Jeremy Corbyn, Jon Ashworth. Photo: Flickr/Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn, Jon Ashworth. Photo: Flickr/Jeremy Corbyn

Labour can still win, but in spite of Labour MPs like Jon Ashworth, argues Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

Today, Shadow Health Secretary – for Labour – Jon Ashworth stole headlines with a leaked conversation he had with a – Tory – friend.

In the tape, the Shadow Health Secretary is shown to have rubbished Labour’s chances of winning the election.

He said campaigning was ‘dire’ in Labour heartlands, where many had voted for Brexit. Who knew? This must be why Ashworth and so many of his mates in the Parliamentary Labour Party pressed Jeremy Corbyn for a second referendum.

Not that they mind losing. When asked what kind of Prime Minister Corbyn would be, he responds after a pause, saying ‘I don’t know’.

But he goes on to helpfully feed some lines that the right wing gutter press are loving:

‘On the security stuff, I worked in No 10. I think the machine will pretty quickly move to safeguard security things – I mean the civil service machine.’

What, there is a civil service machine!? Say it ain’t so! I thought that was stuff that the loony left comes out with. But, apparently, Ashworth’s worked there, and he says it exists, and it would move contrary to the democratic will of the people. I’m flabbergasted. Aren’t you?

Ashworth then gets all confessional with his Tory mate. He presents himself as the master conspirator faced with lesser tactical minds in the Parliamentary Labour Party:

‘We fucked it up in 2016 when we went too early. People like me were internally saying “this isn’t the right moment” but I got ignored.’

We can’t all be geniuses like the Shadow Health Secretary. But his friends have apparently learned their lesson, and they’re already thinking not about winning on 12th December but after. Asked if the party would remove Corbyn if it loses, Ashworth says,

‘That’s the thing that’s on our minds…I think things can change quickly; I think things change more quickly anyway now.’

That’s – Labour’s – Shadow Health Secretary. The leak comes just a day after Boris Johnson showed his contempt for ordinary people by pocketing a reporter’s phone rather than looking at the picture of four year-old Jack Williment-Barr lying on the floor of a Leeds hospital with pneumonia.

The Tories are loving this little leak of the Shadow Health Secretary. It’s a helpful distraction from their last minute woes in this election. Zac Goldsmith asks how anyone can trust Jeremy Corbyn if his Shadow Health Secretary can’t. Michael Gove tweets: ‘Jon Ashworth is a decent man, trapped in a party he knows doesn’t have the right leader.’

Ashworth denies everything of course. Not the conversation, but that he was being truthful. It was just a bit of ‘banter’ he says. He was hoodwinking his mate, you see?  

Yet his denials sound a bit convoluted:

‘Obviously, with the benefit of hindsight I’ve been too clever by half and I look like an idiot as a result of doing it…But I thought I was having a private conversation with someone who I’ve always had conversations with over the years.’

So, you would try to hoodwink someone whom you have trusted to talk to about politics over the years even though he was a Tory? Oh dear, this is really getting too Machiavellian, isn’t it?

The truth is actually far simpler. As we’ve been saying on the left, Labour enjoyed a bounce in its membership and its vote because of Jeremy Corbyn. He represented a break with the lies, deceit and betrayals of the New Labour era.

Compromises with the Jon Ashworth and his ilk in the Parliamentary Labour Party have stalled Labour. We said they would. We said, for example, that if Labour dropped its 2017 position on Brexit that it would hurt Labour’s electoral chances, and it has, as Ashworth now admits.

But let’s not throw in the towel – unlike Ashworth, the left wants a Jeremy Corbyn government. We want to stop the cuts to the NHS. We want investment for people and the environment, not profit. We want equality. We want decent housing for all. We want an end to imperialist wars.

All the signs have been that Labour has gained momentum in the polls, and Ashworth’s words will not completely obscure the image of Boris Johnson looking away from the four year old boy lying on the floor of a Leeds hospital.

We can still turn this around and there are still millions of undecided voters. It was the last week of the 2017 campaign – and the last day in particular – that saw the massive increase in the number of people opting for Labour and denying the Tories and outright majority.

But let’s be honest – the reason it’s been such a struggle is the Labour right. They’ve been wrecking since day one. The Ashworth recording shows they continue to do so. They have been quiet during this election and you can bet their hope is to lose or have a hung parliament, so that they can try to reclaim their party.

And if Labour does win, we can see what kind of a struggle Corbyn would face to implement the manifesto. The resistance would not just come from the economic establishment, the media, the right wing or even the deep state. It would also come from within the Parliamentary Labour Party.

It will take a mass movement outside Parliament to get Labour’s programme implemented, to save the NHS, and to redistribute wealth and power for the many, not the few. So what we do matters now and it will matter after 12th December. Let’s keep fighting!

Vladimir Unkovski-Korica

Vladimir Unkovski-Korica is a member of Marks21 in Serbia and a supporter of Counterfire. He is on the editorial board of LeftEast and teaches at the University of Glasgow.