The Spectator's Notes

Charles Moore’s Notes: Corbyn’s shambolic reshuffle should not distract us from the fact that he is gaining control of Labour

16 January 2016

9:00 AM

16 January 2016

9:00 AM

No amount of reports in the press that Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet-making is farcical and his party is divided should distract us from the fact that he is winning. I don’t mean that he will become prime minister, or even (though this seems quite possible) that he will survive as leader until the general election. It is just that he is gradually bringing more and more of Labour under his control, and grinding down his opponents. Besides, his public positions are coherent — in the sense of being internally consistent — and he is quite accomplished at adhering to an undeviatingly hardline, left-wing ideology while sounding mild and decent. Taxed, on Monday, by Nick Robinson about his support for terrorism, Mr Corbyn was able fiercely to declare that he detested terrorist attacks on ‘civilians’. (Sometimes, he and his like refer to ‘innocent civilians’.) ‘Civilians’, you see, are not to blame for bad policy or for enforcing the will of the capitalist West. The tougher question would be what he thinks of attacks on British forces in the Middle East, on the police when they arrest terror suspects here, or on the RUC in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. He will not condemn these unreservedly. If you deplore attacks on civilians, but equivocate about attacks on those who most actively defend them, you are weeping crocodile tears. On Tuesday, by the way, Mr Corbyn’s favourite organisation, the Stop the War Coalition, reacted angrily to North Korea’s latest testing of a nuclear bomb: ‘We call on the US to stop stoking the tension, end its provocative exercises, drop the sanctions and seek dialogue.’

There should be a short booklet with a list of points for those about to take up public sector appointments — not the formal rules, which already exist, but certain informal tips for survival. One would be ‘Do not own — or at least visit in the winter — any house in a hot place abroad.’ The case of Sir Philip Dilley, the chairman of the Environment Agency, is in point. No doubt it would not have made the slightest practical difference if he had been around after Christmas to come and peer sympathetically at the victims of Cumbrian floods, but the idea that he was thousands of miles away — warm, rich, suntanned and wet only when he jumped into the Caribbean or his pool — was intolerable. Jim Callaghan, as prime minister, made the same sort of mistake by going to an economic summit in Guadeloupe during the Winter of Discontent in January 1979. It is part of the native prudence of our royal family that they seem to have no large houses in hot places at all.


The Court Circular on 7 January reported that ‘Today being the Feast of Epiphany, a Sung Eucharist was held in the Chapel Royal, St James’s Palace, when the customary offerings of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh were made on behalf of the Queen by Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Breakwell and Air Vice-Marshal Richard Lacey (Gentlemen Ushers to Her Majesty).’ It is touching to think that the Queen annually makes this act of homage, even if vicariously. I wonder how the Gentlemen Ushers, being only two, divide the gold, frankincense and myrrh between them. The scene would make a charming Renaissance painting — ‘The Adoration of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Breakwell and Air Vice-Marshal Richard Lacey’. There should be a Painter Laureate to record such scenes.

As unhappy Anglican bishops from all over the world argued away in Canterbury this week, I attended an interesting innovation in Westminster Cathedral. The Ordinariate is the means by which Anglicans who become Roman Catholics can now have a liturgy which includes large bits of the Book of Common Prayer, historically seen as clearly anti-Catholic. This votive Mass of Our Lady of Walsingham, after which the Ordinariate’s new Missal was presented to the cathedral, contained such Anglican favourites as the ‘comfortable words’, the confession (‘we acknowledge and bewail our manifold sins and wickedness’) and the Prayer of Humble Access. For my personal taste, the ceremony was too ‘high’ — with priests taking off birettas at the name of Jesus — but this was not of the essence. It was Benedict, the only modern Pope really interested in liturgy, who saw that Christian unity can be expressed in the choice of the language used to address God. This is one of the results. Given how often we burnt one another 450 years ago, it is extraordinary and moving that words of Thomas Cranmer can now have the blessing of Rome.

