Labour MPs critical of “incompetent” Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership must continue to undermine it to “recapture the party” from the hard-left before it dies, one of the party’s most popular grandees has said.
Alan Johnson, Labour MP for West Hull and Hessle, railed against the “self-righteous” leader and characterised his supporters as “tyrannical” middle-class “smart arses” who act like folk music fans who protested when Bob Dylan “went electric”.
The ex-postman, seen by many Labour MPs as the great leader the party never had, called on Corbyn-sceptics to continue to destabilise the leader’s position even if he is returned to the top job next week, as expected.
Mr Johnson told the Times: “They’ve captured the castle.
“Just as the (left-wing) Campaign group carried on year after year undermining whoever was the Labour leader to the best of their abilities, so we’ve got to do the same. We’ve got to recapture this party again, otherwise it’s dead and finished and gone.”
The former home secretary said Mr Corbyn’s performance during the EU referendum was “useless” and suggested the leader may have secretly voted to Leave because he kept altering speeches to remove references to him personally supporting Remain.
“I think he might have done,” Mr Johnson said. “I wouldn’t be surprised but he was probably more neutral.
“The hard core of Seumas Milne (Mr Corbyn’s director of communications) and the people around him, they voted to leave, and John McDonnell I’m absolutely certain. In 1975 they thought the EU was a rich man’s club and that’s still what they think.”
Mr Johnson said the adulation Mr Corbyn receives from his followers has “gone to his head” but that deep down he knows he is incapable of leading a political party.
And he tore into Mr Corbyn’s supporters, likening them to religious “true believers” in Marx, Engels and Trotsky who are not interested in power because it is a “bourgeois concept” and thought Nelson Mandela was a “sell-out”.
“It’s conducted mainly by middle-class people who are not going to feel any difference with changes of government,” he said.
“The most vociferous Corbyn supporters are in swathes of East Yorkshire and Sussex and Surrey. They live very nice lives, they are harking back to their student days when they were occupying the chancellor’s office.
“It makes me really depressed and sometimes angry when I see some smart-arse 26-year-old saying, ‘We’ve always felt the Labour Party is a place of nasty Blairites but now Jeremy is there we’ve decided to give them the honour of our membership’.”
Mr Johnson added: “It’s worse than self-indulgent, it’s... tyrannical.
“Loads of people get together and shout and scream at anyone who doesn’t believe. When you say at a meeting, ‘Tony Blair was a great prime minister’, or mention Harriet Harman, they boo.
“I used to go to loads of really tough union meetings, telling Liverpool strikers to go back to work. They always listened, they never booed.”