legislation, a blatant attempt to intervene on behalf of capital at a time of overt class conflict;[1] but the Cameron Government, with the helpful assistance of Liberal Democrats, went further by seeking to disguise government intervention. William Davies in the London Review of Books last week (here) suggests that an over‑dependence on the ‘nudge unit’ meant the Johnson Government adopted a ‘comparatively relaxed approach’ to dealing with coronavirus; if the crisis requires the kind of intervention associated with a war economy,[2] then, one might infer the Keynesianism of World War 2 was both anathema to the current Government and also an approach they were unable to adopt, even had they wanted to (unlikely – pretty much the point made by Cook).

And yet: one should at least pause to contemplate the unintended – or not really intended, not intentionally intended – consequences of any act. Those of us on the left who think it a good idea to recognise the importance of essential workers (many of whom would have been derided, not that long ago, as unskilled or, at best, low‑skilled) might be encouraged to think that the old Clause 4 is on its way back. However, we ought to better understand how the current Government might be able to exploit the situation. If World War 2 supposedly educated the nation in the need for some kind of social democracy (hardly socialism), one should not infer a straightforward rerun. Marx, of course, began (here) by quoting Hegel, ‘all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice’ and then added ‘the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce’. He continued: ‘Men (sic) make their own history, but they do not make it as they please,’ a reminder of the role played by unintended consequences. It might, indeed, be tempting to ‘anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to [our] service’ and think some kind of Corbynesque government will soon be elected when voters, as in 1945, learn the lesson of co-operation, casting off decades of training in selfishness; yet the ongoing rerun of ‘the war’ might well see us, not just stuck with Johnson, voters rejecting Attleeism this time round. A Johnson, moreover, who represents a kind of fascism we think ourselves too civilised for. Writing this time in The Guardian, Davies (here) rightly emphasises that we ‘inhabit a world that is temporarily up for grabs’; and he goes on to say that the current crisis is less to do with ideology than with capitalism per se. Arguably the crisis is always to do with capitalism, and capitalism means crisis, and always has, but the point is well made: it is possible that what is ‘up for grabs’ is the nature of the world, or global society, rather than the best way of managing capitalism within the nation state (and that, after all, is what Conservative and Labour parties have always contested).

Thatcher famously benefited from the 1982 Falkland’s War; she became a Prime Minister people took seriously, even if that doesn’t mean we should forget the ongoing opposition to her politics.[3] Similarly, one can see Johnson coming out of this crisis smelling of roses. He might well be disinclined to the kind of gravitas that, supposedly, characterises the ‘serious’ politician; he and his Government might nonetheless benefit from the calls for authoritarianism. In recent days the news has reminded me of what Hobbes wrote in the seventeenth century; living in a state of nature that sees us likely to destroy each other because we can’t co‑operate, we’re prepared to concede power to a strong leader. This isn’t, I hasten to add, an argument that Hobbes ‘was right’; or that Johnson is the chap Hobbes had in mind; it is simply to say that public discourse has tapped into the Hobbesian.

In conclusion I return to the list of approved activities. Apparently, I’m allowed to leave home once a day for exercise. Will anyone be spying on me to count the number of times per day, or week, I go out running? If I vary my route, how long might I expect to get away with it? Time to read some Foucault, methinks; we’ve plenty of spare time on our hands.

[1] See, eg: James Fulcher, 1995. British Capitalism in the 1980s: Old Times or New Times? British Journal of Sociology, 46, 2, 326-338.

[2] Misleadingly so. See James Meadway’s recent article in Tribune (here).

[3] An interesting contemporary article is Ralph Miliband’s, linking the new concern, perhaps obsession, with identity politics to the idea that Thatcherism had won over the working class. Not least, his view that ‘what the Left confronts is not a surge to Conservatism and reaction but a very marked alienation of workers from the Labour Party’ (18) is perhaps pertinent in the months after the 2019 General Election. See: Ralph Miliband, 1985. The New Revisionism in Britain. New Left Review, March‑April, 5-26.

