Calls for the deselection of so-called ‘centrist’ Labour MPs have calmed recently. But Chris Leslie’s latest attempt to humiliate Jeremy Corbyn in parliament is the final straw.
Chris Leslie acting up
Time and again, relics of New Labour’s past show they’re hell-bent on sabotaging the party’s reputation. Chris Leslie’s attempt to embarrass Corbyn in parliament at a critical juncture in British history is the latest example.
The incident occurred in the Commons on 4 December, when Theresa May’s government became the first in British history to be found in contempt of parliament. Yet what should have been an opportune moment for Corbyn to rattle a besieged government from the despatch box instead descended into farce. To the visible frustration of Labour’s front bench, backbencher Chris Leslie constantly attempted to intervene during Corbyn’s speech.
Turning comical in the Commons as Jeremy Corbyn continues to ignore Labour colleague Chris Leslie’s attempt to intervene in his speech — Tory MPs screaming ‘give way’ as Mr Leslie continues to bob up and down
— Dan O'Donoghue (@MrDanDonoghue) December 4, 2018
This was predictably seized upon by the normal baying mob of boorish Tory MPs who egged Leslie on. Some even invited him to join them:
One Tory MP shouted across to Chris Leslie: "CROSS OVER AND JOIN US HERE CHRIS" Shows what kind of so-called Labour MP Leslie really is. Corbyn had more barracking from Leslie than all the Tories put together.
— Dallo #BDS (@dallo100) December 4, 2018
Contending with a sea of shouting fools opposite is difficult enough, but navigating through the sabotage of one of your own MPs is nigh on impossible. And Corbyn was visibly unsettled.
But that was the point. As shitty as Leslie’s loathed politics are, he’s no fool. He deliberately intervened at the worst possible time to sabotage Corbyn’s moment. And he knew damn well it would be seized upon by the Tories.
Classic Corbyn sass
That’s not to say Corbyn went down without a fight.
First, he ignored Leslie completely, even giving way to Tories instead of Leslie on his own side:
— Luke Creissen (@LTRC85) December 4, 2018
And when he finally let Leslie speak, Corbyn’s tone and gestures made it clear what he thought of him:
— Charlie Proctor (@MonarchyUK) December 4, 2018
In a way then, Corbyn saying: “Oh… alright, yes, ok” showed that he has the power to make decisions and Leslie doesn’t.
A history of similar behaviour
Leslie’s petulant behaviour is nothing new.
He’s made a niche for himself giving speeches attacking Corbyn. Here’s an example during the debate on airstrikes in Syria. It’s telling that the person tweeting it is a former Conservative Party staffer:
Chris Leslie: "A policy of inaction also would have severe consequences. Those who would turn a blind eye, who would do nothing in pursuit of some moral high ground, should also be held accountable for once today as well" pic.twitter.com/kIG3P5GZp9
— Carrie Symonds (@carriesymonds) April 16, 2018
And other contributions Leslie’s given were so damaging that they’ve been put straight into Conservative attack ads:
❗️This Labour MP has something huge to say about Labour's spending plans.
Yesterday, Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell let the cat out of the bag – he thinks £500 billion plan of borrowing and tax rises is “mediocre” and “a first step”.#JustLikeLastTime pic.twitter.com/x35iD5Ceww
— Conservatives (@Conservatives) September 12, 2018
Leslie: a lonely, desperate figure
Leslie was once described by Labour MP Clive Lewis as a “sad, lonely, bitter man’:
This was after he attacked Corbyn’s election performance despite Corbyn defying all expectations, unprecedented media attacks, and sabotage from his own MPs.
It came as no surprise, then, that Leslie received a vote of no-confidence in September 2018 from Labour members in Nottingham East:
For his: “disloyalty and deceit”, which it dubbed “a severe impediment to Labour Party electability”, which is “incompatible” with his continuing as the Labour candidate for Nottingham East.”
Are they getting it yet? #ChangeIsComing
((So fix up!!)) https://t.co/K9CqjQu8ZO
— Clare Reeve 🌹✨👩🏽👱🏻♀️👵🏼🧕🏼 (@Clare_Jennifer) December 5, 2018
Of course, Leslie took the decision with a typical lack of dignity by showing complete contempt for members’ wishes. He took to the Guardian to condemn Momentum and the ‘hard-left’ for showing intolerance.
What Leslie didn’t mention is that nobody ever wanted him in Nottingham East. Well, nobody except Gordon Brown, for whom Leslie was formerly campaign manager. Brown allegedly parachuted Leslie into his seat in 2010 against the wishes of local members.
Selective belief in members’ democracy
Yet the likes of Leslie have the gall to talk about the importance of members’ wishes in opposing Brexit. It would be compelling if they themselves didn’t oppose members’ wishes when it harmed their own interests.
For example, Labour members democratically picking their own MPs through ‘open selections’ is dismissed as a ‘distraction’. And democratic no-confidence votes in MPs are not respected, but instead dismissed as part of a ‘purge’.
This is despite many right-wing Labour MPs holding values and policies fundamentally at odds with those of members.
Instead, Leslie believes that:
no amount of deselection threats or political expediency will deter me from acting in what I believe are the best interests of you all.
This is him voicing the common Blairite delusion that they possess unique enlightened judgement. But it’s also extreme narcissism, as he seems to truly believe he was Nottingham’s chosen one due to his unique popularity, and not because he happened to have a red rosette stuck to his chest.
We’ve had enough
Some have cautioned me not to write this, suggesting: ‘these people thrive off attention and victimhood, don’t give them that gift’. But what this latest demonstration of contempt for a twice-elected party leader shows is that staying silent and tolerating them is no longer enough.
People like Leslie pose a real threat to the election of a Labour government, and it’s not an exaggeration to say that people’s lives are at stake. Blairites can’t seriously talk about the need for ‘tolerance’ in the party whilst they constantly try to pull Corbyn’s pants down in front of the public.
Democratic member-led parties don’t run affirmative action programmes for those with closeted appetites for neoliberalism. So they should no longer be protected from the democratic will of members. To not do so is to indulge the lazy and arrogant privilege of those with unmerited power gained through past bias and favouritism.
Politicians like Leslie claim to believe strongly that Labour members should be heard and promised a commitment to a ‘People’s Vote’ on Brexit. But in that spirit, how about he sticks his money where his mouth is and puts himself up for a members’ ‘people’s vote’ in Nottingham? Or is he scared of the democracy he claims to support?
It’s time to test the new simplified trigger ballot system agreed on at conference. But the pursuit of an open competitive selection process for Labour MPs cannot be abandoned in the name of peace. Leslie shows that while New Labour’s fifth column remains in the party, peace is impossible. Sabotage of a potential Corbyn government remains the prime agenda of the Leslie brigade.
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