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Left Out. Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire. A Review from the Left.

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Left Out by Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire


Left Out: The Inside Story of Labour Under Corbyn by Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire  Bodley Head. 2020.

Yesterday three Labour MPs, Beth Winter, Nadia Whittome and Olivia Blake quit  junior roles on Keir Starmer’s front bench after they broke the whip to vote against the Overseas Operation Bill condemned by Jeremy Corbyn. A total of 18 Labour MPs voted against the legislation. Over the weekend at a fringe meeting on Labour Connected by Stop the War the former Labour leader warned against a new cold war between an aggressive Trump and China. There was no mention of the attack on Hong Kong Democrats or the oppression of the Uyghurs. It would seem that the Labour left has returned to political terrain it knows well: opposition to real and potential abuses of human rights by the UK military on mission overseas, and ambiguous posturing about global politics that ignores human rights abuses by countries that are targeted by the US.

Readers of Inside Left expect the “inside story” of Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party. They get it, although that has not stopped some complaining about the “sniggering gossip-column vibe.” (Mike Phipps) Politics is about people, and others will relish information about life inside Team Corbyn, from LOTO (the Leader’s Office) “on the warpath” against Margaret Hodge after she called the Labour leader an “anti-Semite and a racist”, to McDonnell (rightly, as often the case, in this reviewer’s opinion) “gripped by an almost biblical anger at the decision to proceed with action against Hodge”. (Page 117)

The rise, and “crumbling” of Executive Director of the Leader’s Office,  Murphy’s “empire” and the end of the ‘cult of Karie’, might also seize readers’ attention, if only they could keep a hold on the shifting cast of players. Seumas Milne, the ‘Great Milne’, wafting in and out, is caught with an expression adopted at length by his comrade Andrew Murray, dismissing the issue of Brexit as “culture wars”, ignoring, as a pro-Brexit euro-sceptic, that Labour’s 2017 surge had been fuelled by anti-Brexit supporters. (Page 70)

Deputy Leader, Tom Watson, who fell from grace in the eyes of most people for his role in whipping up moral panic about the fantasist accusations of Carl Beech a secret ring of paedophiles,  does not shine, He emerges as  a singularly ineffective, but damaging, leader of factionalist opposition, powered by self-righteous  hysteria,  to Corbyn and the left.

Corbyn, Anti-Semitism and Love.

The book revolves around Jeremy Corbyn. “Power was not something he pursued” (Page 359). “Corbyn had never wanted to be leader of the Labour Party But, in the wake of 2017, he had come to like the idea of being prime minister His was a mission waged on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of people who have invests their hopes in him in the vain belief that politics might change” Yet “Corbyn had failed himself” (Page 357)

On anti-Semitism “the failure was his.” “In the face of accusations of racism he too often emphasised with himself.” (Page 358). Those who thought of the conflict between the Palestinians and Israel in terms of 1970s struggles for national liberation were given leeway, letting in their wake people with distinctly prejudiced views on ‘Zionism’ expresses, at length, their opinions. Left Out does not, as in its wider picture, cover the factional forces at work, from Jewish Voice for Labour to Labour Against the Witch-hunt.

It seemed to some of us that they were perusing the objective of making Labour an explicit supporter of the struggle against Israeli statehood in any form. It quickly looked as if they were prepared to indulge a degree of rhetoric against ‘Zionism’ that could often  blindside many Jewish people and the wider public.  Pogrund and Maguire state that accusations of anti-Semitism “struck at the very core of his sense of self.” (Page 321). Those of us who know some of the people involved in these bitter disputes are more than a little surprised that this came as a revelation to the campaigner for Palestinian rights, as if he had studiously ignored some of the more extreme voices, shouting loudly  in his close neighbourhood for many years.

Amongst many incidents in other areas, the clash involving Corbyn’s new private secretary Iram Chamberlin, whose Westminster Security clearance had been challenged in dubious conditions is striking.  Corbyn’s response to demands for an explanation about her presence at a MI5 Briefing, where she asked about their work on far-right extremism and Islamophobia, was “one of boyish innocence, likened by one witness to the young Jesus at the Temple” . (Page 154) Chamberlin was summarily pushed out, but Murphy’s long-term position had been undermined.

