Saturday 30 July 2016

Splitting the Labour Party

It was with wry amusement when I read in this morning's Telegraph that "senior figures" in the Labour Party (all anonymous, of course) are working through the possibility of usurping the front bench and laying legal claim to the party's name and assets should Citizen Smith fail in his leadership bid. The paper says that they plan to set up their own alternative shadow cabinet to challenge the Tories and, via parliamentary chicanery, get the Speaker to designate them the official opposition.

Colour me sceptical. Advocates of this shadow shadow cabinet were all over the media last Autumn and Winter saying they were going to do this, and it didn't happen. Far from offering a credible opposition to the Tories over and above the 'official' shadcab's efforts, they instead took the easy route and spent most of the last year moaning to the media. An approach unlikely to win them many friends among long-standing members practiced at shutting up in the name of party unity. And if indeed they have been offering proper opposition, from outside the Westminster echo chamber there was no sign whatsoever it cut through.

The second part is, of course, the legal challenge. At least no Labour MP publicly backed Mike Foster's challenge against Jeremy's right to be on ballot paper without PLP nominations. But a few would have smarted as an entirely sensible judgement affirming the clear rules about procedures was handed down. By that token, how do they suppose a legal challenge to acquire the party's property and name would succeed? Saying, for argument's sake, you have the majority of MPs in your corner and Bercow extends you the title of official opposition. From a legal point of view, which would in all likelihood affirm party rules as they stand because they already have done so, shenanigans in Parliament cannot entitle them to the rest of the party. It doesn't stand up, and quite rightly so.

The most telling thing about the perennial Jez oppositionists in the PLP is not so much their politics but a lack of sense on how to do politics. This isn't because they're especially thick, though you might suggest they lack imagination. They came into politics and acquired their seats during a quiescent period where politics was an elite sport. The masses had to be consulted every so often, and an occasional manifestation of extra parliamentary pressure flattered and/or patronised, but the game as it played out in Labour was marked by an absence of mass involvement. That has now changed utterly, and many MPs find themselves out of sorts, bewildered, and frightened. This, ultimately, is why the coup failed. Like the plotters who tried to topple Erdogan and the villains from the Hatton Garden heist, all of whom proceeded as if it was the 1980s, when the rebellion was launched it was from entirely within the parliamentary game. They had not used the previous nine months to recruit an army of "moderate" new members that would give them a base in the wider party. And nor did they even try and consult with general secretaries of the affiliated trade unions. Without them, Jeremy would have been toast. With theirs and members' backing, he was never going to resign.

And so it will prove with this splittist wheeze. It doesn't matter if they carry 100 MPs out of the party. Without the unions, the money and social ballast that brings, without the members who are no longer satisfied with just being leafleting and door knocking fodder, and most crucially without a social base in wider society, there is nothing at all going for them. The facts are Jeremy won last year, and he will win again this year. The members, rightly, have the final say. The MPs have a duty and are expected by the party to try and make it work. Jeremy might not be competent (of which more another time), but those who machinate against him have hardly convinced as capable sets of hands.


Metatone said...

I muttered on Twitter, I expect some kind of split after a likely Corbyn victory, because so many bridges have been burned.

I rather expect that most the unions will stay with Labour and Sainsbury and the odd union will go with the new SDP...

Think you're dead on about the failure of the PLP rebels to build any kind of power base.
The ineptitude of not even getting some unions clearly on side really boggles my mind.
I find it really hard not to call it "thick." I can see an elite delusion amongst MPs that the members don't matter as a product of the Blair years, but the unions have always been an important source of money and influence. If you couldn't see that from the Ed vs David leadership election it really looks "thick."

Paul Ewart said...

You're too kind. They are thick.
As I understand it, they've already sought legal advice re the party name and didn't like the answer. That's why The Telegraph apart, it's gone quiet on the splitting front: they are nothing without the Labour brand.
How they have the nerve to criticise Corbyn's competence is beyond me given the ineptitude they've displayed. I saw someone describe Heidi Alexander as a 'big hitter' yesterday. The truth is, there are no big beasts left in the party, but back to the coup: all they had to do was wait for two years before arguing that the polls were poor and they'd given Corbyn a chance. They could then have challenged him with a clear conscience. But they weren't happy with the polls (which weren't as bad as they expected) and panicked at the (unlikely) prospect of a snap election. In so doing they've almost certainly given up any chance of toppling Jeremy or influencing the future direction of the party and revealed themselves, by their callowness, singularly unsuitable for power.

