Friday, 13 November 2015

Navigating Our Divided PLP

Is the Labour Party divided? Of course it is. But divided doesn't necessarily mean at each others' throats, at least some of the time. As divisions have been the theme of the week, it's time to quickly cast one's eye over the Parliamentary Labour Party and discern what groups are emerging among this most august of bodies.

1. The 4.5%ers These aren't everyone who backed the blessed Liz, but rather the headbangers that outright refuse to reconcile themselves to the new regime. Caution was thrown to the wind long ago as all that matters is the removal of Jeremy and all his works. The chief offender, of course, is our friend Simon Danczuk. While, wisely, other 4.5%ers put clear water between him and them, his behaviour exemplifies everything this tendency stands for. An over-inflated sense of self-importance, a conceit that he uniquely knows what Labour people want, a deeply impoverished political imagination, and absolutely no interest in seeing the party do well. He fires off his well remunerated Mail on Sunday column each week with broadsides aimed at the new leadership and, by extension, the majority of members who voted for him, and he's uninterested in fighting the factional fight. This is his opportunity to make a name and, more importantly, some cash. After all, he's going to have a hefty bill to foot once the Child Support Agency catch up with him.

While not as plainly self-serving as Danczuk, the rest of the 4.5%ers seem utterly lost. They have no strategy for taking back the party, so they're reduced to ill-judged remarks and cack-handed interventions that almost appear designed to alienate potential supporters. Remember, these are the people styling themselves as the election-winning specialists - and they can't even get building support - the most basic of factional ABC's - right.

2. The Corbyn Sceptics Probably the largest section of the PLP, the sceptics believe Labour doesn't have a hope winning with the present leadership. Unlike their 4.5% compadres, with whom they may share many political positions and basic outlooks, they have the strategic sense to realise that if the party is going to be won back over, the game ahead is long. There is no strategy as such, yet, but one is beginning to emerge. Liam Byrne's speech was the first proper, thought out intervention in this area. He articulated a critique of Corbynomics while stipulating an alternative that was not neoliberal (indeed, its death was proclaimed), nor as left as Jeremy's plans, but nonetheless a coherent and much more preferable alternative to the thin gruel served up by Dave and Osborne. And this is the right tack to take. When your politics have been routed, the road back means winning the intellectual battle and forging a vision. I would expect similar pitches from a variety of figures in the coming months as the proliferation of groupings like Red Shift and Labour Together set out their manifestos.

Yet at the same time, this collection of MPs are not happy with the antics of the 4.5%. Whatever they do is bound to reflect on them. Because it was Blairites - in the main - who defied the whip over Osborne's budget surplus stunt, the rest get tarred with the same brush, even though the bulk of them remained loyal. This group know that they need to charm the members and win the battle of ideas. Open opposition and outright destabilisation is but a recipe for a future 'stab in the back' myth, should Jeremy be seen not to deliver election victories. And we know from history how powerful that kind of story can be. Careful, careful, is the Sceptics' watchword.

3. The Go-With-The-Flows There is some travel between this group and the sceptics. They might be critical of Jeremy and, likewise, believe he's not going to win an election, but are cogniscent of the fact that he is the memberships' choice (since swelled by tens of thousands of Corbyn supporters) he deserves a fair crack of the whip. Andy Burnham, Angela Eagle, Tom Watson, and Hillary Benn, despite their public disagreements with Jeremy, are probably the leading figures of this tendency within the PLP. They will continue to state their own positions, but are highly unlikely to lead a rebellion or organise opposition. If you like, these are "proper party people" who, whatever you might think of them, believe the party comes first and will acquit their duties accordingly.

The relationship between this group and Corbynism is quite complex. Sceptical, yes, but they recognise that the huge influx of new members presents an opportunity for the party to renew itself. While some of this wave will dissipate in time, particularly those for whom politics is a keyboard as opposed to a physical pursuit, they believe experience will moderate their views - and this is more likely if the PLP has a constructive as opposed to antagonistic relationship with the new arrivals.

4. The Corbynistas The smallest group of all, of course. Yet their weakness is backed by their huge majority among the membership and, so far, my summer prediction that this reality would act as a disciplining mechanism on the PLP has borne out. Whether this will be the case should Labour be afflicted by poor election results and dogged by dismal polling remains to be seen. That said, it's hard to imagine Jeremy stepping down any time between now and 2020. After all, it's not every day the Labour left capture the party's leadership.


SpiritSkill said...

Now and 2020

Anonymous said...

Perhaps, it's "between now and the end of 2015".

That's probably right but I'll wait until the Oldham by election result to get an indication of how popular his leadership is.

The Economist has written about Oldham here -

John R