One might now be wondering what examinations are for. On Wednesday 18 March, the Secretary of State for Education Gavin Williamson managed to say little of substance in his House of Commons announcement regarding the fate of this year’s public GCSE and A-level examinations, so one wouldn’t have expected him to attempt to explain their function at any time, pandemic or no pandemic. The Prime Minister had already declared (here) that examinations scheduled for May/June wouldn’t take place (‘we will make sure that pupils get the qualifications they need and deserve’) and Williamson, blagging like his master, was allowed to evade the issue time and again because no one there in the House managed to ask questions that might have forced him to give a straight answer. Accountability, anyone?

On the Parliament website (here), a brief summary of Williamson’s announcement emphasises Angela Rayner’s gratitude (‘The steps that have finally been taken today are welcome …’) as though one might already speak of Blatcherism 2.0. However, we must go to Hansard (here) to do justice to both Williamson’s performance and the lamentable state of the questions asked in Parliament on this occasion.

Williamson claimed: ‘We are working closely with Ofqual on a detailed set of measures that make sure that no child is unfairly penalised.’ One might have asked – no one did – why he had come to the Commons without details of these ‘measures’, unless discussions, like those with manufacturers (here), were at best an afterthought and even, in part at least, a figment of the ministerial imagination, something they’ll get round to eventually. Later he added: ‘We will also be looking to ensure that those who do not feel that the result is truly reflective of their work have a proper and substantive appeal mechanism.’ When, later still, he repeated the line about no exams taking place this year, he might have been asked if a new exam session might be scheduled for the autumn – September, say, or even November – with university courses starting, as some do already, in the new year. No one in Parliament asked this question. And then: ‘We are looking at putting in place additional measures, such as enabling a child rapidly to take a fresh set of tests or exams.’ Is this what ‘working closely with Ofqual’ means? Again – if this is the case, why were no details available to be included in this statement to Parliament? I hold in my hand a sheet of paper; I’ll let you know what’s on it when I’ve decided – or when Dominic has decided – what to write. Does ‘additional measures’ refer to a one-off exam session in the autumn or a kind of retake system for exams that hadn’t been taken, presumably on the basis that the ‘detailed set of measures to make sure that no child is unfairly penalised’ meant students could opt for exams if they didn’t like the grade they were given, aka the ‘substantive appeal mechanism’?

None of this was clarified, meaning that schools would close on Friday with no one knowing if exams would, indeed, take place, eventually. Williamson did promise ‘to publish further advice on A-levels next week’, but then slipped out a press release Friday afternoon (here), one overshadowed by the Johnson/Sunak press conference at 5 pm. At some point ‘more detailed guidance was published (here). It is extraordinary to think that any of the information contained in either the press release or the guidance couldn’t have been included on Wednesday. Moreover, it was interesting that a Guardian report (here) published at 5.40 led with and concentrated on the possibility that some schools might go for alternative exams, those not yet cancelled (an option closed off in the DfE’s guidance). A reference to the press release was tacked on the end as an afterthought.

All of this has been frustrating, to say the least, and that was doubtless always the intention. As elsewhere in the current crisis, the careful organisation of what is said and when fits the profile of a government committed to a model of disaster capitalism, a government that cares little for the impact on people generally, one that seeks only to increase anxiety. We’re told (here) that herd immunity is the way forward, and then (here) told it was never part of the plan after all; all they have ever wanted to do, apparently, is ‘protect life’. Since the December election – and opinion polls have helpfully appeared (here) and (here) to confirm that voters don’t regret producing a Johnson government, far from it – there has been a series of stunts orchestrated by Dominic Cummings, most obviously the decision to offer a job to Andrew Sabisky (here), all designed to see what can be said and how, and what the response will be. The handling of the coronavirus epidemic hasn’t been shambolic, far from it; and the way changes to assessment have been announced this week, fit the pattern. On Wednesday, when he wasn’t cancelling exams, Johnson was allowing pubs and restaurants to stay open but telling people not to go there. It was only on Friday, in the announcement that included nothing on education, that pubs and restaurants were finally told to close. In this report published just after the Friday press conference, The Guardian (here) went with ‘the latest example of the government scrambling to catch up with events’ because, well, The Guardian is still in denial.

