Jeremy Corbyn learnt that he was going to lose the 2019 general election – and lose badly – three months before a single vote was cast. The results of a massive YouGov poll were divulged to a meeting of senior Labour figures during the party’s Brighton conference in September. And yet, when Boris Johnson sought Corbyn’s support for a snap poll to resolve the Brexit impasse, Corbyn said yes.
Left Out, by journalists Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire, is brimming with such jaw-dropping moments, forensically gleaned from interviews with virtually all the leading characters from this extraordinary political period. The book is not a history of Corbyn’s leadership, nor is it intended to be; rather, it is an entertaining and immensely readable record of events following Labour’s “almost victory” in June 2017, culminating in the election of Keir Starmer as Corbyn’s successor in April 2020.
The task of retelling recent events has its own challenges. A general consensus has not yet had time to emerge; the scars and grudges, as captured magnificently by Pogrund and Maguire, are still fresh. But the authors are able to provide not only reminiscences from figures who were, while in the thick of it, famously reticent to speak in public – Corbyn’s chief of staff Karie Murphy and senior adviser Andrew Murray, for example – but also, crucially, a juicy record of emails, texts and private tweets, to and from the chief combatants.
Their motives for holding on to such evidence until now is directly related to another strength of the book: angry, abusive or otherwise explosive communications were undoubtedly retained so that, when the time came, the senders and recipients could establish their motives or innocence on the record. With Left Out, that time has come. The authors don’t attempt to take sides in the brutal internal divisions that followed Corbyn’s election as Labour leader and the almost constant warfare he was forced to wage to hold on to that position. Instead, they give ample space to both sides, adding only the necessary factual context to allow readers to make up their own minds.
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.
How Jeremy Corbyn went from prime minister presumptive – the “moral” victor of that earlier contest, unexpectedly depriving Theresa May of her parliamentary majority and inviting heated speculation that he would himself be entering Number 10 within weeks – to washed-up, Left-wing relic bequeathing a demoralised and defenestrated party to his successor, is as sensational a tale as any TV drama (and it probably will become one).
The recollections of the main players are all the more honest because the events in question are in the past, and what matters now is how history reports them. So we are treated to a thorough exploration of the attempt by Corbyn and his staff to “delete” deputy leader Tom Watson (a phrase coined by Momentum’s Jon Lansman) as punishment for his defiant continued support of a second EU referendum and unapologetic championing of the Remain case.
It was Corbyn, say Pogrund and Maguire, who first demanded that Watson be removed as deputy, and it was Corbyn who, a few weeks later – and too late to stop the conspiracy coming to a calamitous conclusion – insisted on abandoning the project. We are also reminded in excruciating detail of the pivotal moment in 2018 when Corbyn’s ill-judged response to the poisoning by Russian agents of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury led to a fresh bout of internal criticism – and the beginning of the end of voters’ brief flirtation with his brand of Left-wing rule. From that point, the story had only one likely ending.
It was one of the most remarkable periods in British political history, and Left Out is an objective, fact-packed and fascinating record of it.
Left Out by Gabriel Pogrund and Patrick Maguire is published by Bodley Head at £18.99. Call 0844 871 1514 or visit Telegraph Books