Career rebel Jeremy Corbyn would never have signed the loyalty pledge being demanded of MPs by his supporters, and rightly so.
The new pledge, to back “whatever leadership members elect”, was ostensibly drawn up by grassroots members but was seen by no-one until it was promoted by Skwawkbox, the party leadership’s favourite blog. It has since been ‘signed’ by some of Corbyn’s closest supporters, including John McDonnell and party chairman Ian Lavery.
It is rank hypocrisy from John McDonnell, who under Gordon Brown signed a pledge demanding an end to “Labour’s programme of warmongering, neoliberal privatisation and failure to tackle environmental destruction” along with the Communist Party, the Green Party and Respect’s George Galloway.
So too for Ian Lavery, who would have broken his loyalty pledge when he said in 2007 “Gordon Brown, like Tony Blair before him, is kneeling at Thatcher’s altar”, or for new generation MP Richard Burgon who at the same time was attacking “repugnant” supporters of Blair’s Labour who “dare to call themselves socialists”.
And that’s to say nothing of Labour’s most dependably disloyal MP of all time, Jeremy Corbyn: a man who voted against the last Labour government 428 times; who clashed with Kinnock over Militant; who signed an SWP petition against Blair before he was even elected Prime Minister; and who together with John McDonnell threatened to bring down Miliband if he failed to heed the left.
The idea that any of them would have signed a loyalty pledge is absurd. And indeed no-one asked them to – in fact Tony Blair ruled out any moves to deselect Corbyn at a time when members were plotting to remove him.
But they are now demanding just such a pledge from MPs who are rightly concerned about antisemitism and Brexit, two issues that go to the heart of the Labour Party and its values. It will only sharpen those divisions.
Corbyn’s career-long rebellion is celebrated by his supporters, but they fail to appreciate that it could only exist in a party willing to tolerate other points of view. In this they should listen to their own hero’s words from 1995: “Democracy depends not just on leaders but on people being able to participate, check, balance and criticise what the leader does.”