The Redeemer is, it is said, a popular figure in many circles. Keith Kahn-Harris (The problem of love in Corbyn’s Labour Party: Reflections on Left Out) in a widely read review, suggests, that “love was always the problem”. People poured out their emotions on Corbyn, and those with the greatest affection and awareness of his best qualities were not likely to be persuaded by those who devoted their time to hatred of the Labour Leader.


But  political problems, above all the Brexit problem, was not going to be solved by love. “The Project’s weakness, and its internal divisions, be they the distrust of Murphy’s combative stile, the deep resentment that festered among junior staff in LOTO, or John McDonnell’s freelance excursions on Brexit, all flowed directly from Corbyn’s own” Page 359). Or as Steve Bush’s review (Why Corbynism Failed)  puts it, the Leader “manages to combine indecision, stubbornness, and an unwillingness to deliver bad news in one fantastic package”

The “centrifugal forces” of Brexit, the daily dramas in the House of Commons,  were piled onto those concerned about their own potential loses to anti-Brexit parties, like the Liberal Democrats or Greens  and those who were chiefly concerned about the popularity for withdrawal from what they perceived to be their core constituency, the Red Wall. But underneath were divisions within the Project over what was right to further any transformative socialist governing agenda.  One one side were left-wing internationalists opposed to the Hard Right Brexit Project, who saw in the European political space a place to build alliances with other lefts for a root and branch change to the mechanisms of the EU,  On the other side were those who welcomed the opportunity to break free from the EU the better to take the British Road to Socialism.

Left Out offers a detailed account of what happened in the 2018 Labour Conference at which Keir Starmer emerged as a leading figure in the anti-Brexit, pro-Referendum camp. The backdrop the People’s Vote campaign  as well as the presence of the ‘Corbynite’ pro-European left, Another Europe is Possible (AEIP) is covered, and the bitterness Corbynista ultras from Momentum and Team Corbyn showed towards them. It indicates the strong support for Second Referendum motions from Labour constituencies, resolutions which were drawn up by the radical left Another Europe is Possible as well as the People’s Vote campaign (this writer was a participant).

What the book does not illustrate is the way in which hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets from 2018 to October 2019 on the issue. What it does not suggest is the obvious point that for people in Team Corbyn, used to having the streets filled with protests from their side, on issues such as the War against Iraq, and anti-Austerity were shaken by a movement that only the (numerically small) left of AEIP took part in. The supporters of Lexit, a ‘left’ Brexit, did not respond with their own demonstrations for a ‘People’s Brexit’.

This division, with a part of the radical left, whose positon on Europe can be traced back to the 1980s Socialist Society, Internationalist Marxist  groups and a wider section of  democratic socialists, on a different side to others behind the Project, has not gone away. McDonnell knew that he had to pick a side. He chose well. And if there is one message that rings throughout Left Out it is that the Shadow Chancellor, as well as other figures such as Andrew Fisher, tried to build the Project on serious ground – I would cite, for example, the hard work on issues that matter such a tax reform and an end to fiscal crookery – trying not to get bogged down in the chaos of the Team by reaching outwards.

Corbynist Futures.

Corbynism, the Project, and its electoral failure needs an account with a  wider framework than offered by Left Out, an “outside Corbyn’s Labour“. Yet the book offers important signposts about  the reasons for defeat in the misfunctioning Team Corbyn.

Those who had encouraged the illusion that Brexit was a progressive step, or just a merited kicking for the ‘neo-liberal’ EU can now see somebody who had promised to “Get Brexit Done’ in charge. Others will be happy to rediscover Corbyn the campaigner on international issues back. As the introductory paragraph to this review indicates, indeed it is, weighed down with ambiguity.


Andrew Coates.

