By Daniel Margrain
Those who were paying attention during Yvette Cooper’s challenge for the Labour leadership last year would have been aware of the undisclosed £75,000 businessman Peter Hearn contributed to the New Labour enthusiasts campaign.
The mainstream media didn’t pay much attention to the scandal at the time. On September 22 of that year, columnist Fraser Nelson wrote tellingly of “the terrifying victory of Jeremy Corbyn’s mass movement” at staving off the coup attempt against him. Two days later, New Labour Corbyn critic and MP for Normanton, Ponefract, Castleford and Nottingley tweeted the following:
@jeremycorbyn re-elected today. Now the work starts to hold everyone together, build support across country & take Tories on
Less than 48 hours after her insincere message on Twitter, the Blairite MP engaged in a media publicity stunt intended to draw a wedge between the PLP and the membership.
Cooper’s crude ‘politics of identity’ strategy inferred that shadow chancellor John McDonnell was a misogynist for his use of emotionally charged language in defending the “appalling” treatment of disabled people by the last Tory government.
The context in which McDonnell attacked the former Tory Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Esther McVey, was set against a backdrop in which she planned to cut the benefits of more than 300,000 disabled people. That Cooper rushed to the defence of a Tory who presided over some of the most wicked policies of arguably the most reactionary and brutal right-wing government in living memory, is extremely revealing.
What was also revealing, were the media’s obvious double-standards. A few days prior to the media’s onslaught against McDonnell’s “sexist” comment, Guardian journalist Nicholas Lezard called for the crowdfunded assassination of Corbyn. Needless to say, there was no media outrage at this latter suggestion.
Selective outrage is what many of us have come to expect from a partisan anti-Corbyn media. In May, 2015, independent journalist and Labour activist, Mike Sivier reported on Yvette “imaginary wheelchairs” Cooper’s criticism of those “using stigmatising language about benefit claimants”.
But as an article from April 13, 2010 below illustrates, while in office as Labour’s Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Cooper had drawn up plans that would almost certainly have met with the approval of Iain Duncan Smith and the newly appointed Secretary of State for Work a Pensions, David Gauke
Indeed, the policy plans outlined by Cooper were subsequently adopted by the Coalition government under the tutelage of Esther McVey. In policy terms, it would thus appear Cooper has more in common with McVey than she does with McDonnell. This, and her disdain towards both Corbyn and McDonnell and the mass membership they represent, explains her outburst. She was not motivated by sisterly love.
This is the relevant part of the 2010 article implicating Cooper’s policy outlook with that of the Tories she supposedly despises:
“Tens of thousands of claimants facing losing their benefit on review, or on being transferred from incapacity benefit, as plans to make the employment and support allowance (ESA) medical much harder to pass are approved by the secretary of state for work and pensions, Yvette Cooper.
The shock plans for ‘simplifying’ the work capability assessment, drawn up by a DWP working group, include docking points from amputees who can lift and carry with their stumps. Claimants with speech problems who can write a sign saying, for example, ‘The office is on fire!’ will score no points for speech and deaf claimants who can read the sign will lose all their points for hearing.
Meanwhile, for ‘health and safety reasons’ all points scored for problems with bending and kneeling are to be abolished and claimants who have difficulty walking can be assessed using imaginary wheelchairs.
Claimants who have difficulty standing for any length of time will, under the plans, also have to show they have equal difficulty sitting, and vice versa, in order to score any points. And no matter how bad their problems with standing and sitting, they will not score enough points to be awarded ESA.
In addition, almost half of the 41 mental health descriptors for which points can be scored are being removed from the new ‘simpler’ test, greatly reducing the chances of being found incapable of work due to such things as poor memory, confusion, depression and anxiety.
There are some improvements to the test under the plans, including exemptions for people likely to be starting chemotherapy and more mental health grounds for being admitted to the support group. But the changes are overwhelmingly about pushing tens of thousands more people onto JSA.
If all this sounds like a sick and rather belated April Fools joke to you, we’re not surprised. But the proposals are genuine and have already been officially agreed by Yvette Cooper, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. They have not yet been passed into law, but given that both Labour and the Conservatives seem intent on driving as many people as possible off incapacity related benefits, they are likely to be pursued by whichever party wins the election…..”
What the above indicates is that Cooper laid the groundwork, and was responsible for, setting in motion the Tories regime of welfare cuts and system of testing to the most vulnerable of our citizens, many of whom would have been Labour voters.
It should be deeply concerning that some activists and others within the party are seemingly prepared to overlook Cooper’s treachery as a trade off for her alleged ‘hard-hitting’ experience. Cooper is one of many Blairites who have suddenly had an apparent Damascene conversation and have seemingly bought into the popular wave of Corbynism.
