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A Short History of the British Establishment Losing Its Shit About Left-Wing Candidate Jeremy Corbyn

Here's how they've gone from guffawing to panicking in about two months.
August 27, 2015, 4:50pm

Photo by David Henry Thomas

This article originally appeared on VICE UK.

Remember when Jeremy Corbyn was the laughing stock of the Labour leadership contest rather than its almost inevitable winner? That was, what, two months ago. Back then he was a little gift to satirists, columnists, and chortling news anchors, courtesy of the wizened cranks of the crazy left and an odd collection of MPs who just wanted to widen the debate.

Now it seems like the only thing that could stop a Corbyn victory would be if the Labour Party declares the whole election void and admits that really, they despise the British public and want them to stay the hell out of Labour's business. Which, to be fair, could still happen.

Here's a plotted history of how the British establishment went from incredulous yukking it up, to stuttering and wailing, "You… you CAN'T DO THIS!!!" at the top of their voices.


Jez scrapes onto the ballot at the eleventh hour but it feels a bit condescending that some Labour MPs nominated him as a sop to the left. The pundits can hardly believe their luck. The silly Labour Party are obligingly being silly again, at a time of year where there is nothing else to talk about.

But the amusement will be short-lived, surely—just a few amused and bemused articles before Corbyn is a footnote barely worth discussing, as Cooper, Burnham, and Kendall get on with the serious debate. That's the opinion of the likes of Dan Hodges in the Telegraph and John Rentoul in the Independent. "Bats**t crazy Labour is alive and well," says Hodges.


The cracks begin to show. On Channel 4 News, Krishnan Guru-Murthy conducts one of the very first interviews with Corbyn since his name got on the leadership ballot. Things get complicated when the veteran Channel 4 reporter goes onto the topic of Corbyn's address of Hamas spokespeople as "friends" back in 2009.

"Why did you call Hamas and Hezbollah your friends?" Guru-Murthy asks.

Jeremy tries to answer that it was a "collective way" of referring to people he debates with. Guru-Murthy keeps interrupting. It all gets a bit aggro with both sides shouting each other down. It's a bit like watching Paxman asking Michale Howard, "Did you threaten to overrule him?" except that rather than evade the question, Corbyn is trying to give a longer answer then the presenter can be bothered to listen to.


Over at the Telegraph, we're still in patronizing lulz season. The newspaper encourages right-wing readers to sign up to vote for Corbyn and destroy the Labour Party.

This kind of guffawing is fun while it lasts.

Photo via the Center for American Progress


Tony Blair comes out and tells us that any Corbyn supporter should get a "heart transplant." Anyone following British politics in the last 15 years would know that anything Blair says should be taken as a signal to do the opposite of that. Seems like no-one bothered to brief the anti-Corbyn spin-doctors. Oh well.


Labour MP John Mann, who is supporting Cooper, writes to Corbyn accusing him of "non-action" over child abuse allegations in Islington in the 1980s and 90s. He says a social worker met Corbyn to blow the whistle on the abuse in the 90s and that he did nothing. Mann also points out that in 1986 Corbyn asked Tory MP Geoffrey Dickens to withdraw allegations of child abuse in Islington and make a public apology. At the time, a lot of people thought Dickens was kind of an eccentric crank.

The Corbyn campaign calls it "a new low" for the leadership contest and points out that in 1986 Corbyn called for an independent inquiry into the allegations. Still, Corbyn will have to live with his dismissal of Dickens and alleged failure to act on the whistleblower's testimony for the rest of his political life.


Pretty much the entire British commentariat is sticking the knife into Corbyn, pointing out that the candidates who are generating no enthusiasm whatsoever are actually way more electable. For some this is more difficult than for others. None more so than the Guardianista Polly Toynbee, who does so with a heavy heart. "Free to dream" she'd choose Jezza. She gushes about him: "He has opened a floodgate of dreams, making people feel good about themselves. He is right about welfare, austerity, tax avoidance, renationalizing rail and mail, Trident, housing, and myriad other touchstones."

But obviously she's voting for Yvette Cooper. She offers less "false hope." *sigh*

An infiltrator. Photo by David Henry Thomas


Before #LabourPurge was a thing, the Times publishes a front page article listing some "hard-left infiltrators" to the Labour Party supporting Corbyn. It cites the Weekly Worker, Left Unity, the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition (TUSC). This comes after a similar expose in the Sunday Times with the headline "hard left plot to infiltrate Labour race," mentioning some of the same groups and some others, too.

The Communist Party of Great Britain's 40 members have never felt this important in their lives.


The most revered Jewish newspaper in Britain, the Jewish Chronicle, says Corbyn has questions to answer about alleged links to an anti-Semitic group.