Written by Andrew Coates

September 24, 2020 at 12:51 pm

New Cold War? The Return of Stop the War, Jeremy Corbyn and ‘anti-imperialism’.

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Jeremy Corbyn, “the levels of anti-Chinese racism in our society are quite horrendous” .

In Left Out (Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire. 2020) it is said that “foreign policy is the real locomotive force” of Jeremy Corbyn’s leftism and that of his Director of Strategy and Communications, Seumas Milne.    (Page 77) Activists on the left would hardly have needed this book to tell them: the former Labour Leader was both prominent in the protests against the Invasion of Iraq, in the Stop the War Coalition (StWC), and, less visibly to the wider public, has been active within Liberation, the successor (renamed in 1970) to the Movement for Colonial Freedom. (MCF).

For Pogrund and Maguire his worldview is that “the US was both a global hegemon and a force for ill in the world. They believed its imperialism ought to be resisted, and that resistance to its imperialism could almost always be justified.” (ibid).

This is unfair to Corbyn (though not to Milne). Jeremy Corbyn has always emphasised human rights. Yet one would hope that he gave them first place, not get locked into the views put forward by (amongst others) his former top aide that submerge them with issues about ‘imperialism’.

The Movement for Colonial Freedom was born out of resistance to the British Empire. At present its legacy can be traced in the reckoning with this past, given a stimulus recently by the American-centred Black Lives Matter. But, as Priyamvada Gopal has argued in her important  Insurgent Empire. Anticolonial Resistance and British Dissent  (2019) these radicals were shaped by a form of “engagement with non-European peoples.” (Page 453.) She traces the history right back to the French Revolution, the Chartists, Caribbean revolts, the long-history of the drive for independence in the Sub-Continent,  and the post-Russian Revolution anti-colonial movements, seen in on the left with the transnational League Against Imperialism (1927) and the emergence of Pan-Africanism.

The “insurgents who inspired them” changed the way anti-colonialists, anti-imperialists, thought. In place of liberal paternalism, and the view that the colonised learnt their demands from the example of ‘British’ liberty and the rule of law, the British, and other European lefts began to work with equals and became changed as a result.

Outside of academic and circles  ‘contrapuntal histories’ of Empire, however brilliant,  or battles over the symbols of the ‘culture wars’ over Empire, is of less importance than the kind of solidarity shown in the past by campaigns such as the Movement for Colonial Freedom. Many of us have taken the view that we have to listen to what today’s ‘insurgents’ from Syria, Belarus to Hong Kong have to say. Many of us, looking at the “post-colonial” world have found that demands for human rights, defined by people suffering abuses or demanding their own freedoms, take priority over global conflicts between the ‘hegemon’ and the rest.

Jeremy Corbyn is, as indicated, a supporter of the Stop the War Coalition. The meeting he addressed is titled, “The US, China, and the threat of War.”

Here is what a writer for Counterfire, a left group which has great influence in the StWC says of one player in this conflict.

China: a socialist force for good or an imperial superpower in the making? An historical evaluation – long read

Dragan Plavšić

China is an emerging imperialist power that is seeking to assert itself in a world dominated by the established imperialist power of the US, still the most powerful economic, political and military force in the world today. The escalating tensions between the US and China make the dangers of another Cold War palpable, with the Trump administration in particular determined to shift the traditional focus of US and Western foreign policy from Russia to China.

In this impending conflict, the left in the UK, the closest ally of the US, has a crucial role to play. First and foremost, it must be guided by the principle laid out in the First World War by the German socialist, Karl Liebknecht, that our main enemy is at home, not least given the eminently pragmatic fact that this is the enemy within reaching distance of our protests.[18]

But in following this principle, for all the reasons argued here, it would be a mistake to see China as somehow on our side, even if only on the misleading basis that our enemy’s enemy is our friend. This temptation should certainly be resisted, not least because we ought not to forget the corresponding principle of international solidarity with genuine struggles against oppression in other countries. We need to give expression to both principles as and when the need arises.