So what, after all, are examinations for? One might suggest there is no longer a reason for GCSEs at 16 (here): do public examinations, then, serve no purpose other than to allow the Government to produce league tables and manufacture both ‘success’ and ‘failure’? As regards A-levels, in the last few years, there has been a steady increase in the number of unconditional offers made to students applying to university (here), leading to the possibility of a higher drop-out rate (here). Do universities even care any longer (here)? One might also ask what the purpose of A‑levels has ever been, but that is a step too far, I suppose. Universities might well insist that unconditional offers still account for but a small number of the total offers made; but The Telegraph (here) indicates the level of concern within a Conservative Party always horrified by the prospect of falling standards, and there are indications (here) that this is one aspect of the free market a Conservative government would hope to eliminate. In conclusion, one might dwell, therefore, on a contradiction contained in this week’s announcements. Williamson has insisted ‘the work [students] have done [will be] properly reflected’ in the grades awarded; if so, and he expects the validity of grades to be maintained, why won’t league (‘performance’) tables be published this year?

When he first emerged as a candidate and then potential Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn was confronted by his record as a ‘serial rebel’ and the likelihood that he would not be able to depend on the support, in parliament, of Labour MPs. Over the years, Corbyn has many times defied the party whip; and Labour MPs have been quoted as saying they will offer Corbyn the same loyalty as he offered his predecessors. In August, the Telegraph played up the possibility of a coup against Corbyn, an argument resting on the assumption that a majority of Labour MPs (described, for the benefit of Telegraph readers, as ‘moderates’) would heroically resist the ‘hard left’ leader, and might do so on principle. In recent weeks there has been open disagreement over Trident and the bombing of Syria, and now a number of abstentions in Wednesday’s fiscal charter vote, the first time under Corbyn’s leadership that party discipline has been tested in parliament. So it might be asked, given the tendency of the media to exaggerate and often create anti-Corbyn stories out of the unlikeliest material, is this ‘rebellion’ a significant challenge to Corbyn’s leadership? If so, how does it compare to Corbyn’s own past record of disloyalty? Further, can rebels, indeed, be accused of the kind of opportunism that might undermine any talk of principle?

To begin, of course, one might question the gravity of abstention on this occasion. Does it even matter? The vote on the welfare bill in July saw a larger rebellion as more Labour MPs refused to abstain, as requested by acting leader Harriet Harman. Is it more acceptable for left-wing MPs to vote on principle? Did those rebels (including Corbyn; and Andy Burnham later said his own leadership bid suffered because of a failure to vote against the bill) damage the party more or less than have this week’s right-wing rebels?

Such votes, of course, have little or nothing to do with legislation being passed or not passed; that the government would have lost the vote for either welfare bill or fiscal charter is an unlikely proposition. N such occasions, voting is for show; and a ‘debate’, for want of a better term, gives MPs an opportunity to make speeches that might or might not be worth listening to, speeches that will establish a position but might have no other consequence. When, for example, in July, John McDonnell said he ‘would swim through vomit’ to oppose the welfare bill he was offering a coherent alternative to the politics of austerity his party leadership had signed up to; he challenged the view that Labour should compete with the Conservatives for the mantle of most effective manager of a particular kind of state, one where welfare spending will be cut repeatedly. One might, indeed, point out that the role of any opposition is to provide an alternative to government arguments. Harman said Labour, having lost the election, had limited scope to oppose welfare cuts; that is, Labour had lost the argument and therefore any capacity to promote alternative policies. It is worth spelling this out, given that McDonnell might now be accused of a U-turn in the fiscal charter vote, having previously said Labour should vote in favour. Throughout, his strategy as shadow chancellor has been to find the most effective way of opposing the government, not surrender the duty to do so. If one considers the U-turn clumsy politics, that is about as far as it goes. Yes, George Osborne was able to use his speech to mock McDonnell and distract attention from his own failures; and media coverage has gratefully followed suit. In the event, few speeches from the Conservative benches were worth the effort expended in making them; and it was even comical, as McDonnell himself indicated (‘if she could just keep up it would be really helpful’) that Conservative MPs attempted to ingratiate themselves with their own leadership by wasting time to ask a question that had already been answered. Attacking McDonnell before the television cameras was more important than seriously debating the issues involved. This might be thought a damaging episode, then, if it means the arguments against the fiscal charter are now more likely to be ignored; and this must become the context for Labour abstentions on Wednesday. If it contributes to media constructions of a supposed ‘fucking shambles’ or Corbyn’s ‘failed’ leadership, does such behaviour become damaging to the party and its long-term prospects?

