Labouring the Point

Labour ignores its Northern heartlands at its peril


I have wanted to write something about Labour’s defeat at the election late last year and have not been short of ideas. The issue is how to put them together to convey the interwoven, complex causes of this extremely dismaying outcome. I’m not a statistician, nor a policy wonk, so what follows is personal, political and at times unashamedly anecdotal but, I would assert, no less relevant and accurate. For if we only understand at a distance, we will miss vital clues and these make all the difference. So this is a long and sober reflection. Because as much as I know that we cannot give up, there are things about Britain (especially England), as well as the Labour party, that will make this a harder struggle than we have realised thus far.

Where’s Workington?

It’s not long after midnight in a bar in Berlin and even at this early stage, it is clear that Labour will lose. Newsflashes in the rolling coverage blurt that seat after seat has gone blue. Seats presumed to be Labour’s forever have fallen to the Tories. “Where’s Workington?” my co-commiserator asks me.

In the dark, despairing days that follow I decide that this question is what it’s about and two words resonate: distance and representation.

There are several things that marked the election as extraordinary. The engagement, determination and activism of people under 35 campaigning for Labour was unprecedented. To say that this cohort “got” Corbynism is an understatement. Here in Berlin, several young Labour members from the UK cited the impossibility of renting affordably any longer in Britain, expressed their anger at being burdened with student debt, their disgust at social deprivation, their fears of a deteriorating future. The societal revolution for them would not only be green and industrial but properly transformative. This was a world worth fighting for and they were giving it all they’d got. In the UK itself, Momentum was highly effective in enthusing large groups of people, young and older, to phone-bank or door to door canvass, in several marginal seats. The numbers swelling the streets echoed turnouts seen in Corbyn’s rallies from the early to late days of his leadership. And the manifesto, later decried as too scattergun, seemed to shine with optimism and a defiant can-do spirit. None of this was wrong or misguided but, energised as it was, it still was not quite enough. And this made the defeat more devastating and bewildering. From anticipatory euphoria to painful disbelief within the space of two or three hours in December. Grieving this loss took us weeks.

So where is Workington? A long, long way away from London. And most other places. The nearest most people get is when visiting the Lake District, that scenic, protected national park, but most would never visit Workington. So it’s distant. Depending on your location of course, which in the case of most politicians, journalists and pundits is London. It’s distant from London in terms of culture as well. So much so that a pollster’s caricature was created in the form of “Workington man”, a mythical working class figure the Tories would have to win over to gain Labour seats and not just win but win big. So pursuing a representation to win representation in other words. But somehow it worked and the fact that it did was down to two big Bs. Brexit and Boris. A deceitful man with a simplistic slogan about a simplistic, deceitful solution. The horrific cartoon-like symmetry explains why the Tories won this seat and others but not why Labour lost them. For that answer we have go further back, back before Corbyn and before the referendum. To get some distance in time.

But just for a moment to stay with the geography, Blyth was another place that fell to the Tories. Blyth Valley to be precise, which is slightly further north than even Workington but kind of parallel if you draw a tilting west to east line coast to coast. I lived near Blyth for over 20 years of my adult life and longer ago than that I was born in the north east coastal city of Sunderland and lived there till age 13. But I have never been to Blyth. I knew that it had a power station, visible from the beach, I’d seen pictures. During my time as an actress in Newcastle, I worked on and off at Live Theatre. In its early years, it built its reputation on the work of left-leaning playwrights embedded in north east culture like Alan Plater, Tom Hadaway and C.P. Taylor. In Taylor’s play Bandits!, characters break the fourth wall to speak from the heart. Just like Shakespeare’s soliloquies, these monologues convey personality and predicament but all are laced with humour. One character, a wannabe club-singer, opens hers with the statement “I hate saying I’m from Blyth”. This always got a big laugh. The name’s incongruity is part of it. Like the Newcastle street called Paradise Row leading into a scrap yard its optimism predates decline or in Blyth’s case even industry. But Taylor’s play dates from 1977 when, although not the industrial giant it had been in the early 1960s with an abundance of shipbuilding and coal mines, it hadn’t yet been hollowed out. No, the laugh was to do with other things. The character felt being from Blyth was a drawback, not sophisticated or glamorous like (relatively speaking) Newcastle. She was aspirant. The audience laughed at her honest ambition to leave Blyth behind.