Corbyn is said to have associated with anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers in one of the paper's editorials. They say Corbyn has questions to answer and days later, his team responds, basically denying it all and saying "Holocaust denial is vile and wrong."

The rest of the press picks up on the allegations, and an interview by Channel 4's Cathy Newman gets heated once more. The Labour politician strongly refutes the claims as "ludicrous and wrong" and looks really rather miffed by the end of the questioning.

Seems fair enough to be asking these questions, but why has Andy Burnham not been similarly scrutinized over his record on LGBT rights?


The Mail on Sunday decide to ask Corbyn's first wife, Professor Jane Chapman, what he was like as a lover. Prof Chapman dropped the bombshells that Corbyn spent so much time on politics that he didn't have time to take her on dates and that he likes cold baked beans. He also likes animals and motorcycling and is therefore completely unsuitable for public office.

On this day also comes the intervention we had all been waiting for. The clunking fist of Gordon Brown enters the ring. The ex-PM makes a rambling speech where he does not name candidates but quotes historical figures from Mandela and Ghandi to Kier Hardie and Aneurin Bevan. He paces up and down the stage like a caged beast, walking for over a mile. He goes on about Chavez's Venezuela and quotes Blake's Jerusalem without ever looking at the audience. Brown, who never won an election, insists the party has a duty to chose someone electable, which everyone takes to mean "not Corbyn."


Tony Blair pops up in a Guardian comment piece to say, "Even if you hate me, please don't take Labour over the cliff edge." That's the thing about people you hate though, you don't tend to heed their advice.


Halfway through August, the Telegraph breaks the news that Gordon Brown's secretary of state, Lord Peter Mandelson, had urged the non-Corbyn leadership candidates to collectively resign, in order to halt the election. Mandelson and the candidates refuse to comment on the potential coup, the mass resignation doesn't occur and ballots are sent out. There are rumors of an attempt to get Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall to throw in the towel so that Andy Burnham has a better chance.

When this fails, Labour MPs are reported to be preparing to go "underground," with Chuka Umunna and Tristram Hunt forming a cell called "the resistance," which I guess makes Corbyn the Gestapo. Rumor has it that they are building a rebel fort at the very bottom of the garden and have enough lemonade and biscuits to last all afternoon.

Later, Chuka denies he formed "the resistance."


At first, just a few indignant lefty activists complain of being stopped from voting Corbyn. Then the flood: thousands of actual Labour members take to social media to complain that they have found themselves banned for no apparent reason.

Amongst those rejected are young people who canvassed for Labour during the general election, Labour council candidates, and the head of one of Britain's leading trade unions. Weirdly, back in May, interim leader Harriet Harman had said that "anyone" could join to decide the next leader but I guess she really meant "anyone who thinks Labour is perfect just as it is."


Twitter personality and former Tory MP Louise Mensch attempts to smear Jeremy Corbyn supporters by showing off a screenshot of Twitter's "autocomplete" list when searching for Labour's right-wing candidate Liz Kendall. All searches linked the MP's name to words like "Jews," "Nazi," and "zionist." Problem is, there's no such thing as autocomplete on Twitter. Instead it brings up a history of your own searches, so Mensch had been searching for those terms herself.

The ruse was quickly spotted by savvier Twitter users and turned into a bit of a meme, with even one-time deputy Prime Minister John Prescott making fun of the Tory commentator sharing a mock version of his Twitter "autocomplete." "Louise Mensch is useless on Twitter," it reads.


The Mail on Sunday is gunning for a Booker Prize with its depiction of life under Jeremy Corbyn's premiership—£5 bread, riots, Owen Jones as Chief of Staff. The fictionalization is a mix of the apocalypse and any Conservative's worst nightmare come to life. I dunno, I kinda liked the idea of One Direction getting on a plane and never coming back. Anyway, thank God utopia returns and inequality is restored under new Tory Prime Minster Boris Johnson.


In a document about street harassment, Jeremy Corbyn suggests that he would consult women on "whether women-only carriages would be welcome." It is reported as if he is also going to force women to wear water-wings when it's raining and declare an official amnesty for sex pests who attack women stupid enough to remain in the rest of the train.

Weirdly, nobody kicked up this much of a fuss when a Conservative transport minister suggested it last year.

Jeremy Corbyn is segregationist according to education minister Nicky Morgan and apologetic of violence against women as far as Yvette Cooper is concerned. The Guardian's Anne Perkins thought the idea alone was a "childish, posturing affront to decades of serious work to raise the status of women." Well Jeremy, I guess you did ask.

I can't wait to see what happens if he wins.

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