As is well known, Corbyn’s appearance on the leadership ballot was unexpected; no one might reasonably argue that his game-plan for 30-odd years has been to establish a reputation that would, eventually, underpin a cunning leadership bid. It is very difficult to argue that, at any time, the Labour leadership (in government or in opposition) has been threatened, let alone seriously, by Corbyn’s opposition. Corbyn (the same might be said for McDonnell) has never, in the past, come anywhere near a front bench role. However, by way of contrast, it might then be argued that right-wing rebels are fully aware that their interventions have a quite different meaning. If the proclaimed ‘new politics’ means a different, less dictatorial kind of leadership, MPs (and other party members) surely have a duty to act responsibly with regard to the likely consequences of their actions. For example, if this minister does exist, and isn’t simply a figment of the Telegraph‘s fervent imagination, it would be difficult to justify their behaviour as, in any way, principled. In short, time and again, the disaffected Labour right, those for whom Corbyn’s election has been an affront to their sense of entitlement, have thrown their toys out of the pram and responded with spite, their actions designed quite openly to damage Labour. To then try to dress up an intervention as, somehow, principled, rather than crudely opportunist, is unconvincing.

And so to the cry of the playground (‘Well, you’ve done it, so I can as well’) as a defence. The young child will say this when they feel that another child’s actions give them automatic carte blanche; given what is known about cognitive development, this (somewhat limited) perspective on fair play should not be considered surprising for the six- or seven-year-old. Of course, older children will use the same argument as well, even when they are thought capable of a more nuanced response; although any definition of adult responsibility would certainly have to include appreciation that circumstances matter. Fast forward to the court of law: the adult defendant whose case rests on the same kind of argument (‘Well, I’m not the only one …’), without any evidence offered by way of mitigation, can hardly complain when they hear a guilty verdict. The child might be outraged that they have been found guilty; the adult (whatever they might say) should expect nothing else. One can go further, and consider the role played by principled action, and the person who says: I know I have done wrong, and expect to be punished, but I am drawing attention to what I think is right. This might be because an unjust law has to be exposed as unjust: Durkheim and Foucault, radically different in their thinking, would broadly agree that the law is the consequence of discussion, rather than preceding it. Unpopular laws are opposed; the ensuing debate gives the community an opportunity to reach some kind of consensus (although Durkheim and Foucault would have different takes on the notion of consensus, of course). One must then, bringing this analogy back to where it began, ask if the behaviour of disaffected Labour right-wingers can be regarded as principled or self-serving and opportunist. It can be agreed that there is currently a discussion, in and out of the Labour party, as to the nature of party discipline and principled action. Corbyn, as an unknown backbencher, opposed his party leadership, and acted on principle, not expecting that he would benefit from his actions. He went off and wrote an article for the Morning Star. Right-wing Labour MPs and other ‘senior party figures’ now seek to undermine his leadership and therefore the party as a whole, when they know full well the consequences of quotation, on or off the record to the Mail or Telegraph, or the signed article in the Guardian. It is difficult to see how these various behaviours can be seen as comparable.