Emma Rice, the new artistic director of the Globe Theatre, admits she is unfamiliar with most of Shakespeare, but is excited to have ‘got custody of this canon for a while’. She intends, she declares, to take advantage of her time as Shakespeare’s jailer to make women act half his parts and rewrite, where she thinks fit, his plays. She gives as an example the dirge from Cymbeline, ‘Fear no more the heat of the sun’, which includes the famous lines, ‘Golden lads and girls all must/ Like chimney-sweepers, come to dust’. Modern audiences cannot understand this, she thinks, but in Shakespeare’s day, ‘chimney-sweepers’ was a word for ‘dandelions’, so her solution is to delete the former and insert the latter. I must admit that I had not known about the interesting dandelion meaning (I have looked it up: apparently it was Warwickshire dialect), but it seems strange that Emma Rice thinks it is a good substitution. First, why are dandelions easier to understand than chimney-sweepers? (Both are easy to understand.) Second, the phrase ‘chimney-sweepers’ permits a joke which the word ‘dandelions’ loses: chimney-sweepers ‘come to dust’ in their trade, as well as in the sense in which golden lads and girls do by dying. Where is the gain in the Rice version? In the play, ‘Fidele’, the boy thus lamented, is in fact Imogen in disguise, and is not dead but drugged. Once those planning her interment depart, she wakes up. So it is with Shakespeare, whenever a director tries to bury him.

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Show comments
  • MikeF

    Talk about Corbyn ‘gaining control’ of the Labour Party misses the point. He genuinely reflects the anti-democratic, authoritarian narcissist, neo-Marxist mindset of much of the membership of that organisation. Don’t make the mistake of imagining that the bleatings of, say, Mr Hodges – occasionally of this publication – represent some sort of wider dissent based on the values of the Labour Party as they were maybe 40 years ago because they do not. That Labour Party no longer exists. Labour ‘moderates’ merely want to impose their (self-)beliefs on this country in the same coercive manner as the supposed ‘hard’ left, but to do so with the aid of a more emollient sounding vocabulary. The whole rotten edifice of the Labour Party needs to be destroyed whoever is leading it.

    • Atlas

      The British left traditionally consisted of three broad sections;

      1) The hard core nutters who think the Soviet Union was great
      2) The champagne socialists who thought socialism was great for everyone except themselves
      3) Organised labour whose interest in socialism extended as far as it got them inflation busting pay rises

      From the late 1970s onwards, accelerated when many in the working class swung behind Thatcher, the first two have merged (we now call them Corbynites, but the Owen Jones faction is another good label) and all but crushed the third. When the co-called moderates are challenged on their beliefs it is soon revealed that they essentially believe the same thing as Corbyn with the only difference being they are prepared to be more dishonest with the electorate than he is in order to gain power and implement those beliefs.

      The end result is that Labour no-longer represents workers and instead represents a small but vocal group of group-thinking nutters, most of whom belong to multiple organisations such as Stop the War, Class War, the Socialist Workers Party, the Greens, the UAF, etc, etc. They are thus ever less relevant to the political discourse in Britain, and Europe more widely, as not merely fail to provide answers but are almost without exception responsible for the problem in the first place.

  • jonlivesey

    I have been thinking for a long time that Corbyn is not a phenomenon in and of himself. I think that as a party enters terminal decline, you often get a Corbyn-like figure who can grab control just because the smart money has given up and moved on.

    Corbyn is just the Labour Party’s Gorbachev. He’s the echo of the past who steps forward because no-one else really cares enough about the job to stop him. Like Gorbachev, he will hold things together just long enough for the public to start asking what the Labour Party is even for.

    Labour is being destroyed by demographics. The cloth cap and deference are long gone. There are just no platoons of “workers” any more to form obedient audiences for high-sounding ideological speeches.

    • MikeF

      I would regard Corbyn as more of a Chernenko than a Gorbachev. But your point about demographics rather misses the fact that Labour has been busy replacing its old working class constituency with an ethnically-defined – let’s face it mainly Muslim – bloc vote. They may still pander to that older electorate at election times but in reality the Labour Party now actually despises the ‘working class’ that it once claimed to represent and there is no effective limit to the extent it will express its contempt in practice if doing so helps consolidate its new voter base. That is what Rotherham was about.

    • Oddsbods

      That is why they have to keep on importing new ones.

    • JOhn Mackie

      ” you often get a Corbyn-like figure who can grab control just because the smart money has given up and moved on.”

      Very insightful.

      Ditto Cameron….

  • Terry Field

    Moore becomes more and more magisterial with the passing of time; I assume he no longer goes to bed at night, but simply levitates.

