With a turnout in the Labour leadership election that suggests almost half a million votes have been cast and counted, and Jeremy Corbyn re-elected with around 62% of that vote, the party’s supporters are still as split as ever, and those who do not like the idea of keeping Corbyn as leader are focusing their ire on him and those around him. That may give them that warm feeling. But it would be wrong so to do.
No, the reason that so many rallied to Corbyn’s standard last year, and continue to do so, can be traced directly back to one person, and that person is Harriet Harman, who was acting leader of the party for a fateful few months last year. It was her actions that led to the early favourite to succeed Mil The Younger, Andy Burnham, losing ground, and then losing the contest. So it is that she is responsible for Corbyn’s success.
Let me say at the outset that I have a lot of time for Ms Harman: anyone who has supported the idea of properly independent press regulation, and the ability of those routinely traduced by the mean-spirited and vindictive end of the Fourth Estate to secure redress, will know that she has been an unswerving supporter of the Hacked Off campaign. That cannot be taken away from her.
But it was her decision not to oppose the Tories’ welfare cuts last summer that proved the undoing of Burnham. He was in the Shadow Cabinet; he had to accept the move out of loyalty to the leadership. He would have had to resign his post in order to vote against the measure; in the event, he abstained. But that ultimately finished his leadership campaign. This is not just my opinion, it is shared by one of Corbyn’s most trusted lieutenants.
Diane Abbott told Paul Waugh in July last year - well before the result of that year’s leadership election was known - that “If Andy had actually voted against the bill, he would have been leader of the Labour Party in 6 short weeks. Now who knows?” Harriet Harman has to carry the can for that, as the Guardian report makes clear.
“Andy Burnham has said he will not vote against the government’s welfare bill, despite previously describing it as ‘unsupportable’ … In a letter to Labour MPs, the leadership hopeful said he would toe the party line and abstain in Monday night’s critical vote because collective responsibility was important and was what he would expect from his MPs if he was their leader” [my emphasis]. There was more.
“Labour’s acting leader, Harriet Harman, provoked anger within the party when she announced that her MPs would be abstaining on the government’s welfare bill, supporting the introduction of a welfare cap and the restriction of tax credits to a claimant’s first two children … Harman tried to defuse a rebellion over the decision by tabling an amendment, which is almost certain to be defeated”. Corbyn was not in the Shadow Cabinet.
He made his opposition clear from the outset, voted against the bill, and became a rallying point for those opposed to the continuing welfare cuts. He therefore enjoyed legitimacy among his electorate, and won. It is no use complaining about Burnham, who showed the loyalty to the leadership that Corbyn fans demand of others. Harriet Harman is the one who made the fateful wrong call. She alone legitimised Corbyn’s campaign.
So, anti-Corbyn Labour people, that’s who got your party to this place. Not Corbyn.