by W Stephen Gilbert
Hands up if you know what a Trot is. Could you recognise one at thirty paces? Could you confidently engage her on the matter of dialectical materialism? Would you, having lost the argument, leave the room if she instructed you to?
Yes, the bogeymen are back. Tom Watson, who was (as I understood it) elected deputy leader of the Labour Party because he was smart enough to take it to the Tories, has heard the stirrings of reds under the bed and cannot sleep for worry.
It’s very hard to keep a straight face in the face of this farce. John Harris wrote a hilarious account of his time as a weepy 16 year-old Labour youth being upbraided by Trots because he hadn’t done his homework, something any teenager can identify with. In the time-honoured manner, he goes for the ad hominem attack rather than a policy or strategy argument. So the Trots are guilty of “trademark displays of righteous belligerence”. I once heard Harris on Any Questions? and the words ‘pot’, ‘kettle’ and ‘black’ spring to mind. (As far as I know, he’s never been invited back). But if you start looking for “righteous belligerence” among Corbyn’s critics, you can write off the weekend.
‘Trot’ is one of those handy terms that preclude thought. As with ‘fascist’ and ‘racist’ and ‘chav’ and ‘perv’, it invites a kneejerk response of “I know what you mean” without any examination having to take place. Indeed, in Watson’s demonology, ‘Trots’ shades into ‘pervs’ because, as he alleges, impressionable young recruits to Labour and especially to Momentum are being ‘groomed’ – not the word he uses but the image he intends – by wicked old lefties who have designs on their inclinations.
Watson has presented Corbyn with a “dossier” – oh, the terminology takes you back; we’ll have depositions next – that “proves” Trotskyists are using “entryism” to take control of the Labour Party. Following the links that Watson provides, one finds that the most striking thing on the various websites is the lack of any mention of Leon Trotsky anywhere. What the cited groupings highlight and share is Socialism. I may be mistaken, but I thought the Labour Party was in the business of supporting Socialism, at least until Tony Blair became its leader, at which point it became a supporter of Thatcherism.
The Watson dossier – I shall henceforth call it the Wossier – of course proves nothing. It tries to recreate the perfervid atmosphere in which the dauntless Neil Kinnock took on the might of Liverpool scallywags more than thirty years ago. Something Watson might usefully create is a second Wossier about the entryism of rightwing spoilers into the Labour Party responding to Lord Kinnock’s call for people to join the party in order to defeat its democratically elected leader, a piece of political malice not even perpetrated by that bitter old loser Ted Heath against Margaret Thatcher.
Thoughtful people will instantly recognise the Wossier for what it is, a howitzer in the propaganda war. But it had better not be discounted because of that. Watson needs to be challenged to stand up his argument: name names, name CLPs, give a credible estimate of the extent of the “problem”. The media will gleefully demonise anyone he does name, but the tools available for countering that are much more extensive now. Big crowds can be summoned by text and email at no notice. Social media can circulate counterarguments and ridicule at great speed as well as far and wide. Petitions can rack up huge numbers of signatures overnight: I launched an on-line petition telling Ian McNicol that Corbyn had to be on the leadership ballot (one of several on that theme) and it had 10,000 supporters in four days.
Whereas the number of genuine Trotskyites in the Labour Party would almost certainly fail to fill a small committee room, the number of those who admire Corbyn remains legion. The more desperate the malcontents become, the more determined Corbyn and his supporters grow. That’s the important thing.
-  ‘If Trotsky is back at the centre of things, there’s chaos ahead’ [The Guardian August 12th]
-  ‘Tom Watson Sends Dossier Of Hard-Left Entryism to Jeremy Corbyn’ [Huffington Post August 10th. The dossier is reproduced on the website]
-  Asked what her greatest achievement was, Thatcher said “Tony Blair and New Labour. We forced our opponents to change their minds” [Speech in Hampshire 2002]
-  Thatcher incidentally was universally derided as “unelectable” when she became Tory Party leader in 1975 and was thought of as no more than a stopgap.