He has been leader of the British Labour Party for only five or six days but already the darling of the British left has softened or abandoned some pretty defining political positions.
Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to sing ‘God Save the Queen’, the British national anthem, was the first to go – and a very powerfully symbolic move it was.
An ardent English republican, Corbyn stood silent at a Battle of Britain remembrance ceremony while surrounded by RAF types and British military top brass and their wives. After fierce media and political condemnation from all the predictable quarters, led by The Daily Telegraph, his aides let it be known that from now on he would sing the anthem at such public ceremonies.
Next it was Europe. Known to be hostile to an entity the left regards as a neoliberal carve up, Corbyn was thought to be sympathetic to withdrawing from the EC, a possibility that had the lunatic Farage in a lather of excitement.
Now, again facing internal opposition, Corbyn has performed another U-turn, telling the British media he would not campaign for British withdrawal.
The most telling switch has been on the Trident nuclear missile programme, a submarine-borne system of mass destruction based in Scotland. This issue touches two left-wing nerves in Britain, one in Scotland where SNP opposition to Trident played no small part in the success of the independence referendum and the party’s general election performance which was also centred on ‘old-fashioned’ support for the NHS, social welfare and the like; and, of course, opposition to nuclear weapons was one of Old Labour’s defining issues. Remember CND and the Aldermarston marches, Michael Foot and Tony Benn?
Keeping Trident, or preserving any sort of nuclear weapon, was rightly regarded by the Right in Britain as meaning the country was still a world power, ready and able to join with the US and NATO in whatever imperial enterprise that was regarded as appropriate and timely – like invading Libya, bombing Syria and so on. For the same reasons the British Left opposed Trident and all nuclear weapons.
And so, Corbyn was anti-Trident. Until this week. Now he has announced to the media that if the Labour party does back Trident, he won’t resign as leader. In other words the issue is not so important to him now that on principle he can’t accept it.
I haven’t read much yet about Corbyn’s solidity or lack of it on Northern Ireland but he has been hammered over his perceived closeness to Gerry Adams and the IRA. So, I won’t be surprised, if the previous developments are any guide, to see some important distancing happening on that issue.
There are two things that leap out about these developments. The first is that they are all the result of pressure from Blairites in the Labour party or the general right wing out there in the media, the Tory party, the British establishment and elsewhere.
Corbyn has buckled so easily under the pressure that the message to the Right is simple. Keep pushing him and maybe he’ll buckle on other, even more important things, like opposition to austerity or to privatising the NHS.
The second is that this has all happened in the first week of his leadership. Where on earth is he going to be in a month at this rate?
The Corbyn revolution was great fun and had a lot of nasty, pompous and self-important people worried for a while. But I don’t think they are as worried this weekend as they were last.
It’s an old and familiar story for the British Left. High expectations and the Labour party are like oil and water.