He gives an example,

The crisis in Hong Kong is a case in point. The left should certainly support the movement for the defence of democratic rights there, but in ways that encourage its political independence from the US and the West. In particular, this means opposing those who would raise the demand for Hong Kong’s independence, as this is a demand whose logic would drag the movement into increasingly submissive dependence on Washington and London.

Plavšić concludes

It therefore follows that our ally in China is not the CCP-run state but the working class.

This is a start, at least.

But the obsession with the potential for protests and movements to play into the hands of the ‘US and the West’ is not a good sign. It serves as a very convenient pretext for ignoring any message somebody, or in this case, a groupuscule, does not like. It enables them to protest “at home” while ignoring an ‘abroad’ that modern communication and migration, personal contact, and even holidays, makes pretty close to hand.

Human rights are universal. The national, religious and cultural oppression of Uighurs is an issue regardless of what the ‘West’ says and the class inflection it takes. We have to learn, like our forebears, that we cannot stand by and let their voices be unheard.


Unheard they were at the Stop the War Coalition’s Labour Fringe event.

This is an account (from the video) of what was said:

The meeting was introduced by Shelley Asquith. She introduced Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn began with the Coronavirus crisis, the refugee crisis, an environmental crisis, seen in the fires in the US and Brazil, and the effects of global warming on the polar regions. He then spoke on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, and British complicity through supplies of arms to Saudi Arabia, Palestine, the dangers in the Middle East, . He wished to apologise for the War on Iraq, driven by “xenophobia” “excessive nationalism” and lies. It had unleashed terrorism. He wanted to see Peace in the Middle East (no mention of Syria).  The Stop the War Coalition needs to be here to oppose War. It can help halt the arms industry that has fuelled conflicts by moving in the direction of a “green sustainable future”.

Lindsey German focused on rising US-China tensions, and warned about being  “taken in by this kind of rivalry”. She stated while there are “criticisms that can be made” (no mention of what these might be) these should not be an excuse for War. Salam Yaqoob, claiming to be on the ‘left’  talked of Julien Assange, and algorithms, and compassion (Nothing about Uighurs),  joining the ‘keyboard war’ to promote solidarity and mental well-being.

At the end of the meeting, Corbyn talked “the levels of anti-Chinese racism in our society are quite horrendous” linked to Covid-19 (Corbyn), and a the encouraging international solidarity towards the United States the Black Lives movement, (nothing about Uighurs). Issues now  pumping up arms in the Middle East, stocking conflict with Iran, human rights (nothing about Uighurs). Builds up anti-China rhetoric, direct conflict, or wars by proxy with China. Our policy should be guided by environmental sustainability and human rights (nothing about China).

As Asquith said, the “anti-imperialist” movement has some way to go…

Full Video: Facebook.

I am blocked from following the Stop the War Coalition twitter feed to find out more reactions,   but there is this report;

Morning Star.

WE MUSTN’T bend to the propaganda campaigns of the warmongers,” Labour MP Diane Abbott told a Stop the War fringe meeting during Labour Connected at the weekend.


Ms Abbott pointed out that while in the US, as in Britain, there “is no money for proper personal protective equipment” Mr Trump had hiked the military budget by 18 per cent to $738 billion (£571bn).

She condemned his aggressive foreign policy, including the imposition of tariffs on other countries.

“Trump even slapped tariffs on Britain once — so much for the special relationship,” she said.

“But Boris Johnson owes so much to Trump that when Trump says jump, Johnson says ‘how high?’” — pointing to Britain’s craven agreement to cease working with China’s Huawei corporation under US pressure.

Former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the world faced three huge crises: coronavirus, a refugee crisis that has displaced 70 million people and climate change.

“Yet where is the biggest humanitarian crisis? In Yemen because of the Saudi war.

“What is our contribution? To provide more and more arms. We are complicit in the killing of wholly innocent children,” he charged.

Mr Corbyn said he was proud to have formally apologised when Labour leader for the party’s role in starting the Iraq war.


Nothing about the universal human rights of those in China, the focus of the New Cold War.

Nothing about Syria.

