Saturday 17 October 2015

Whither the Blairite Rebellion?

It wasn't their finest hour. As Labour MPs filed through the no lobby Wednesday evening to vote against George Osborne's budget surplus wheeze, 21 of our number sat on their hands. These included Liz Kendall, late of the Labour leadership contest, a couple of former front benchers, and backbench loyalists-no-longer like Mike Gapes. In all, their showing was fewer than expected as most noted 4.5%ers fell in behind the leadership. The question, not answered by our Jacobin Blairist tendency, is what on Earth were they trying to achieve? Why were they moved to vote, or not vote, as they did?

When it looked obvious that Jeremy was going to win, a number of MPs - you know who you are - made tart remarks about his rebellious record and whinged to the media that they would show the new leadership as much loyalty Jeremy had shown Blair and Brown. Good grief, I know the chamber is often likened to a playground, but the honourable members are sometimes expected to act like grown-ups. Whatever one thinks of Jeremy and his politics, every knows he is a principled man and has always voted in accordance with his views. He didn't vote against the whip set by His Royal Blairness out of pique or bloody-mindedness, but because Blair sometimes demanded his party push through policies that were wrong, damaged our people, and by extension, our party and movement. Granted, this week's abstainers have very different politics, but what principled stand were they making? That Labour should share Osborne's ideological commitment to a public sector starved of funds? That further austerity is the right and proper response to spiralling debt? Or were they protesting the, how shall we say, haphazard handling of the party's position on the issue? If it's the former, then they're giving grist to the newbies by the bucket load. And if it's the latter, they just look petty-minded.

A word of advice for our 21 friends. Okay, we get it. You think what's happened to the Labour Party is a catastrophe. Unfortunately for you and your politics, an absolute majority of members think differently - and those numbers are swelling by the day. Nevertheless, one would assume you'd quite like to make a comeback. You may have written 2020 off but all your instincts are telling you that the pendulum is bound to swing back into political territory you're more comfortable with eventually. How then to prepare yourself for this eventuality? Do you a) rub the membership up the wrong way by continually rebelling against their views and marginalising your politics further, or b) draw on the election-winning creds you claim are uniquely yours and start thinking strategically about your predicament. Ask yourselves, is it better to openly set out your stall and accept party discipline when contentious matters come to the vote with a view to persuading members of the merits of your views, or is the purity of positioning - a weird reverse of revolutionary identity politics - all that matters and damn the consequences?

It's no skin off my nose. Their politics aren't my politics. But they can't say they haven't been warned.


SpiritSkill said...

It's fair enough to say that Michael Gapes and Frank Field didn't explain their abstentions in these terms. Michael Gapes explained it in terms of a balanced budget being the correct approach - which only goes to show that backbench Labour MPs know as much about macroeconomics as the Conservative party frontbench.

On the whole, though, I think you are being a little too charitable. The view of a number of Labour MPs - and it may be quite a large number - is that Corbyn's leadership needs to be seen to fail and fail badly. But of course they only take that view for the good of the party and the country....

Paul Nightingale said...

It seems that some MPs (and other 'senior party figures') haven't just written off the 2020 election, they look forward to a Labour defeat so they can say, 'We told you so'. A self-fulfilling prophecy that suggests defeating the left is more important than defeating the Tories.

My take on the politics of the playground:

jim mclean said...

Frank Field is a law unto himself, a bit like one of Major's Bastards.

asquith said...

And your erstwhile friend Tristram!

Gary Elsby said...

Now we know why Constituencies should choose their own MPs and therefore send their voice to London and not have a London voice imposed of which they know what is to be said.

Ho fucking hum!

The penny fucking drops

Halla fucking lulliha!

This is a reason why stoke central members asked me to protest by standing in that election against (for them) the imposed candidate.
Wrong is the belief that I acted alone.
Right is the belief of 'Newsnight' broadcast from Stoke 24 hours before I resigned setting out this plan.

Anonymous said...

I'm always cautious about commentators, like Phil and Spiritskill above, who claim to "know" other people's motivations.

If it's admirable, as Phil suggests, that Jeremy Corbyn to vote "in accordance with his views", why is it wrong for others to do so? In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, we must assume that the "rebels" did indeed vote in accordance with their views, no matter how much we might disagree with them.

I'm a great admirer of Jeremy Corbyn's broad church approach to policy issues, and I'm disappointed that those who may from time to time disagree with him should be so vilified.

SpiritSkill said...

In defence of my broader point I do follow John Woodcock on twitter - there is something other than "from time to time" disgreeing going on there.

Phil said...

I don't claim to know anyone's motivations, Anonymous. I construct what I believe those motivations to be from the actions and voting records of politicians. If I'm way off beam I'd be frequently proved wrong. Alas, at the risk of blowing my own trumpet, that tends to be the exception rather than the rule.