Think about the surrealism of the last week in British politics. A Tory chancellor does a huge U-turn on a large set of cuts, mostly because enough of his own party have turned against him on the issue. He gets up to deliver his Autumn Statement, having to dish this out to the House, and the reply of the shadow chancellor contains not a stinging rebuke of the Statement or indeed even a pithy quote about U-turns, but rather a……well, you know what it contained. I can’t bring myself to write about it again. If you really don’t know what I’m talking about, just google “McDonnell” and the name of an infamous Chinese despot who killed millions of people in the 20th century.
This one thing would be weird enough, but much stranger things still have been happening this very week……involving John McDonnell. There seems to have been a confusing array of emails sent to Labour MPs around the topic of Syria and support for bombing, some involving ones that are thought to have been sent from constituents but were possibly co-ordinated via Momentum; one was sent from a parliamentary email address some guy named Simeon Andrews sent with or without (this remains unclear) McDonnell’s consent urging Labour MPs not to back missile strikes on Syria. If you don’t understand all this from what I’ve just wrote, don’t worry, I don’t really understand it all myself. Trying to recount what’s been happening over the last week is like trying to summon forth the details from a nightmare: you recall the feelings of horror, but the details are sketchy.
The Syria thing just got a whole lot weirder too. Corbyn sent a letter out to every member of the PLP that essentially said the following: I am absolutely resolute on the issue of Syria and will never support airstrikes under any circumstances. But think about it over the weekend and we’ll have a civilised chat about it at Monday’s PLP meeting, okay? Huh? Again, the letter is like a detail from a bad dream; it doesn’t really make any logical sense and is full of contradictions, but fills you with a deep seated feeling of ill-ease nonetheless.
I mean, Corbyn has to tell his MPs that either they will be whipped to support his position (which is abundantly clear), or the vote will be a free one. This is a binary choice – there are no grey areas involved. I look forward to the reports from Monday’s PLP meeting now. Just when you thought they couldn’t get anymore fraught….
I could try and predict what will happen on Monday evening – and be right on the macro level but get all the detail wrong. Because that’s what British politics has become: a nightmare. In the most emotionally resonant sense of being filled with unpredictable horrors none of us have any way of predicting. No wonder everyone’s so bloody scared all of the time.