This kind of city scorn for peripheral towns has been rampant in the UK for as long as I can remember. The regional cities in turn receive their own disdain from London, or at least it seems that way. If you want to be taken seriously in any way at all in Britain, you’re expected to go to London goes the mantra in so many professions. This is all very well, but if the place you live is always at the bottom of the never-good-enough hierarchy and you have no wish or way to leave it, you’re bound to get collectively peeved.

What has exacerbated this feeling of not only being laughed at but thoroughly left behind has been a combination of sustained slash and burn economics from the early 80s onwards with its attendant weakening of union power and the failure of subsequent Labour governments, shadow cabinets and some Labour councils to either work to reverse the damage or the anti-union legislation to any significant degree. Because the hope was in 1997 that the Labour landslide would usher in better times for areas steamrollered by Thatcherism, that a party called Labour would prioritise those whose families had literally laboured in industries which had given birth to the movement, that it would restore honour and the sense of a future. The warning signs were there early on. Labour resolved to re-write Clause IV, the party’s commitment to nationalisation and renamed itself New Labour. To create a distance from the past, to represent itself differently. But the past distanced from was not a Tory one, that was rather embraced, and the railways were not renationalised, the unions regained no rights.

The new breed of Labour politicians were of the metropolis and of the professions (often lawyers). Despite claims that Tony Blair had links to the north east beyond being MP for Sedgefield, these were only to be found in the highly privileged context of Durham cathedral choristers’ school. In similar safe seats (often north eastern) New Labour candidates were ‘helicoptered in’ ousting those who were left wing and local. Selection was mostly down to the suit you wore rather than other suitability. Cultural distance was the norm, giving rise to tales of Peter Mandelson mistaking mushy peas for guacamole in a Hartlepool chippy and David Milliband bemoaning the lack of a bookshop in South Shields, missing the point that a well-resourced library was part of his remit not retail space for a Waterstones.

Still in the north east and still in the arts, I noticed the shift on the ground. To get funding to do some theatre, or anything basically, you were urged to ‘write a business plan’, maybe ‘set up a company’, become more corporate essentially. Arguing for an arts centre to host community workshops with properly paid staff you were told that it was ‘no longer the 1970s’. Paying people was too expensive, but buildings were big, or money for constructing them was. New artistic real estate shot up all over the place. Shiny new venues with either steep entrance fees (I dubbed one such place erected near a run-down area “Centre for the Middle Class Child” based on its exclusionary lack of access) or low paid staff – supposedly regenerative flagship galleries and music centres ultimately using zero-hour contracts for front of house and catering staff. All this in a so-called ‘boom time’.

Living on a council estate from the mid 90s to the end of the 2010s (by both ideological choice and economic necessity) I noticed the growing rifts and exclusion. More distance creation. Getting anything for the residents via a tenants’ group was grindingly slow and infuriating. Use of an ex-and-long-disused shop for the tenants’ meetings or to store playscheme equipment? No. A pedestrian crossing over a dangerous road for children to access the area with the urban farm and said exclusionary venue? No. The reinstatement of a pavement after being built over by a Bingo Hall? Eventually, after 2 years. Proper entrance doors with bells and intercom for the flats? Yes, but only if it comes with invasive CCTV. And this was in largely Labour-run, relatively prosperous Newcastle and in an architecturally renowned development, the Byker Wall estate.

At least one friend who had opted for a safer job and mortgage comfortably used the word ‘chav’ to describe the youthful poor. This was the era of the modern tour of Bedlam known as TV’s Big Brother where Jade Goody was probably the closest some people got to a working class person. There followed Jeremy Kyle, Benefit Street and others. Even in soaps, well-crafted dramas or comedies, the working class were relentlessly portrayed as feckless, thick or criminal. Lower class musical aspiration was mocked, unless you didn’t buckle under the gaze of Cowell et al in your quest for fame and glory. The telly was no longer warm and friendly but ruthlessly bombastic and combative, reflecting the market economy. So far from the D:Ream exhortation of things getting inevitably better, they got, for many people worse. And that’s without mentioning PFI and illegal warfare. Sure, sure, Sure Start and the minimum wage. But was that really all we could hope for from democratic socialism in a reasonably buoyant time? From 2003 to 2010, Labour’s membership and share of the vote shrank by over 200,000 and 10% respectively.