But activists shouldn’t be fooled. Actions speak louder than words. The plans Cooper drew up seven years ago against disabled people were so brutal, they were kept in place by the hard-line Tory, Iain Duncan Smith, who oversaw the excess deaths of thousands.
My advice to Corbyn, for what it’s worth, is that he should think very carefully before appointing his new team. He should stick as much as possible with those who loyally remained by his side over the last two years and who have worked hardest against those Blairites within the party who would have preferred a Tory landslide over a Corbyn victory. Cooper, who is a cynical opportunist careerist motivated by money and self-interest, is one such person.
I would go further. Corbyn and his team should seriously consider looking at ways to clear-out Blairites at constituency Labour party level. Many people, including millions of Iraqi’s, Libyan’s and Syrian’s would not consider that to be mere spite, rather a small step towards justice.
Compulsory deselection is the obvious way forward but to date, Corbyn has suffered from an inability to influence constituency labour parties at the local level whose full-time paid staff are institutionalized. They see in Corbyn somebody who is a potential threat to the status quo. The General Secretary, Ian McNicol represents the apex of this kind of tendency towards self-preservation.
This explains why during the election campaign the website Skwawkbox was able to allege that “almost no resources were made available for the fight to win Tory-held marginals or even to defend Labour-held ones.” Party officials and national executive right-wingers either assumed that Labour could not win seats or deliberately sought a bad result to undermine Corbyn.
The Morning Star reported on the case of Mary Griffiths-Clarke, the Labour candidate in Arfon who won 11,427 votes to Plaid Cymru MP Hywel Williams’s 11,519 — missing out on the seat by just 92 votes, or 0.3 per cent of the vote. She told the paper that her campaign had received “no support — not even a tweet” from the Labour Party at the British or Welsh levels.
It was the party machine, not the leadership, which declined to put resources into her campaign, she said. “Jeremy [Corbyn] was amazing. He was in touch throughout the campaign and even on polling day itself.”
But Ms Griffiths-Clarke says she did not get a campaign manager from central office and had been told by an official in Welsh Labour, when she asked for help, that the party’s priorities in north Wales did not include Arfon.
“It was like campaigning for a franchise — I had the logo and the excellent manifesto, and that was it. Labour sent no activists to campaign in Bangor even on the day of the vote.” She said she was speaking out as it was important for Labour to not make the same mistake if another election is called.
Of the 262 parliamentary Labour MPs, roughly 60 hold genuine left-wing views, while a similar amount tread the ground between the left and right. The vast majority of the PLP – roughly 140 – however, are right-wing disciples of the Chicago school who are unprincipled cynical opportunists or, as Tony Benn put it, “weathervanes”. They will only go with the Corbyn programme if it looks good for their money-making prospects. This illustrates the battle Corbyn and his supporters are up against.
Disappointingly, the influential commentator and economist, Paul Mason, was quick to announce on the BBC that Corbyn’s subsequent electoral “success” should be used to broaden his cabinet and policy platform by bringing Blairites like Cooper back into the fold. I have often found Mason’s commentary to be convoluted at best and highly contradictory at worse.
His latest appeal does nothing to alter my suspicion that he is a controlled opposition figure in much the same way Owen Jones is/was. If Corbyn ends up being too accommodating to the Blairites it will only encourage them, resulting in the blunting of Corbyn’s radical message which is the major part of his appeal and the very reason why Labour voters, especially the young, voted for him in such large numbers in the first place.
Keeping young voters on board is particularly important given the fact that the proposed boundary changes that the Tories will be keen to bring in before the next election will benefit them by 18 seats. This will provide the ideal opportunity for Corbyn to force through the compulsory re-submission of candidates to members who are energized by a very different set of priorities to that of the Blairites.
Those motivated primarily by money will disappear by stealth into the ether. But in order for this to happen, Corbyn needs to grab the bull by the horns by cleverly negotiating the tide of optimism sweeping throughout the grass roots of the party. He must, in my view, seize the moment by taking control of the hierarchy of the party that he currently lacks.
The Blairites are currently on the defensive and Corbyn should exploit this situation to the maximum. The worse case scenario is one in which the former wrestle back significant control. By giving the likes of Cooper prominence, will only encourage this eventuality.
The contradiction between Cooper’s deeds and words outlined above, highlight the extent to which the ideological consensus between the New Labour hierarchy and the ruling Tory establishment, is structurally embedded within a dysfunctional system of state power that is no longer fit for purpose. Corbyn’s task in changing this situation around is difficult but not impossible. He should resist all calls to bring ‘heavyweights’ like Cooper back into the fore.
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