Yesterday was another ‘historic’ day in British politics. The last 3 weeks seems have thrown up plenty of them. Today we see the Tory party install a new leader, and of course our new PM, in less than the 3 weeks since the EU referendum.
But over at the new Labour HQ the party was showing how not to run a party never mind run a country. For those following proceedings on Twitter it felt as though the C4 reporter Micheal Crick was hiding under the table with his blow by blow account of the 7 hour marathon meeting. I guess most people have never heard of the NEC of the Labour Party. I am pretty sure that most Labour members don’t spend too much time agonising over the NEC ballot that comes around every year. I suspect they will be paying a bit more attention after this weeks events.
My old MEP friend Mel Read was very fond of reminding us that the Labour Party’s love for meetings would probably mean we would be on matters arising when the revolution finally happened.
The debate at the meeting largely hinged on the question of whether Jeremey Corbyn – as the current leader of he Labour Part -would automatically be included on the ballot paper now that a properly constructed and democratic challenge had been made to his leadership by Angela Eagle MP. (more of her and the attacks on her later). There appeared to be differing legal advice. Well that’s a shock. Of course there is. Legal advice is just opinion, but usually based on a few facts and some longer words. So effectively as we all knew the vote was going to be political rather than legal. It was really important for Corbyn because it was highly unlikely that he could have secured enough nominations from the PLP – MPs / MEPs to get his name onto the ballot paper.
So why should a healthy Labour leadership election even raise the prospect of a bitter fight, and even generate discussion about a possible split.? This is more than a battle for Corbyn, it is a battle for the soul of the party and what is stands for.
As I wrote yesterday the Party is a broad church that like most parties is a coalition of views. Usually it is the job of the Leader to hold that balance and tension and ‘lead’ what is basically a dysfunctional organistion. It is the same for the Tories and Lib Dems. Quite often though leaders with ideological differences are accepted if they look like they can win for their Party. Labour never fell in love with Blair but liked the fact that he could win elections. The Tories ‘tolerated’ Cameron because he led them back from the wilderness and into power in 2015. Ask most of his backbencher and there won’t be much love for him.
Corbyn, the left and his praetorian guard Momentum, break this mould. They are not interested in creating a coalition of views to build a movement and a party of government. They don’t even convince me they are interested in winning or learning about winning. They have a world view (that has currently lost 3m of the voter we got in the disasterous 2015 election according to internal reports) which they will campaign for people to vote for regardless of the views of the electorate. They blame everybody else for their problems. The reason they are stuck 8% behind in the polls, despite the Tory government in chaos, is not their fault, but the right wing media, Labour MPs, false consciousness. Basically anything but the fact that JC and the direction he is taking the party is not popular outside the narrow base of his supporters. I still believe that in a general election Corbyn could struggle to get more than 25-27% of the vote. Under a FPTP system this could lead to meltdown for Labour.
So why does this mean the party is in danger? The non-Corbynites who want to win elections see that this situation cannot continue for another 4 years. There is too much at stake for this experiment to carry on for too long, putting the Party in a position it could take decades to recover from. That’s is why MP, MEPs, Councillors, party members previous Leaders and Prime Minister have all unified to call on JC to resign. In response see the report below.
This is the new gentler kind of politics and what we can expect of this leadership election. If we can’t conduct ourselves better than this why should we be trusted with forming a government. The Gentler Politics of Corbyn.
So as we head into a leadership election over the summer the battle lines are drawn. If you are not *with* Corbyn you are either a Blairite, careerist, Red Tory, scum, traitor, etc etc. Intellectual debate has been replaced by online bullying, abuse, shouting and sloganeering. It is all quite deliberate and lots of nice people are being used to allow this to carry on. Amongst Corbyn supporters in the wider party most would also condemn this behaviour but those close to Corbyn and those who have perpetrated this takeover of the party know exactly what it is all about.
But surely even these disagreements are not enough for a split? I hope so, but I can understand those who wonder what future there is for a hard left Labour Party being run by the people who surround Corbyn if he wins a second and therefore unchallengeable mandate in this leadership election. It will not be the Labour Party I have been a member of for 33 years.
For the PLP who have just shown they have no confidence in Jeremy it I’ll be an untenable relationship. He has proved he is pretty poor at the job already. I can’t see that changing. So if he wins again (which given the make up of the party these days is likely) there are some fundamental differences that cannot be reconciled. There are a series of scenarios which then play out – none of them satisfactory!
The PLP could show no confidence again in JC and ask the speaker to recognise an alternate group of Laour MPs as the official opposition inside parliament (It is disputable whether this could or count happen but we live in strange times!) At this time they could look to create a new party. The key reason I think and hope this is unlikely is that the ‘assets’ and name Labour would remain with the leadership and history of splits with the SDP in the 1980s is not a good precedent. On the flip side politics is very fluid and the level of discontent is high. As UKIP have shown it is possible to breakthrough where there is a PR system (as in Wales and Europe). The FPTP system always is a block for those contemplating new parties. The 4 m UKIP votes in 2015 wielded just 1 MP.
I am personally going nowhere. Even if it does take a decade for people to realise that JC is electorally a distasterous route destined to lose and that allows another decade of Tory rule. I fear for many that this is too comfortable for them. Having a party of rallies and protest is fun for them. The idea of having to compromise to gain power and work in the interests of all the people in the UK is beyond them. Fine. If you like protest find an avenue for that – but don’t destroy the Labour Party and its chance to win elections and put into place any form of progressive politics and policies.
The future of the Labour Party is on a knife edge over the Summer of this leadership election. It is possible for parties to become irrelevant. At the moment it’s feels impossible to predict politics beyond teatime, never mind over the next decade. But I can’t help feel that as Tom Watson said “The party is in a existential crisis” and remain there for the foreseeable future.
(Please forgive all typos etc – quick draft posted without full checking to keep up with the news cycle!)
Postscript – message from 1960 Conference from Hugh Gaitskell – and why this is a long term battle and one not to shy away from