But for some, these times were just fine and dandy which goes some way to explaining why they see it still as a golden age. Just as if the world you inhabit is a Richard Curtis film, it’s hard to fathom Ken Loach.

At the tail end, the opportunity, described by Labour MP Jon Trickett, then working as Prime Minister Brown’s assistant, to expose the catastrophic nature of the neo-liberal, free-market scam via the 2008 global banking debacle and break with it for good, was sidestepped and everything shored up in a way that made austerity all the easier to implement because, you know, someone has to pay.

In Labour’s ensuing opposition period (pre Corbyn’s election/s as leader) we had the combination of the rather timid Harman and Milliband who seemed unable to offer any real challenge to the ramping up of an increasingly turbo-charged austerity which saw the roll-out of food banks the length and breadth of the land, a viciously punitive ‘welfare’ system that denied support to the unemployed for the flimsiest of reasons or forced them into ‘jobs’ with derisory pay, no rights and precarious conditions, denying the sick, old, disabled and mentally ill support to the extent that by last year reportedly up to 130,000 of them had died due to something Engels called social murder. In the midst of all of this there seemed nowhere to turn and no-one with passion fighting the corner of those at the sharp end. If it wasn’t there already, the rift set in hard.

Around 2013, people angry enough to want change began gathering in community halls. Soon a campaigning initiative was founded that sprouted branches throughout the UK, and is still running. This is The People’s Assembly. Other campaigns such as UK Uncut and localised fights such as that of the residents on the New Era estate, against social cleansing and championed by Russell Brand made headlines in at least some papers. The same Russell Brand, a rare left of centre celebrity, argued that it was probably pointless to vote, saying a revolution was needed. Tellingly perhaps, he modulated this view after he was persuaded to lend the supposedly “red” Ed Milliband an electoral hand in a cosy, kitchen, televised chat. Ed was also one of the leaders who rushed up to Scotland to promise better things were Scotland to say No to independence and, fatally for him, illustrating to left-oriented SNP voters whose side he was on.

Milliband lost his election, by almost one million fewer votes than Corbyn in 2019 (and over 3 million fewer than 2017). His defeat was largely due to his seeming unwillingness to coherently fight back against austerity and offer any real alternative but also to the fact that as an election promise, David Cameron vowed to put membership of the European Union to the vote in the form of a referendum. For amidst all the brewing discontent, a certain Nigel Farage had been appearing with notable regularity on BBC’s Question Time, declaiming against not only the EU but any other party than his own, the UK Independence Party. In a sea of bland, technocratic conformity, he seemed (to some people) to be the rage against the machine they’d been waiting for, the same people who perhaps were absorbing daily headlines on the apparently endlessly threatening presence of migrants in the UK. In almost every newspaper printed in Britain the word migrant accrued increasing toxicity alongside those of benefit cheat and scrounger. Morning television, watched primarily by the retired, featured programmes which tracked and shamed fraudulent welfare claimants, in between those about how to make a buck via junk shops or doing up and renting a house. The only good people were cheery, obedient capitalists ran the not so subliminal message. The poor were scum, or so Jeremy Kyle kept telling us. The other favourite monster of the media was of course the Muslim, with tropes of terrorism or oppressive laws having been in full flow since the onset of the Blair-Bush war-on-terror.

Mainstream-media-reading Britons were urged to believe they were under attack from a number of quarters, both within and without. To rub in the contrast between their beleaguered present and the halcyon past there were cosy, soft-power confections like Downton Abbey in which the ruling class aristocracy were presented as benign, glamorous and wise. Still running, it is apparently the most successful British costume drama series since the 1981 television serial Brideshead Revisited, which itself graced the onset of Thatcherism. And from 2014 – 18, viewers (and listeners) also had innumerable tributes to two World Wars to get through. And while all our yesterdays were presented in increasingly airbrushed tones, the present got all the grimmer. Certainly for people in places like Consett in north west Durham where no hope had been on the horizon since the closure of the steelworks, one of the many places which watched while the same stuff made elsewhere with cheaper labour was shipped into the country. Anti-foreign sentiment found fertile ground here, not because of migration of people but for the effects of globalisation. And no politician seemed to oppose globalisation except a certain Mr Farage.

What is Brussels?

