In, ‘Don’t tell me you weren’t warned about Corbyn’ , Nick Cohen presents his case against Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. A typical piece of Guardian reportage, Cohen’s argument is poorly sourced and flawed in its interpretation of events. Particularly problematic sections of Cohen’s article are presented below in bold italics, each followed by a referenced rebuttal of my own. Cohen’s original article in full can be viewed here.
“I won’t insult your intelligence by asking whether you also believe the bullshit you were fed about a “genuinely radical” Labour party attracting people who did not vote to turn out for him.”
Let us place this statement into historical context. During Tony Blair’s 1997 election, voting turnout was 71.4% amongst the general public. This nosedived to 59.4% in the following 2001 election , the lowest turnout for a general election since 1918, hastily called immediately after the armistice with Germany that ended the First World War .
Would Nick Cohen not suggest that this low-turnout be put forward as an example of Blair’s lack of leadership? Could it be that the electorate had seen New Labour for what they were; nothing new and most definitely not Labour. As Paul Foot once wrote, “A party that in 1979 declared itself proud to be socialist now announced, in effect, that it was proud not to be socialist.”
“They will expose the far left’s record of excusing the imperialism of Vladimir Putin’s gangster state, the oppressors of women and murderers of gays in Iran, the IRA and every variety of inquisitorial and homicidal Islamist movement…”
I won’t go into the lazy ‘terrorist sympathiser’ attack again, as I’ve discussed and countered such issues at length already. Instead, let’s look at Martin McGuinness as a case study. In 2012 Queen Elizabeth II met McGuinness, greeting him with a handshake. On announcement of his death the Queen sent a private letter of condolence to his family.  Where are the reports linking our head of state with the IRA? A 2015 YouGov survey (although we all know to be somewhat skeptical of such things) showed that 68% of the British public is in support of the monarchy, believing it to be good for Britain. 
In contrast Corbyn’s tribute to McGuinness sparked the media to once again attack him, running headlines such as ‘Corbyn pays warm tribute to IRA killer…’  the title alone practically telling the reader what they should think of Corbyn’s actions. Regardless of your opinion of McGuinness, it is the blatant double standard of the press that is the issue here.
Then, there is the phrase, ‘far left.’ Corbyn, his policies, and his shadow cabinet cannot be considered far left in the traditional sense. Trotskyism is far left – based on an underpinning principle of an immediate, and worldwide revolution by the working classes, while rejecting parliamentary democracy. As Washington DC based author and attorney, Kenneth D. Ackerman rightly points out, if Corbyn was a Trotskyist, “…he would not be head of the British Labor Party. Rather, he would be trying to overthrow it.”  Nor is Corbyn a Communist; another actual far left political stance.
Socialist and Communist are often (yet incorrectly) used interchangeably, but as the comic creation Jonathan Pie so eloquently put it, “There is of course people that think Socialism and Communism are the same thing. I mean the president of United States called Bernie Sanders Commie/Socialist, implying both are the same. Well, it isn’t. That’s like saying Dog/Pigeon.”  Communism is built on the core principles of eliminating individual ownership of any goods, wealth generated being distributed based upon need, rather than amount or skill of work undertaken, and with the ultimate goal being to create a society without social classes. This is clearly not what Corbyn is advocating, and by examining his ’10 point plan’ this is clear to see. Some take home points from these pledges include, ‘secure homes for all, securing of our NHS and social care’ and ‘security at work.’ 
In actuality, many of the policies, which define Corbyn’s Labour, can also be found in the ‘Britain can be better’ The Labour Party Manifesto of 2015. In it, one will find a pledge to ban zero hours contracts, a pledge to stop privatisation plans to the NHS and a pledge promising parity for the treatment of both physical and mental health.  Now, Ed Miliband may have been called out by the press for his supposed inability to eat a bacon sandwich, but he was never accused of being ‘loony left.’ Therefore it can only be assumed that terms such as ‘Commie’ and ‘Trot’ are purposeful smears used against Corbyn and his allies in an attempt to paint them as something they are not.