Currently, the reporting of Labour politics necessarily includes a construction of Jeremy Corbyn as one who can no longer be easily ignored by the mainstream media when, ideally, they would much rather pretend he didn’t exist. Sometimes described as an embarrassment to the Labour Party, he rather exposes the establishment to ridicule. That Corbyn must be made to appear unattractive is, of course, nothing new; this is how leftist arguments and those who voice them are conventionally marginalised. However, given that Corbyn (unlike, for example, Tony Benn before him) is party leader and what he has to say must be addressed, the role played by demonisation – as Goffman would have it, stigmatisation – is slightly different. In this week’s conference speech, for example, David Cameron was reduced to a soundbite attack on Corbyn: that he was somewhat economical with the truth is probably less important than the fact that he produced a series of media‑friendly snippets, but attention paid elsewhere to Corbyn makes it a little less likely that the spun version will stick (which, of course, doesn’t mean the Conservatives won’t continue with this line of attack).[1]

Another example of the problem presented by a left-wing leader (rather than a ‘mere’ rebellious backbencher) is shown by the ongoing ‘will-he-won’t-he’ story of Corbyn joining the Privy Council. The Telegraph desperately wants to consider it a snub to the Queen, and this might well be the view of some, or even many; but Corbyn has successfully drawn attention to a procedure that more often remains hidden, far from public scrutiny. At the time of writing, there remains some doubt as to whether or not he will go through the motions of participating in a medieval ritual that, viewed charitably, might just about be regarded as comical (descriptions invoke the kind of tacky tourist trap most likely located next door to a church where you can be married by Elvis). Either way, the point has been well made: the more the issue is raised, the greater the risk that, when all is said and done, this tradition will be regarded a nonsense. To put it differently, #piggate it isn’t; but when was the last time the political elite was exposed as just another subculture with arcane rituals? This story is a stage further than the annual circus that surrounds Black Rod and the Queen’s Speech. Similarly, Corbyn has, from the time he first emerged as a leadership candidate, successfully exposed lazy truisms about ‘the way things are’ simply by challenging them. Since June the austerity myth has been exposed as empty rhetoric and now Osborne and Cameron have tried to relaunch the government as the worker’s friend. Further, attention has now shifted to defence when, last week, Corbyn decided Trident would have to be discussed after all.

In the aftermath of party conferences, one might begin by noting their main function as a spectacle, one typically micro-managed to within an inch of its life. The party is advertising itself, so the argument goes, and must ‘put on a show’ for ‘voters’ (that is, consumers who might or might not opt for this or that ‘brand’). Until the 1980s the Conservatives were probably better than Labour at this kind of conference, for the simple reason that open discussion was integral to Labour culture but not that of the Conservative party. The ‘wisdom’ (or ‘media speak’) that parties must present a united front was produced as a way of differentiating the two main parties and favouring a Conservative approach to top-down policymaking with little if any discussion. Any thought that policy is necessarily produced by discussion became irrelevant; and the fiction of party unity was similar, for example, to the fiction of cabinet responsibility. We all have to speak with one voice. Consequently, for 30 years or so, Labour has moved away from the belief that a conference should involve discussion of policy options because that would lead to negative reporting and headlines that focused on ‘party disunity’. Discussion became disunity; and reporting drew attention to a Labour back region that, by implication, has no counterpart in the Conservative party.[2]

And so to last week’s Labour conference in Brighton, and the expectation of a quite different affair when open discussion might, given hostile media looking for anything they might turn into what passes for a story, provide a different kind of spectacle. To simply identify areas where discussion is taking place is to suggest a process of rational inquiry and perhaps imply that there are alternatives, even alternatives to what has been carefully presented as ‘common sense’.

Most likely this will take the form of a ‘civil war’ narrative. On Channel 4 News, for example, there was Michael Crick’s pathetic attempt to ‘doorstep’ John McDonnell and Peter Mandelson, hoping one of them would give him a story he had done nothing to deserve.[3] Apparently, Crick is a master of the art but, if he hoped to provoke something as glorious as Godfrey Bloom’s assault, he was left disappointed. It transpired that neither McDonnell nor Mandelson had learned their lines, and the man best described as a Poundland Nick Broomfield became the only one laughing at his own ‘joke’.[4] In that earlier case, perhaps, Bloom had simply been ‘himself’ (as the current buzzword has it, ‘authentic’); or perhaps he took advantage of the platform he had been given to draw attention to himself. Either way the performance could be seen as an embarrassment for his party leader; in what passes for journalism, Crick would claim to have given the viewer a behind-the-scenes glimpse of political reality. This wasn’t the case at Brighton.

