Lewis Goodall and Left for Dead?

Lewis Goodall has written a book about Jeremy Corbyn - but Left for Dead? is not biography or even a narrative. Rather it is an argument about what Corbynism is, where it comes from and why it’s done so well.

For Big Ben History, we dwelled on Corbyn and the past while enjoying a drink in the Marquis of Granby in Westminster. And Lewis makes two striking claims. Much of Corbyn’s rhetoric and packaging is about a return to Labour’s roots. John Mcdonnell recently told him that Clement Attlee was his hero. The government of 1945 is allegedly the lodestar for a Downing St inhabited by the member for Islington.

Rarely, Lewis argues, has rhetoric more strongly diverged from reality. The Labour Party of Attlee was a party of Empire, giving up India more through realism than idealism. It embraced nuclear deterrent - Ernest Bevin said: “We've got to have this thing over here whatever it costs .. We've got to have the bloody Union Jack on top of it.” His near namesake Nye Bevan, who was firmly on the left of the party, warned that without it: “ you will send a Foreign Secretary, whoever he may be, naked into the conference chamber … You call that statesmanship? I call it an emotional spasm.” (I wonder if this is where Vince Cable’s speechwriters got the erotic spasm idea from)

The party of Attlee embraced ZIonism and Israel - who was in charge in 1948 for the state’s formation? And in terms of structure, it had little appetite for the grassroots movement Corbyn and momentum have created today. Attlee’s was a world of backroom deals - not democratically decided party policy.

No doubt Corbynites will point to their policies of nationalisation and greater funding of the NHS. But the services’ founder Nye Bevan resigned from Attlees government over charges for teeth and eye tests. It will be interesting to see if Mcdonnell ends up playing the role of the then Labour chancellor, Hugh Gaitskell, should Labour win power.

But more striking is Lewis’ claim on continuity between Jeremy Corbyn and…… Tony Blair. The New Labour project was, he argues, essentially about making the party appeal to the middle class. That mission has been supercharged by Blair’s successor - with victories across middle class areas such as Canterbury and Kensington. His book is well worth a read for many reasons - but perhaps most of all for where it places Corbyn in relation to his predecessors.