A blow-by-blow account of the radical left-wing project throws its fatal tensions into stark relief. Nobody comes out of it wellby Rachel Shabi / October 5, 2020 / Leave a comment
Towards the end of Jeremy Corbyn’s time as Labour leader, the former head of the civil service, Bob Kerslake, was tasked with auditing his office, troubleshooting what had become a malfunctioning and divided operation. Signing off his recommendations in the autumn of 2019, Kerslake wrote: “If you can find a political way of not having a general election for a little while, you should do so. Because you really are not ready.” By this late point in Left Out: the Inside Story of Labour under Corbyn, the truth of his observation is grimly apparent, but the force of those words still hits like a punch to the stomach.
Authored by Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire, political correspondents for the Sunday Times and the Times respectively, Left Out is a detailed account of the second half of the unlikely story of Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party, covering the period between 2017 and 2019, when the operation went “from Glastonbury to catastrophe,” as they put it. We know how this story ends, and for many of us on the left it makes painful reading—no less so nine months into the re-election of a populist right-wing government that has so badly mishandled a deadly pandemic. At times the book has you reading through your fingers, dismally aware of the consequences of the mounting, unforced errors from a Labour leadership trying to realise “the project” of a socialist government, as well as damaging attempts to undermine it from within by hostile Labour MPs and parts of the party machine. It is a book to be read dolefully and in one sitting.
There is something for everyone. Those who always viewed Corbyn as calamitously incompetent will find confirmation in the portrayal of an indecisive, conflict-averse and absent character. The leader of the opposition’s office (Loto) is revealed as shambolic at the critical moments. For others, there is corroboration of claims made in a leaked party document earlier this year: that officials at the Southside headquarters, mostly Labour right factionalists, were running a “parallel campaign, out of sight and knowledge of Team Corbyn”—funnelling funds into the seats of MPs hostile to the leadership. Then there are almost parodic depictions of rebel MPs secretly plotting to set up the Independent Group, who would leave…