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After Labour’s victory in the Stoke-on-Trent by-election and defeat in Copeland, there have been mutterings from hostile factions of the Parliamentary Labour Party that this is the end Corbyn’s tenure – but as McDonnell notes, this is complete and utter fabrication and an attempt to destabilise the leadership of the party. McDonnell goes on to explain the strategy of the coup plotters in response to their disgraced leadership challenge last year:
The coup is not being waged up front in public but strictly behind the scenes. Having learned the lesson of the last coup attempt – that a direct attack on Jeremy and his policies will provoke a backlash from many party members – the coup perpetrators are this time round pursuing a covert strategy.
The aim of these covert coup plotters is to undermine the support Jeremy has secured among Labour Party members, and also importantly to undermine support from Labour voters. Undermining support for Jeremy from Labour voters is important to the plotters because their objective is to ensure Jeremy trails in the polls and can’t win elections. In this way they can destroy morale among party members and their confidence in him.
This covert strategy will be familiar with many Corbyn supporters and Labour Party members, especially those on social media. Briefings from ‘Labour sources’ to journalists must be taken with a pinch of salt, as the motives behind these briefings are often anti-Corbyn and almost always either hyperbolic or completely fabricated. McDonnell then outlines this covert strategy in more detail:
The tactics include daily and constant behind-the-scenes non-attributable briefings against Jeremy and his Shadow Cabinet every time he or his shadow ministers make a statement, intervene in Parliament or launch a policy. The plotters use every opportunity to chip away at Jeremy’s standing to seek to demean him and undermine support for him in the Labour Party and among Labour supporters.
This constant barrage of negative briefings also crowds out any positive initiatives or narrative from Jeremy and his team. It also feeds and confirms in the public’s mind that the Labour Party is split. The plotters are effective in distorting the media coverage because they have extensive contacts and allies in the media, many inherited from Mandelson’s days.
Interestingly, McDonnell’s mention of Mandelson corroborates the theory that he is ‘working every day’ to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. His intervention, along with Tony Blair’s, were timed to damage Corbyn and Labour at the ballot box ahead of two key by-elections in constituencies that voted to leave the European Union.
The Shadow Chancellor then slams the fake news stories put out by the Murdoch press that Jeremy Corbyn was planning to stand down as leader. The story, which McDonnell said was “completely untrue and absolute fiction”, was still given significant airtime and column inches by the BBC, The Sun and The Times, even after it was vehemently denied by the Labour leadership’s office. The purpose of McDonnell’s article was to give party members the full story after a fortnight of incredibly negative press coverage for Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party:
This was a classic negative story framing and transmission exercise. It is just one example of what we confront on a weekly and at times almost daily basis.
It is vitally important that our supporters understand and appreciate what we are facing. What we are experiencing is completely predictable and expected. Spreading that understanding of what we are up against enables us all to organise how we can fight back and overcome the soft coup strategy.
It is evident that Corbyn and the Labour leadership need their supporters in the Labour Party to condemn the soft coup immediately, and to rebut the misinformation and destabilising narratives that have emerged from it thus far. In order for the Corbyn project to succeed, it must tackle the root cause of this new #ChickenCoup: those in the Parliamentary Labour Party who would rather see the party fail than succeed with Jeremy Corbyn as their leader.