“I assume, incidentally, that there will still be a Britain, even though I cannot see how the derided Corbyn can persuade the Scots to stay in the union any more than he could persuade the rest of the country to stay in the EU.”
This tired idea raises its head again and again, but Brexit was not the fault of Corbyn, nor were his campaigning efforts uninspiring, although the 122 Brexit speeches on the EU during the course of the campaign claimed by the website CorbynFacts may have been somewhat of an exaggeration. (He did give 122 speeches over that course time, but these were not solely focused on the issue of Brexit). Activities he did undertake, however, included attending 10 EU rallies, making several television appearances including appearing on both Marr and Peston, writing two opinion pieces, one in The Observer and another in The Mirror, giving six statements in The House of Commons, and undertaking a shed load of social media activity,  a modern and effective way of reaching millions of potential voters before anyone is quick to dismiss it.
Corbyn has always been a Eurosceptic and he did not shy away from this fact during the referendum, but despite this he made his views very clear, as seen by the following comments he made in a Sky News interview during June 2106, “If we remain, I believe Europe has got to change quite dramatically to something much more democratic…” he then went on to state that his vote for Remain was “…not unconditional by any means.” However in the same interview he then stated, “But I would also say that if we are to deal with issues like climate change, like environmental issues, you cannot do it within national borders, you can only do it across national borders.” All in all, the interview very clearly showed that although Corbyn may not be an unconditional lover of the EU, he did feel that it would be in Britain’s best interests to continue working with other countries rather than breaking away from them.  This honest and nuanced view on how Corbyn feels about the EU is in my opinion better than a ‘Brexit bus’ or scaremongering claims of the coming of WW III. Yet despite all this, as is seen too often with attacks on Corbyn, a narrative was created, adopted by the main stream media and fed en mass to the public that Corbyn really was thoroughly anti-EU and hadn’t done enough for the cause.
Cohen also fails to mention the fact that Teresa May campaigned for the Remain camp. Are we to assume that, unlike Corbyn, her ‘failure” in that matter will have no bearing on a hypothetical Scottish referendum?
“The budget fiasco was exposed by journalists and Tories. Despite their help, Corbyn could not land a slap on May’s wrist let alone a punch.”
It has been claimed that Corbyn failed to effectively attack Chancellor Phillip Hammond over his 2017 budget. However, the following is a direct quote, “We have long argued for a clampdown on bogus self-employment, but today the chancellor seemed to put the burden on the self-employed worker instead.”  Corbyn’s response is there in black and white, but yet again he comes under scrutiny for allegedly failing to attack Hammond effectively. Why an attack is needed I am unsure. Corbyn makes his stance clear, as always. This should be commended, the style and execution of how he makes his point is of secondary importance and shouldn’t be the focus of the media. Additionally the Tories played dirty regarding the budget from the get go. Usually the opposition will receive the budget about 30 minutes prior to it being announced in order to effectively provide a counter. However, John McDonnell mentioned in his ‘New Economics’ speech in Newcastle of March this year that the budget received had been heavily redacted so that only snippets of what was to be included were visible, making it even more difficult for Corbyn and his team to mount a defence.
Following on from this Corbyn was then scrutinised again for failing to hold Theresa May to account over the budget U-turn. However Corbyn’s opener at PMQs that week was as follows, “We’ve just heard the Prime Minister is about to drop the National Insurance hike announced a week ago. It seems to me like a bit of chaos here: a budget that unravels in seven days…” Following this Corbyn took the opportunity again to raise the concern that big business evades National Insurance through ‘bogus self-employment.’  Keeping in mind also the announcement of the U-turn on NI increases for the self-employed was released only 20 minutes or so prior to the start of PMQs, Corbyn has played a blinder here. He’s kept his cool, said his piece and even managed to bring up tax evasion of big cooperation, a keystone of the Labour manifesto.