  • Richard Brinton

    Just who is Mr Moore referring to when he writes; Corbyn’s shambolic reshuffle should not distract “us”….. the proverbial us certainly does not include me and I suspect a great many other people are not amongst those that Mr Moor refers to as “us”. Time will tell whether the reshuffle has worked, so far it has succeeded.

    • davidofkent

      Re-shuffling the Party in opposition is of no relevance at all. When Jeremy Corbyn ends up with a shadow bunch of nonentities just like him, he will have made Labour unelectable once again. The big problem as I am beginning to see it, is that the Conservative Party is keeping people at the top who are damaging the Party’s reputation for common sense and sound financial judgement. When George Osborne increases fuel duty in his budget (because of the fall in oil prices) he will lose many more supporters than Labour need to gain. It is governments who lose elections rather than oppositions (even good ones – not like this hapless bunch) who win them.

      • Brian Jones

        You appear to be privy to what the chancellor will be putting in the budget. Don’t forget that this is the chancellor who did away with labour’s fuel tax escalator. Perhaps while you’re at it you can give me the lottery numbers for next week.

  • Tom Sykes

    Emma who?

  • Rumin8

    “Emma Rice, the new artistic director of the Globe Theatre, admits she is unfamiliar with most of Shakespeare”
    Were there no other contenders for the job, then?

    • Ipsedixit

      Yes but they were all white men.

      • Rumin8

        If they were rejected because she had greater merit, that would be ok.

        (Though it boggles the mind that someone would be chosen to run the Globe Theatre when they are unfamiliar with most of Shakespeare!)

        If they were rejected for being white men, that would be discrimination.

    • pobjoy

      Perhaps the intention is to reduce Shakespeare to trivialities.

  • victor67

    How was invading and occupying Iraq and Afghanistan protecting civilians?
    It was actually endangering civilians in those countries and increasing the terror threat at home.

  • tolpuddle1

    Shocking. A Labour leader DARING to control his own party !

    Er, isn’t that what Blair did too ?

    • Freddythreepwood

      I wish you lot would go and infest the Socialist Worker – none of the rest of us gives a toss about your party. Go and argue among yourselves.

      • Tamerlane

        Well said.

        • Todd Unctious

          You must come up with better than that to justify your Sunday overtime.

      • tolpuddle1

        Tell Charles Moore – commentators like him write about Corbyn and the Labour Party fairly constantly.

    • Kandanada

      Eric Blair had it spot on.

    • Rumin8

      Blair, richest PM ever, representative of the Quartet, such a lucrative opportunity, a reward from G W Bush for the dodgy dossier. Oh, and hated by his own party so much that his name is rarely mentioned.

      Well, I can’t see Corbyn getting rich in dodgy ways, but as for being hated by his party such that his name cannot be spoken, yes that is within the realm of possibility.

  • Jingleballix

    Emma Rice’s stated intent of ‘making the Bard ACCESSIBLE’ is as predictable as it is tedious.

    She is a shockingly egotistical bore, and will come to grief……..who says that audiences want the the Bard to become fully intelligible? The poetry of the language is 33% of the attraction……..another 33% is the ability to escape from the modern world……..and Rice is thrusting it into their faces.

    I shall not go to the Globe whilst this uneducated, posturing harridan is in charge.

    • Kandanada

      Yo, yo, yo!

      It’s bein’ or not bein’. Ja know that what me’s askin, innit.

  • Kandanada

    Of course he is gaining control of Labour. He is the Labour leader. He is not a simpleton. He was, regardless of press snarling about his unpopularity, elected by a landslide.

    The lefties think he is their messiah. The career politicians think he is a nightmare. I think it is hysterical.

    • Ipsedixit

      I suspect you aren’t one of this mans supporters but I keep reading about his “landslide” victory. He was voted leader by a majority of people who’d paid three quid to join a pathetic remnant of a completely discredited political party. We know that many of them were taking the mickey. It’s hardly a popular mandate.

      • pobjoy

        a completely discredited political party

        In Oldham West?

        • jonlivesey

          “In Oldham West?”

          Where Labour were careful to run a non-Corbyn centrist, and where they made sure Corbyn didn’t visit.