Between Milliband’s demise and the portentous referendum came, of course, the Labour leadership contest. Those yearning and/or campaigning for a fairer, less militaristic world saw a sudden ray of hope in the figure of Jeremy Corbyn, who for all his mild-mannered, geography teacher appearance is what Tony Benn called a signpost politician, a true socialist, lifelong anti-racist and pro-peace fighter. To see him stand alongside the suited, booted, mediocre ‘moderates’ (all offering more of the same) was an irresistible breath of fresh air and tens of thousands flocked to the party to be supporters and members. The numbers turning out to talks and rallies held by the newly elected leader were startling in their volume. You’d have to go back to before the middle of last century, if indeed ever, to see anything like a similar turn-out for a UK politician. Hundreds of thousands were joyous and hopeful, but some brows inside and outside the party were darkening. A break with neoliberalism wasn’t what was wanted by those for whom it had been one long Richard Curtis film and they had their careers to think of.

And so the referendum. For a country desperate for change and for things to properly “get better”, a break with the EU was styled (by Boris and Cummings) to offer that. When a simple slogan that boiled down to ‘a decent NHS or stay in the EU’ was driven the length of the land, desperate people were utterly sold on it. The EU was now conflated as the sole cause of globalisation and austerity as well as (for xenophobes) the source of too many migrants.

Distance and representation again. To most UK voters the shenanigans in Westminster were opaque enough, to relate to those in Brussels nigh impossible. And a lot of the crowd saying let’s-stay-in looked and sounded like those who sang the D:Ream song in 1997 and who’d looked the other way ever since. David Graeber, the anthropologist and activist, has written an excellent piece on the vanity (in every sense) of what he calls “the professional-managerials” and how they misjudged the mood for 4 decades.

During the campaign their basic message was that things are just fine how they are. On the night the results were called, much was made of Sunderland voting predominantly Leave but in the once solid-Labour city, residents had long reached boiling point over alleged council corruption alongside endless cuts. Perhaps they were sick of being taken for mugs by a party that felt too complacent about their loyalty. Peter Mandelson famously said that voters in such constituencies would always vote Labour because they “nowhere else to go”. In 2016 they had. Plus the first Metric Martyr was from Sunderland.

Despite Cameron’s resignation and the Tories disarray after the shock result, ‘moderate’ Labour erupted in fury and, according to those more Europhile than socialist, Jeremy Corbyn was to blame. There’d have to be another leadership contest. If this wasn’t severe dysfunctional signalling to any potential voters, I really don’t know what is. After a farcical parade of people with nothing to offer and less to say, Jeremy won again and won easily. There followed a year when Labour’s ratings climbed steadily and the hapless Theresa May ping-ponged from Brussels and back again not pleasing anybody. The Tory right had ingested the UKIP ethos and were intent on seeing it through. Theresa went to the country and came perilously close to losing. Labour got 40% of the vote. No mean feat with the mass media guns trained against you. Then two things happened to expose Tory cruelty even more. The horrific fire of Grenfell Tower in London was a stark testament to modern Conservatism’s inhuman values. The tower was clad to please the eyes of the better heeled residents of Tory-run Kensington who happened to surround it, clad in what a fire-chief described as sheer petrol. A safer cladding would have been more a few thousand pounds more expensive. Residents committed to safety and decency had complained of other hazards and dangerous omissions in the block that could lead to a disastrous situation. They were ignored. 72 people died and many more were injured or traumatised. More social murder as described by Aditya Chakrabortty. Another scandal broke around 9 months later after it emerged that up to a thousand older British citizens of Caribbean origin had been subject to or listed for deportation. The Windrush Scandal was largely a result of policies forged by the then Home Secretary Theresa May called the hostile environment, which included vans driving around central London urging people to shop any foreign-looking person to the immigration authorities.

In this atmosphere of Tory failure and disgrace, it should have been easy for Labour not only to seize the moral high ground but to soar in the polls. And of course Corbyn and others denounced these appalling failures and tragedies. Sadly, however, there were figures within and surrounding the party who seemed determined to (continue to) undermine the leadership with the eager assistance of the press. These attacks took several forms but one proved more fatal than others. To some perhaps it seemed more a lament than an attack, a lament draped in a bright blue flag with its yellow circle of stars.

