As the PLP began to unravel last night - within earshot of journalists, much to the chagrin of certain MPs - I found myself recalling a theory coined by the American sportswriter Bill Simmons: ‘The Tyson Zone.’ In a reader mailbag question, one Brendan Quinn (Philadelphia, PA) set out the following parameters: if a friend said, “Did you hear that (fill in celebrity's name) just (fill in the insane behavior: urinated on a police officer, began breeding unicorns, etc.)?” I would have no problem believing it was true. Simmons swiftly endorsed the idea, and christened this rarified level of personal turbulence ‘The Tyson Zone,’ as a nod to the mind-boggling antics of Iron Mike in his pomp. It’s not a particularly large stretch to posit that the Corbyn regime is, if not smack-bang in the centre of The Tyson Zone, at the very least zone-adjacent.
The sheer magnitude of Labour’s disarray has led political observers into previously unchartered territory. In the good old days, were a party to endure such forehead-slapping missteps and rancorous dissent on a daily basis, the commentariat would have taken to them like hyenas to a hobbled antelope. For Labour’s latest incarnation, however, ‘daily’ would be a drastic improvement. Under Jeremy Corbyn, the latest incredible blunder is never more than a few hours away. Take last night’s PLP meeting, for example. Reports of slanging matches and discord were leaking - via thin walls or surreptitious texts - faster than the journalists outside could tweet them to the masses. (On a side note, if Corbyn wants to get the political media onside, then positioning a supply of plasters for blistered fingers outside next week’s meeting wouldn't be a bad start.)
Yesterday swiftly became the Labour schism show: if it wasn’t Tom Watson arrogantly refusing to apologise to Leon Brittan’s family, it was John McDonnell performing a stunning - and, according to some reports - completely undiscussed U-turn on fiscal policy. When Corbyn wasn’t being lambasted by a backbencher about a lack of clarity on policies, Diane Abbott was being raked over the coals for her pugnacious Twitter manner. Richard Burgon’s defence of the sinister ‘Momentum’ movement was described by one Labour MP as “career-ending.” All this in the space of a few hours. Ben Bradshaw, as he left the PLP meeting, left a succinct evaluation lingering in the air: “a total f***ing shambles.” Quite.
Unfortunately (for Labour, anyway) yesterday was not a one-off meltdown, and the disharmony continued today. Mike Gapes - one of the more rational figures on the Left these days - spent most of his morning fending off malevolent CyberTrots after he audaciously spoke his mind about Labour’s chaotic state. It’s a shame, as he was offering the sort of uncomfortable home truths that the Left desperately need to hear: “There is now no collective Shadow cabinet responsibility in our Party, no clarity on economic policy and no credible leadership.” This morning also brought with it a bizarre performance from Diane Abbott on the Today programme, as she tried to defend John McDonnell’s complete one-eighty on the fiscal charter - apparently none of the shadow treasury team deemed it appearance-worthy. If Labour view Abbott as their go-to calming voice of reason, then the inmates truly have wrested control of the asylum.
Which brings us back to The Tyson Zone. Take a moment; close your eyes. Imagine just how ridiculous a rumour about the Corbyn administration would have to be for you to instinctively dismiss it. One could be forgiven for wondering whether the cupboards of Corbyn and McDonnell bear Narnia-like properties, given the incomprehensible volume of skeletons that continue to emerge from them. Nothing seems off the table when it comes to past transgressions or current incidents. This morning, upon reading a rumour that Corbyn himself had no idea that McDonnell was going to reverse his position on fiscal policy, I nodded and said to myself: “that sounds about right.”
If a journalist suggested that Corbyn had enjoyed tea with an IRA bomb suspect whilst chatting about the latest issue of Rail magazine, I wouldn't bat an eyelid. If there were whispers that McDonnell was planning on proposing a 90% tax bracket and a forced land grab from anyone with a title, it wouldn’t surprise me in the slightest. If, after next Monday’s PLP, an anonymous Labour MP leaked that Jess Phillips had suplexed Diane Abbott through a table… well you get the point. Welcome to The Corbyn Zone, ladies and gentlemen: it’s going to be a bumpy ride.