Nothing about Venezuela.

Those who now hold mantle of League Against Imperialism ignore the very universality of rights that they claim to defend.

See: Shiraz. 

China and Myanmar face Uighurs and Rohingya that are fighting back after years of oppression




Arguments on the Left on “Left Out: The Inside Story of Labour Under Corbyn.”

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Aides feared Jeremy Corbyn was sabotaging his own campaign in ...

Debate on Labour Under Corbyn Grows.

Last December’s General Election was a catastrophe for the Labour Party.

A hard-right led Conservative Party promising to “Unleash Britain’s Potential” and “Get Brexit Done” won 265 seats and 43,6% of the vote  and  to Labour’s 203 and 32,2%.

This was not the disaster suffered by Labour’s counterpart in France, the Parti Socialiste (PS)  in 2017. They went  from governing the country under President François Hollande and being in government to marginalisation. They scored with their Presidential candidate Benoît Hamon, standing on a Green left platform won 6,36%, and 25 seats in the National Assembly (out of 577). Their defeat, the result of disillusionment with the outgoing President’s personal detachment,  and cabinet’s policies, rooted in a long-term concern with power-for-power’s sake,  had been helped by the defection of key figures and supporters to Emmanuel Macron and his movement, La France en marche.

Immediately after the election the PS Premier Secrétaire Jean-Christophe Cambadélis,  published, after resigning his position, Chronique d’une Débâcle (2017). The book was harsh, and detailed, about the “solitary behaviour” (that is, taking decisions off his own back) of Benoīt Hamon The socialist candidate appeared to wish to “refound” the left as a whole, morally and ideologically, rather than lead his troops into battle (“à la charge supreme”). The concentration on what one could call a Green New Deal, failed to talk to the wider public. With Hamon’s “Green Party” campaign, you got a “Green Party election score (“campagne d’écologiste, score d’écologiste” Page 111). He was not, in short,  “présidentiable”.

For somebody of my generation the first introduction to the genre of political insider accounts was through the memorable pages of La Vie quotidienne à Matignon au temps de l’union de la gauche. Thierry Pfister. (1985). The journalist tells the story of the first left governments under François Mitterrand. It pulled no punches either, presenting a detailed account of how Prime Minister Pierre Mauroy operated, and how he had got squeezed out. Pfister did not hide his antipathies, including towards the President, a view which he elaborated in Lettre ouverte à la génération Mitterrand qui marche à côté de ses pompes (1988).  La Vie quotidienne was introduced to the world by the right-wing daily Le Figaro.

I can’t recall much sustained hatred, other than some whinging, about Pfister from his targets. Nor, on the publication of Chronique d’une Débâcle were Hamon supporters omnipresent on social media screaming at the Saboteurs of the Parti Socialiste Parallel Centre.

Thin Skins…

Perhaps French centre left and left-wing activists have thicker skins, or are used to these kind of hard-hitting accounts.

By contrast, some on the left in Britain have taken great exception to the extracts just published from Times’ journalists Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire, Left Out: The Inside Story of Labour Under Corbyn.

From what one can read the book lacks much of a hold on Labour Party internal currents, that is ‘factionalism’ – something which Pfister (long background on PS left), and Cambadélis (former Trotskyist of the ‘Lambertist’ brand) have in spades.

The Week gives the main points:

Five things we learned from new tell-all book on Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership

  • Labour was warned of 2019 election disaster.

  • Corbyn ‘could not trust’ his closest allies, “

    Despite the damning polling results, “many in the room still believed” Labour could triumph, arguing that “the election of 2017 had shattered the old certainties, and Corbyn was determined to do so again”, the book says.

    But to do so would “require Corbyn to summon every drop of the energy” that months of Brexit drama and anti-Semitism scandals has “drained from him”, write Pogrund and Maguire.  And “those closest to him suspected he was in no state to do so”.

    These fears grew during the campaign, as Corbyn began falling out with his “closest lieutenants”, whom he came to “barely trust”.

