Wednesday’s Tory defections have shown that Monday’s launch had little to do with anti-Semitism and more to do with stopping Brexit. Chuka Umunna, in particular, does not come out of it well. But where all this ends is beyond reasonable speculation.
So, Anna Soubry (along with two lackeys) has left the Conservative Party in protest at anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. Or something. Maybe Rees Mogg still refuses to change a nappy. It’s getting a bit confusing. Except it isn’t.
It’s easy to see why any decent and centrist MP would feel the need to cease inhaling the toxicity of Mr Corbyn’s sinister project. The nastiness after all is too embedded to be fought against from within. The Corbynite worldview embeds the practice of identity politics within an essentially Manichean metaphysics. Everything is a battle between the forces of good and evil. If someone is gaining then someone else must be losing, and the “someone” in each case is identified via the usual leftist categories of race, gender, class etc. But the contours of reality are finer grained than that and when you mediate that reality through the structures of resentment then in the end resentment is all you have to offer. The Labour Party’s structural anti-Semitism is merely a symptom of a deeper spiritual malaise. “Listening” does nothing when you hear only what you want to hear, whatever John McDonnell would have us believe.
It does not, however, follow from this that the MPs that have in fact left Mr Corbyn’s cult are themselves decent and centrist. And the concomitant Tory defections show that The Independent Group start-up committee is proficient in the art of burying a bad motive underneath a good one. Chuka Umunna talks about his values not being consistent with the nastiness of the current Labour Party atmosphere. He may well be sincere on that narrow point. He may even be correct on that narrow point. Some of us, though, are not impressed. Some of us might, if pushed, prefer the ostentatious bullying of Sonny Corleone over the disguised ruthlessness of his younger brother Michael – a disguise fell away when Michael murdered Virgil Solozzo in the diner.
Wednesday’s defections were Mr Umunna’s Solozzo moment. Wednesday was the day when his real purpose was confirmed. And there is nothing decent or centrist about creating a new “movement” whose ostensible objective of a kinder form of political engagement is nothing but a cloak for the deeper one of shafting the wishes of 17.4 million people.
Soubry, Umunna et al are having a fit of the vapours because, somewhat incredibly, they believe that their respective former leaderships have not sufficiently reneged on the commitments of the manifestos they themselves were elected on. The calls for these defectors to force by-elections have already begun. This is a mistake. The calls are unnecessary. Mr Umunna demands that we ignore the result of the Brexit referendum on the grounds that subsequent events have shown we could not have known what precisely we were voting for. Do I need to complete that thought? When Umunna argues for a “People’s Vote” by turning that condescension into a premise, then he is simultaneously calling on himself to return his own case to the voters of Streatham. It doesn’t matter that the premise is false; that is the logic of his position. By his own lights his continued presence in the House of Commons is illegitimate.
I don’t know where all this will lead. Nor does anyone else. To attempt to base a prediction on the precedents offered by the founding of the SDP in the early 1980s is deeply misconceived. No such precedents can be relied on because they don’t really exist. The number of variables currently in play is too vast. If the political physics of 1980 were Newtonian, then those of Wednesday are quantum-based. Our commentator class continuously tweets out its historical analyses without considering that, in true quantum mechanics fashion, the observations put out on social media do not merely report but shape what is going on, moment by moment. More importantly, in the view of many of us the events of the next few weeks are likely to shatter the political covenant. If the political class succeeds in confiscating Brexit then it will also have seized from us the ability to trust the entire “democratic” order. The worst thing you can do to anybody is to crush their faith: it may well be that the current journalistic insistence on what the events of the last couple of days “mean” turns out to be frivolous.
Similarly, journalistic attempts to calculate which leader gains from all this are forlorn. Corbyn, by all accounts, is having a bad week. Eight of his MPs have executed a successful escape plan, right under the eyes of his parliamentary henchmen. His reaction has been predictably graceless. But at least he is a source of unintended amusement in these miserable times. The Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal (?) Opposition seems to have been created with an almost Petrine sense of his own inerrancy. The successors to St Peter at least accept that their infallibility is constrained both in scope and in frequency. The hapless Corbyn in contrast, despite all evidence to the contrary, is convinced that he is right about everything. All the time. Doubtless he’s on his allotment as I write this, spraying his turnip patch with hydrochloric acid and wondering why the ungrateful vegetables aren’t thriving under his omniscient stewardship.
A common thought in his case, one suspects.