Let me make a confession here. I voted Remain. As a British migrant living in Germany it seemed a no-brainer, despite the misgivings I had over the Troika’s treatment of Greece and the Fortress Europe phenomenon. To vote unequivocally Leave would, for me, have been allying with Farage, Gove and Johnson as well as sundry other racists. And let’s be clear, there were no leading left wing figures coherently arguing the case. For a time, after the result, I even wished that the vote could be kept as advisable, something we’d been told early on and after all it was so very close, almost 50/50. However, there came a point, maybe a year down the line, when it was clear that there had been no change of mind among those millions intent on Brexit and leaving aside the facts that neither EU citizens resident in the UK or UK citizens resident abroad for longer than 15 years had been permitted to vote, turnout for the referendum was far higher than most General Elections. Moreover, it had become symbolic of a deep wish for change, freedom and optimism among its supporters. To argue against it felt like one was occupying the position of those who had long ignored places decimated by Thatcherism which had never recovered. Some diehard Remainers pointed to all the good done in such communities by the EU, citing the familiar flag’s presence on billboards where funding had been given. But the counter cry was why couldn’t a rich country like the UK find the necessary funds in the first place for projects like this and if the EU was so good at protecting worker’s rights why were there zero hours contracts? In some places Remain-loyal Labour figures left such communities. In Workington and North West Durham, an MEP and MP relinquished their office and post. It’s no accident perhaps that both places voted to “Get Brexit Done” in the reductive words of the slogan, despite the stalwart socialist replacement in the latter.

Another confession, I come from a coal-mining family. My great grandfather was killed in the then privately owned Wearmouth colliery, his body brought home on a hand-cart. His son (my granda) worked at the same pit from the 1920s, saw it nationalised after the war, lost one lung and got emphysema. And his son, my dad, saw the same place demolished after working there since his teens. Wearmouth was in Sunderland, next to the river, once bristling with shipyards. It was one of the many mines dotted throughout the Durham coalfield. During the Great Strike of 84-85, many Labour members rallied round impoverished, embattled communities but Kinnock as leader condemned miners for their violence without acknowledging police brutality and the trumped-up charges which saw miners imprisoned. After its pit closed, Easington on the north-east coast went from virtual full employment to having the region’s highest youth heroin addiction. They couldn’t all be Billy Elliot. By the time Blair was elected, most north east mines were gone, but despite being a county Durham MP, Blair never attended the annual gala, still running as a testament to Durham miners and promoting union solidarity. He stayed away for his 13 years as PM. The coal industry was the first casualty of globalisation, with the work passing from unionised men in technically sophisticated conditions to countries in South America and elsewhere where child labour was still used and conditions unregulated. Britain then imported this coal. In the ensuing 35 years the once proud coal communities became shadows of their former selves, so to see first a Labour front bench nodding through austerity measures and then be told you can’t have what you’ve voted for were the last straws for many of them. Their discontent may have been exploited by countless targeted bots commanded by Dominic Cummings but the discontent was deep in the first place.

Sadly, during most of the three years following the referendum, some leading Labour figures seemed happy to put more energy into a push to re-run the vote than to throw their weight behind a positive Labour vision of a future. It had the dual effect of indicating they had no respect for democracy and they didn’t take socialism seriously. A dangerous arrogance and lack of awareness. And the media peddled this for all it was worth, not that they were short of material. The breathtaking extent of negative stories about Jeremy Corbyn on screen, radio and in print matched now in volume the support he’d had in those early days. It was blanket coverage and included of course the long-supposed left-tending paper The Guardian. The pressure was unrelenting.

Finally, at the conference in late summer of 2019, it was agreed to incorporate effectively a second referendum if a Labour/EU deal was struck. Labour’s position had gone from respecting the result to planning to somehow overturn it. Corbyn was in an impossible position. Go on defying his Remainer MPs and have them continue to undermine him, even at election time (as some had done in 2017). So it was an attempt to compromise, but in a violently binary context amelioration is seen as missing the point, or not even properly taking it seriously. You had to either love the EU with a passion or hate everything it stood for. Being in the middle on this issue was sitting on the fence, a cowardly, wishy-washy stance. But the press presented Corbyn as a far from mild-mannered compromiser but as dangerous in two extreme ways. His lifelong commitment to peace, whether through opposition to nuclear weapons and his efforts towards an end to the Troubles were portrayed as naïvely pacifistic on the one hand and terrorist on the other. It’s not surprising that some people on the doorstep said they weren’t quite sure why they didn’t like him. Given this chameleon array of personas, they could hardly be sure who he was.

Where to now?