    “His detractors at Westminster often contended that he had no idea what he was doing,” the book says. “For once, the jibe was accurate – though not for want of trying on Corbyn’s part.

    “Strategy for the campaign he was supposed to be leading had largely been decided – or, more accurately, disagreed on – in his absence.”

  • Deputy (Tom Watson)  considered defecting

  • Split with McDonnell over anti-Semitism.

  • Republican Corbyn bonded with the Sussexes

Poor old Skwawky has tried to his oar in over one part of the book:

Many would consider that the deep disagreements over Brexit are at the heart of the account.

This is the stand of John McDonnell.

His worst fears had been realised: despite his best efforts to cajole Corbyn into supporting a second referendum, Labour was repelling pro-EU voters. As Waters sat down, the shadow chancellor delegated the inquisition to his wife. Cynthia, like Lavery, struggled at first to believe what she had been told. She had spent much of her career at market-research companies and queried whether the research was watertight. An angry Lavery went further. YouGov, attendees recall him fuming, had been founded by card-carrying Conservatives, a charge he raised with Waters and Sookoo repeatedly. He insisted that they could not and should not trust a “Tory firm”.

But McDonnell had already made up his mind: Labour must do everything in its power to win back pro-EU voters. It would refrain from discussing the detail of Brexit and extol the virtues of giving voters the final say via a second referendum. It was a strategy Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s chief strategist, had long argued against, warning that the working class could desert Labour en masse. But he was not present that day. He was also increasingly outmuscled by Corbyn’s oldest comrade, who was by then plotting Milne’s demotion. “From that point out, our strategy was to hug the remainers,” says an official present that morning.

Some now piling in suggest that Labour was wrong to offer the prospect of a Second Referendum.

Their opinion might be taken seriously if they did not come from circles, like the inner core around Corbyn, his advisers Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray, which supported Leave in the first place. Had not the Lexit (Left Exit) argued that leaving the neo-liberal EU open the way for a movement to “take back control”?  Instead here was marked shift to the right.  The Brexit Party (involving people that the Lexiteers worked with in the Full Brexit front) in the 2019 European election topped  the poll at 30,52% and , 29 seats. It was the xenophobic right that was taking charge.

The backers of a People’s Brexit in the labour movement and left ranged from the traditional Labour Right, the patriots of Blue Labour, Parliamentary sovereigntists, to the Morning Star, Counterfire, the SWP, and national Trotskyism, in groups like the Socialist Party. They were joined by vociferous opponents of any referendum like the paleo-Trotskyists of Socialist Appeal.

This left had done all it could to keep a movement going against austerity with the People’s Assembly. As attendance at their events dwindled off the scale, they were pained to see the People’s Vote campaign bring hundreds of thousands onto the streets. It was galling to see internationalists from the independent radical left, Labour left and centre-left and Greens organise a broad campaign, Another Europe is Possible, that joined, with very visible contingents, these protests.

Lacking the courage to organise their own People’s Brexit march the Lexit left’s  main public effort seemed to be to encourage an early election.

In September 2019 Lindsey German wrote on the Counterfire site,

General election: unite and fight

General election speculation grows and it looks like it may be called later this week, for a date in mid-October. The Blairites and Libdems want to delay, partly because they want a second referendum, partly because they fear a Corbyn government.”

“Labour needs to be confident that it can win against these rich and undemocratic right wingers. It needs to project this. It needs trades unions, campaigners, all those who suffer under the Tories……..

This is some of the background which could be added to the book.

But what there is remains of great interest.

Arguing, in the face of growing debate, some people are still inclined to dismiss Left Out: The Inside Story of Labour Under Corbyn.

Phil writes,

The Hack Obsession with Corbyn

What’s interesting are the dynamics driving this continued obsessive focus on matters Corbyn, despite having sat on the backbenches for the last four months. Some comrades locate it in a generalised campaign against socialist politics – discredit Corbyn, discredit the ideas. Well, yes. And that’s why the Tory press can always find space to put the boot in, but in the age of the attention economy and social media, it’s not solely driven from the editorial offices.


