Andrew Harrop is the General Secretary of the Fabian Society – a socialist think tank, partnered with the Labour Party. As I got the opportunity to interview Harrop, I asked him about Jeremy Corbyn, Brexit and anti-Semitism within Labour.
The 2017 general election, just two and a half years ago, is often claimed as a victory for Labour. But, of course, they lost the election – they did better than expected, but the Conservatives were still the largest party. When I asked Harrop what went wrong, he was quick to tell me that a lot went right. When pressed, he told me that “Jeremy Corbyn was an alienating and polarising figure as well as a popular figure with some groups”. That much is true – Corbyn is a divisive leader, a Marmite figure, who can’t seem to win elections that aren’t inside his own party.
Harrop blamed the loss of support in Scotland in 2015 for Labour’s electoral failures in recent years, saying that the biggest event for the party recently was “losing Scotland to the SNP”. He described this as the party “losing one of its bastions”. He’s not wrong – Labour will not be able to win the upcoming general election without winning back seats in Scotland. Of course, this is unlikely, suggesting that the vote on 12th December is a forgone conclusion.
This election campaign is short, and so Harrop seems to have accepted Labour as a party with many flaws – flaws which can’t be fixed before polling day. Describing Corbyn as a “very controversial leader”, the think-tank boss told me that “none of that is gonna change within the next three weeks.” It seems to me that Harrop is deeply uncomfortable with Jeremy Corbyn leading the Labour Party but has accepted that he’s here to stay.
On Brexit, Andrew Harrop told me that the “country is divided” and that Labour need to heal some of these divisions. Perhaps this is what the party is trying to do with its policy on a second referendum. The problem with this idea is that the party’s policy on Brexit may be clear now, but has been fudged for so long that Labour has lost its credibility on the issue. When asked how Jeremy Corbyn voted, Harrop told me that the “by instinct, he is a Eurosceptic/soft Brexiteer” – hardly a passionate voice for Remain that many in his party are longing for.
This election is, of course, the Brexit election. Corbyn is up against the face of the Leave campaign – Boris Johnson. When asked which leader is more charming, Harrop told me that “Boris is charming but untrustworthy” and that he would “rather have a raucous night out with Boris than Jeremy but that is not the right test of who can be a Prime Minister." I am left wondering if Harrop has ever been for a raucous night out with Corbyn. I’m not sure I’d want to share a fishbowl with either of the party leaders!
Corbyn’s tenure as Labour Party leader has been characterised by a prolonged failure to deal with the evil scourge of anti-Semitism within his party. I asked Harrop if Corbyn is an anti-Semite or a facilitator of racism. He took a moment to think, before saying slowly, “he has been in a close-knit world of people who do not take anti-Semitism seriously enough and that probably includes some people who are overtly anti-Semitic.” Hardly a glowing review for the leader of the traditionally anti-racist party. Harrop summed up the topic by arguing that Corbyn is “tone deaf to some issues” – it is clear that anti-Semitism is just one of these issues.
I finished the interview by asking Harrop if Labour could win the upcoming general election. He told he’s “as sure as is possible to be that Corbyn won’t win an absolute majority”, mainly because of his lack of support in Scotland. Andrew Harrop went on to deliver a talk to the Warwick Politics Society, where he said the most pertinent thing about Corbyn I have heard in a long time – that he wants to retire. I think that is true. Perhaps after the election in three weeks’ time, the 70-year-old Labour leader can retire to his allotment. But stranger things happen at sea.