In the event, the efforts of Crick et al notwithstanding, the dominant narrative went something as follows. Labour’s conference was successful, kind of, for Corbyn as ‘the party at least avoided a bloodbath’. However, before everyone had gone home Corbyn had let slip a refusal to use nuclear weapons if he were prime minister, leading to inevitable criticism from within the party, including Maria Eagle and other shadow ministers. The wording here (‘let slip’) implies a gaffe on Corbyn’s part, of course: if only he had kept his mouth shut! However, the story of his emergence as leader and potential prime minister has been the way in which he has been able to force his rivals to discuss (or at least wander in the general direction of) policy or risk being exposed as having nothing to say. Over a three-month leadership campaign the so-called ABC candidates were weakened by their failure to offer a coherent alternative to Corbyn’s anti-austerity policies. Beyond Labour, it is now possible to hear conservative voices saying government policy has more to do with politics than with economics, all without the sky falling in. The same has been, and will continue to be, the case with discussion of an independent (supposedly) nuclear deterrent (again, supposedly). Yes, Corbyn has been challenged, but it is the anti-Trident argument that has, and is seen to have, substance. Even The Guardian, hardly a Corbyn newspaper, immediately published articles (by Diane Abbott and, for anyone who thinks the left-wing Abbott has nothing to say worth hearing, Simon Jenkins) that competently demolished the pro-Trident argument (cf John Prescott in the Mirror more than two years ago). As with economic policy, the politics of defence have been exposed because Corbyn insisted on it. Time and again, the problem for Corbyn’s opponents (in government or the media, or within Labour itself) is that discussion simply allows the rehearsal of alternatives to received wisdom. On Trident, any competent A-level politics student could drive a bus through the argument that ‘we need it because’ and, in the coming weeks and months, it will become less difficult to offer that justification for defence policy.

For the most part, since June, there has been some limited attempt to challenge the policies Corbyn advocates, yet such challenges have been evasive: within Labour, his ‘electability’ is questioned while, elsewhere, he has been dismissed as ‘a threat’, Conservative ministers repeating the same slogan, word-for-word, as often as possible (a dry-run for Cameron’s conference speech). This, of course, is the politics of negative advertising based on the principles of classical conditioning: the hope is that, once struck, an arbitrary link between ‘Corbyn’ and ‘threat’ will hinder any engagement with ideas. At the same time, of course, the requirement to offer the new leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition a platform, one his office cannot be denied, means it is possible for Corbyn to ‘make a good impression’. Even those critical of his politics often admit that he is ‘a nice chap’ and ‘sincere’ (with, perhaps, an implication that other politicians might not exhibit those qualities, of course). There is a tension here between the need to trash Corbyn’s politics while also acknowledging his status as Labour leader. It has been said that he ‘came from nowhere’, having been an obscure backbencher for 32 years; possibly many people had not even heard of him before the summer of 2015, or would recognise him walking down the street. The point is that, marginal to what is considered mainstream politics – that is, the tiny part of politics that media workers, knowing little if anything, can ask MPs and other media workers about – no one ever had to worry about Corbyn. It is a long time since, in Tony Benn, the left had a leading figure who could be denounced as mad or the most dangerous man in Britain. That Margaret Beckett and her fellow morons allowed him to take part in the leadership election, all in the name of a ‘wider debate’ that terrified them when it became reality, was an attempt to patronise Corbyn as, more or less, harmless. Once his success in attracting widespread support meant he could no longer be ignored, of course, there has been a perceived need to ‘deal with him’. Labour right, media and government are all still working out how to do so effectively.

[1] The editing of what Corbyn has said can be turned against Cameron (more accurately, his speechwriters) as in this response.

[2] The fact that Conservatives occasionally fail to keep up the act, as with John Major’s Eurosceptic bastards in the 1990s, simply confirms the general principle.

[3] Monday 28 September.

[4] I should acknowledge the theft of a joke here: Russell Brand called Nigel Farage ‘a Poundland Enoch Powell’, of course.