          Instead of appealing to one data point, try looking at the polls. Labour have been 5-10% behind the Tories every single week since the election. It’s getting on for a *year* now.

          • pobjoy

            Where Labour were careful to run a non-Corbyn centrist, and where they made sure Corbyn didn’t visit.

            But a completely discredited political party would not win by the margin that it did, whoever was the candidate. It is parties that lose their deposits that are ‘completely discredited’. The fact is that McMahon won as a Labour candidate, opposed to Tories and others, and won with more votes than all of them combined (and the Conservative vote collapsed). So, in Oldham West, at least, Corbyn’s Labour is not discredited. Labour would undoubtedly win hundreds of other seats in a GE next week, anyway.

            Corbyn did visit, actually, at a time when he had other matters to deal with. The previous MP, Michael Meacher, had been MP for Oldham since 1970, and a well-known left-winger, often critical of Blair and his policies. So Oldhamites have had many opportunities to replace him with a centrist. He also voted for Corbyn in the leadership election. So there was no need whatever to select a centrist to replace Meacher. McMahon was the obvious candidate, because he was and is an outstanding political figure, in Oldham. Not that McMahon is necessarily a centrist, because, as an Oldham councillor, he worked with Meacher, and thought very highly of him. The fact that he supported another in the leadership election does not necessarily mean that he opposed Corbyn. He may have merely supposed that Corbyn had little chance.

            Labour have been 5-10% behind the Tories

            Then they cannot be a completely discredited political party. Conservatives have been further behind than that, and see where they are now. Completely discreditable, perhaps. 🙂

            Opinion polls have been wrong, of late. We need to see what actual polls reveal, before making assessments.

      • Kandanada

        Yes, possibly. I don’t know how many were genuine and how many were anti but I am, as you rightly said, not a supporter, being probably more anti (in the politest way, of course) than most, and I simply couldn’t be bothered to sign up to consign them to electoral doom, so maybe it was genuine support that got him to where he is. I suppose there is no way of knowing, for certain, so you may well be spot on.

        The left is like a religion, I think. You or I might call them a discredited political party, but to these fervent believers, it is about being ideologically aligned, to the exclusion of anything else, to the dear ole Labour Party, with it’s divide and rule through social justice for the “individual”, historical revisionism, moral relativism and general, assorted modern manipulation techniques, leading the disciples (literally, unironically) to come to the (guided/misguided) conclusion that it is right because it it feels sooo right.

        Irrational people, en masse, are a tough nut to crack.

      • pobjoy

        We know that many of them were taking the mickey.

        Who are ‘we’?

    • jonlivesey

      A “landslide” among half of one percent of the electorate, who purchased the privilege of voting for a princely 300p.

      • Kandanada

        So, are you saying that the electorate’s support for the Labour Party has diminished since Corbyn took over? If so, what evidence do we have?

    • Jaria1

      It’s an old story promise those that feel hard done by that you will painlessly solve their problems and you’ve got their vote.
      Once in power you realise you’ve made a horrible mistake

  • pobjoy

    He will not condemn these unreservedly.

    That may be because he has some scruple about getting justice, by non-violent means, for people driven to violence because they perceive no option to violence.

    • jonlivesey

      You do understand, don’t you, that the people in Northern Ireland who were “driven to violence” were 300 IRA members, and that when the actual people of Northern Ireland voted, they voted 70/30 to remain part of the UK?

      And you understand also that Corbyn voted against the Anglo-Irish Agreement precisely because it left the future of Northern Ireland in the hands of its voters instead of enforcing a united Ireland on them against their wishes?

      • pobjoy

        Democratic voting does not necessarily mean that minorities are treated equitably. Democratic voting does not guarantee that majorities are treated equitably, strangely enough.

  • David Chadderton

    Er, it was all those ‘innocent civilians’ who voted for ‘straight talking honest politics’ representatives who then announce strange policies.

  • pobjoy

    It is just that he is gradually bringing more and more of Labour under his control

    Perhaps Corbyn is bringing Labour MPs under members’ control. Or is it that the West Oldham and Royton result has persuaded MPs that things are not quite so bad, after all.

  • Patrick Roy

    These people are completely out of step with working people. They should all be ashamed of themselves but they’re not. What a disgrace.

    • pobjoy

      Disgrace, indeed. They should take a leaf from the book of the Ancien Régime.

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