To summarise, Cohen offers nothing new and this is just more of the same rhetoric we’ve heard before. Additionally, surely a key aspect to having an opinion on a subject is to least offer a suitable alternative, which Cohen fails to do. He takes swing after swing at Corbyn not bothering to be in anyway constructive or suggesting of who would be better placed to lead the party. If Cohen is wishing to see a return to New Labour days I would remind him that Blair’s Labour were ever really only a diluted version of the Conservatives. This is evidenced in Alistair Campbell’s diary, where, on April 24th 1997 he wrote that in order to distance themselves from the Tories and Tory-type policies ‘a row’ would be needed and that Blair was to make claims that if the Conservatives were to retain power they were set to replace the state pension with a private one; this was untrue.  Politics should never be about a vote for the lesser evil. A return to New Labour style politics would offer no opposition, as how can an opposition be offered when you are effectively proposing the same as those you claim to rival.
- Nick Cohen. Don’t Tell Me You Weren’t Warned About Corbyn. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/mar/19/jeremy-corbyn-labour-threat-party-election-support
- The Electoral Commission. General election turnout. http://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/electionsvoting/chartists/contemporarycontext/electionturnout/
3. UK Political Info. General election turnout 1945 – 2015. http://www.ukpolitical.info/Turnout45.htm
4. Robert Mendick. Martin McGuinness dies at 66: Queen to send private message to widow of former IRA commander. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/03/21/martin-mcguinness-former-ira-commander-deputy-first-minister/
5. Nicola Wildash. The Monarchy: popular across society and ‘here to stay’. https://yougov.co.uk/news/2015/09/08/monarchy-here-stay/
6. Mark Duell. ‘Tell that to the people of Enniskillen’: Fury as Corbyn pays warm tribute to IRA killer Martin McGuinness as a ‘great family man’ and praises his ‘immeasurable role’ in peace process. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4334446/Corbyn-pays-warm-tribute-IRA-killer-Martin-McGuinness.html
7. Kenneth D. Ackerman. Is UK’s Jeremy Corbyn a Trotskyist? Seriously. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/kenneth-d-ackerman/is-uks-jeremy-corbyn-a-tr_b_11650964.html
Jonathan Pie. A Socialist Agenda. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-9DdzBwo_w
9. Jon Queally. Jeremy Corbyn Launches Bold Progressive Vision to Transform UK. http://www.commondreams.org/news/2016/08/04/jeremy-corbyn-launches-bold-progressive-vision-transform-uk
10. The Labour Party. “Britain can be better” The Labour Party Manifesto 2015 Easy Read. http://www.speakup.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/Labour-manifesto.pdf
11. Paul Waugh. EU Referendum Result: Jeremy Corbyn Blamed For Labour Brexit Votes As Allies Defend Him. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/jeremy-corbyn-blamed-for-brexit-by-labour-mps-in-eu-referendum_uk_576c6cfee4b0232d331da41b
12. Sky News. Corbyn: EU ‘Has Got To Change Dramatically’. http://news.sky.com/story/corbyn-eu-has-got-to-change-dramatically-10320093
13. Heather Stewart, Anushka Asthana and Katie Allen. Philip Hammond breaks manifesto pledge with budget tax grab. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2017/mar/08/philip-hammond-economy-budget-2017-chancellor-growth-brexit
14. Jon Stone. Jeremy Corbyn accused by Labour MPs of ‘incompetence’ over lacklustre PMQs response to National Insurance U-turn. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/jeremy-corbyn-pmqs-live-video-national-insurance-rise-nics-a7631221.html
15. John Ellison. How Far Has Labour Come Since 1997? http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/a-6d36-How-far-has-Labour-come-since-1997#.WOZix44kocg
- Anthony Bevins. Election ’97: Blair attacks pension proposals. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/election-97-blair-attacks-pension-proposals-1269095.html