As I write the Labour leadership contest is underway. The future is uncertain. There are rumblings in certain quarters that there is an upswell of support for Keir Starmer but this is only based on the amount of CLPs who have endorsed him so far and all the results aren’t in. In the end the membership will decide. Mark Serwotka writing in The Guardian warns that a vote for anyone other than Rebecca Long-Bailey risks taking the party back to 2015 and that the vibrant regeneration of the last 5 years will be abandoned as the regrettable mistake those always hostile to it believe it to have been. I sincerely hope that will not be the case. The Tory leadership may have conceded to renationalising one rail service and to upping the minimum wage but the deportations of men and women with Caribbean heritage notorious during the Windrush Scandal are being unapologetically continued and the inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster will give protection to firms who knowingly sold the fatal cladding. These news items come just days after a prime-ministerial aide tried to exclude left-leaning journalists from a briefing. There is more to fight for than ever and the stakes are higher still.

Apart from electing RLB, several major things need to happen for a socialist Labour government to exist: an understanding in people’s hearts and minds of what socialism actually is. This needs to happen on the ground, wherever people are up against the harshness of the current system, in solidarity with them in their struggles. This kind of grassroots activity is already happening but it needs staunch political support. The party must make it a priority to eradicate those distances if it expects representation. The party must also be united to defeat its real, external enemy. Distance between each other must be bridged if we are to do that. Broad churches are fine but not, as someone said, if the choir wants to kill the vicar. Nor should we have a situation where unity is only deemed possible if the right of centre has an iron grip. If parliamentary candidates can be nurtured and proposed from their own constituency branches and properly held to account rather than disappearing into ‘Westmonster’ and staying there, that would ensure a greater sense of connection and groundedness. A sound way forward is to implement Open Selection whereby every MP has to stand for reselection as a matter of course after a number of years, just as councillors have to. No more the assumption of a job for life.

Ben Sellers, ex-assistant to Laura Pidcock, now to Durham City MP Mary Foy, talks about the dangers of the Westminster bubble and how groupthink sets in, where professional politicos give less credence to the experiences of constituents in north east ex-mining towns than the results of polls organised and funded by Conservative peer, Lord Ashcroft. “That’s not to say every one of these findings will be wrong, but let’s do our own work in the communities we lost. The answers are there,” Ben says.

Three things matter then if the party is to build on the clear successes of the past four years and the hopes and goals of the movement: solidarity, unity and democracy. Some see these prospects as gloomy but I cannot be as damning as the late, really great, film producer Tony Garnett who claimed:

“The Labour Party’s role objectively, is not to fight for the class interests of working people, it is in the end to believe in, and defend the capitalist system, to argue for a few more crumbs from the capitalist table.”

I still hope it can strive for better ideals.

The divides in Britain post-Brexit have also to be bridged. Too often I’m seeing bitter memes, berating northern new Tory voters as “thick”. That scorn and class-hatred again. Well perhaps it’s worth considering what desperation does to your ability to think straight. Many saw Brexit as a lifeline and Boris as the only one with it, saying you can have it now not maybe. There are clear questions as to why people saw this as such an appealing promise. I’d say it boils down to people feeling cared about. A recent derided quote was allegedly from a woman who’d feared electing Jeremy Corbyn because he’d said he’d close the food banks on which she totally relied. Now apart from the fact one has to wonder where this woman could access reliable information if her means of support were so meagre, she was essentially protecting that which sustained her against a more uncertain future. After the hollowing out of town after town, the decimation of unions, class identity has been all but obliterated. People cast around for something to belong to and while class history should have been celebrated and cherished by Labour, it has all too often been neglected or taken for granted. The only history promulgated in the mainstream media and in most schools is that of the nation. People have rushed to something they feel will protect them, because it supposedly always has and maybe they think it’s all they have left. In the 1930s, the poet WH Auden described national authority as an ogre that the people both feared and clung to. He wrote these lines in 1937:

He dreads the ogre, but he dreads yet more Those who conceivably might set him free. Without his bondage he’d be all at sea, The ogre need but shout ‘Security’ to make this man, so loveable, so mild, as madly cruel as a frightened child.

And so ‘security-threat’ Corbyn was spurned for the more familiar rogue-ogre. We’ll see how this fairy tale pans out but Labour needs to play an active role, not just boo from the sidelines. No more distance, proper representation and please, no more scorn punching down.

Carol McGuigan, Berlin, February 2020