This is the condition of establishment journalism in our period of crisis. Attention gives them incentive to bang on about Corbyn, their experience of social media gives them incentive to bang on about Corbyn, and their pooled anxieties give them incentive to bang on about Corbyn.

This might have a shred of credibility if backbench retiree Corbyn had not taken the step of publicly advocating support for a candidate in an internal trade union election.


John McDonnell takes another view:


The extracts continue,

For Milne, just as for Corbyn, foreign policy was the real locomotive force of his leftism. Both understood their socialism in terms of global power, and who wielded it. In their view, the US was both a global hegemon and a force for ill in the world. They believed its imperialism ought to be resisted, and that resistance to its imperialism could almost always be justified. According to aides, Corbyn was wont to break off sensitive discussions at shadow cabinet to bend the ear of Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, “about the Western Sahara or about West Papua. Self-determination for oppressed peoples was his driving thing when it came to foreign policy”. No matter how fractious relations between Thornberry’s team and the leader’s office, Corbyn only ever wanted to talk about one thing. “Emily always knew,” says a source close to Thornberry, “that if she walked into the room, he would still want to ask: ‘Did you see that article by John Pilger about East Timor?’

To his MP critics, Milne took a similarly Manichean view of geopolitics, and during his career at The Guardian had on several occasions ended up on the same side of the argument as Putin. In March 2014 he had defended Russia’s annexation of Crimea and praised its role as “a limited counterweight to unilateral western power”. In October of that year, Milne attended the Valdai conference for Russia experts in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. There he chaired a lengthy question-and-answer session with Putin. However, he had always criticised the regime’s authoritarianism and aggression.

All one can say here is that this “anti-imperialism”, campism, is not, in many left-wing people’s view, internationalism.

The influence of Seumas Milne became a sticking point between the Labour leader and Mr McDonnell.The huddles were conducted under lobby terms — meaning Milne’s answers could be used, but only on the condition that they were credited to a Labour spokesman rather than him personally.

What he said on March 14 was deemed so remarkable by the parliamentary press corps that the Press Association, the most conservative of media outlets when it came to questions of style and convention, defied the unspoken rule and named Milne as the Labour spokesman in question. He had not only doubled down on Corbyn’s suggestion that the government send a sample of novichok to Russia for testing, but compared the incident to the build-up to the Iraq War. “I think, obviously, the government has access to information and intelligence on this matter which others don’t,” he said. “However, also, there’s a history in relation to WMD [weapons of mass destruction] and intelligence which is problematic, to put it mildly. So I think the right approach is to seek the evidence; to follow international treaties, particularly in relation to prohibited chemical weapons, because this was a chemical weapons attack, carried out on British soil. There are procedures that need to be followed in relation to that.”

When news of the briefing reached John McDonnell’s office, James Mills, the shadow chancellor’s spin doctor, kicked a bin across the room. “That’s f***ing going to cost us the election!” Mills shouted. “That’s f***ing stupid. Who the f*** does stuff like that?”
While the leader’s office happily took the speech off McBride’s hands, there was a limit to the case they were willing to make. Andrew Fisher, primary author of most of Corbyn’s Commons speeches, and Milne, who had identical views on foreign policy to the leader, sought to dilute the tone. It was gutted of any statements levelling blame at Russia, support for Nato, or anything else that Corbyn might regard as unduly imperialist in its tone.
Where Thornberry would have labelled Russia “guilty as charged”, Corbyn said: “There is clear evidence that the Russian state has a case to answer, and it has failed to do so.” A section on the importance of seeking cross-party consensus on Britain’s response — and committing Labour to supporting the government — was deleted. Thornberry’s endorsement of the government’s reprisals against the Kremlin was replaced with the more restrained: “We have supported actions taken.” A call for a European Court of Human Rights “case against Russia” turned into a more general inquiry about whether the government would consider “initiating or supporting” a wider examination of extraterritorial violations of human rights.


Against the advice of the dismissers many comrades have already ordered copies of the book…