The sheer number of explosive events, all crammed into a two-and-a-half year period, is brought home in cruel clarity. Left Out begins, as so many political books do, with that moment on general election night when the exit poll is revealed. In this case, we start with Corbyn’s Waterloo, December 12 2019, and his and his staff’s reactions to the news that Boris Johnson had won an 80-seat majority – with Labour reduced to just over 200 seats. But that is no more than a prologue. In the very next chapter the real narrative begins, with another election night, a very different one: June 2017.
The account in Left Out of what happened next is told with panache and pace by journalists Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire. The narrative begins with the hubris of the general election of 2017 — when Labour made surprise gains — and ends with the collapse of the Corbyn era in last December’s epic election defeat. To mangle the words of Corbyn’s hero Karl Marx, it is a history replete with tragedy and farce, giving an inside-the-room feeling of the final months of “The Project”. It also reads as the latest proof that Corbyn — always happiest shouting passionately from a podium — was out of his depth in the impenetrable hall of mirrors that was Brexit.
Left Out is a meticulous and even-handed telling of Labour’s descent from 2017 to 2019, transparently modelled on the recent bestsellers All Out Warand Fall Out by the Sunday Times’s political editor Tim Shipman – but where those books centred on Tory dramas of power and political success, this one is all about failure. The book’s detailed accounts of tension, fallings-out and the ingrained fondness for factional warfare on all sides of the Labour party often rock along. But for any casual reader, its main problem will be a surfeit of characters who have since slipped into irrelevance – from the Guardiancolumnist turned “director of strategy and communications” Seumas Milne, through Corbyn’s evidently fearsome chief of staff Karie Murphy, to an array of minor players who bounce in and out of the text.
The saga of Corbyn’s refusal to adopt the standard definition of antisemitism is well told and instructive. Corbyn had been a protester and a position-taker, not a politician, and it is a little sad to watch him become an increasingly intransigent and peevish figure as the story unfolds. Pogrund and Maguire’s book, in the end, vindicates those of us who regarded Corbyn as a leftist indulgence from the beginning. Maybe, as time passes, the election of 2017 will look like an exception to the rules rather than the crafting of a new political law. In their excellent epilogue the authors draw back the lens and offer a calm and acute analysis of the Corbyn Project.