BCFG said...

Of all the groups in politics the New Labour group, that cancer within Labour, most represents the technocratic nature of modern political life, where having Oxbridge on your CV is a sure fire guarantee of making a career as an MP, with career being the operative word. In this technocratic culture voting becomes purely ceremonial, except for occasional referendum's. In many ways given the technocratic nature of the EU you can see why the New Labour types were some enthusiastic about the current EU set up.

Defeating New Labour and the centre left is the Labour movements most pressing goal. We cannot move on until that happens. While ever the centre left are strong socialism remains ever more of a distant dream.

Mervyn Hyde said...

The Neo-Liberal wing of the party have a big problem, their ideology is in retreat. The reason that they have thrown everything at Jeremy bar the Kitchen sink is that they fear he can win, and their paymasters will no longer have the influence they had exercised over the last forty years.

The recent attacks including the Chicken Coup are designed to do as much damage to Labour as possible before the big split, hoping to attract as much support from ordinary members as possible, only like the last SDP debacle; a couple of big names calling the majority of members extremists doesn't exactly endear themselves to an already sceptical public who saw them as more of the same and no different to the Tories.

In fact as in the USA, Bernie Sanders left wing message resonated with the majority of people over there, putting him personally ahead in the polls, in front of both Trump and Clinton, the only way that the Democrats could get Hilary Clinton nominated was by rigging the nomination procedures. That is precisely the objective of the Neo-Liberal wing of our party here, which is why they will spend large sums of wealthy backers money to subvert Jeremy.

The fall back position of their failure has always been to split the party, and therefore essential to do as much damage as they can to us, whilst trying to rob the members of their party, as in those prophetic words from Neil Kinnock, paraphrased, "we should not get angry, but get even" and deselect those that are clearly not Labour.

Ironically that does include the Kinnocks as well.

Speedy said...

Technically, it is possible. This is not 1982. Tribal Labour support it over. A parliamentary party that appealed over the heads of the their constituency could stand a chance in being re-elected as, say, Parliamentary Labour, and why not? For all MPs who really care about a left-of-centre alternative to the Tories, it is otherwise over in any case. Otherwise - 2020 will see a UKIP wipeout in the heartlands, with Labour reduced even further to a metropolitan rump. The Tories will have a 100-plus majority, and - this is the important point - NOTHING WILL HAVE CHANGED within the Labour Party, except it will have lost even more seats and, naturally, will decide the solution is to be even more out-of-touch.

Meanwhile a PLP would still probably lose at the polls, but has four years to assert its difference, reassamble a meaningful opposition, etc, and really stand a chance of taking on the Tories in 2025. The current strategy of we'll lose in 2020 anyway only make sense if there is a meaningful plan to win. It is actually a lose-lose-lose-oblivion strategy.

But hey, you all love talking to yourself and dreaming of the coming revolution, so who gives a toss. Meaningless opposition is so much satisfying, but isn't that why you left Socialist Action in the first place, Phil? Surely, you have been here before.

Phil said...

Socialist Action? I'm afraid you have me confused with someone else.

Alex Ross said...

Truth is, you can't maintain a party where the membership is so out of step with the PLP - and before we start going on about "democracy" and the "will of the membership" we also need to remember that MPs in the PLP have a mandate too - elected by their constituents - who represent a broader section of society than the LP membership.

I also think much of the dialogue around "splits" misunderstands the political compass. Most people who I know who want to ditch Corbyn are not on the Labour right or aficionados of Tony Blair or people who supported the Iraq war - but people who just find that Corbyn's appointments, associations and political judgement cross too many red lines - Stalinists, Anti-semites etc.. And everyone is entitled to their red lines.

Yes...there is an onus on the the PLP to reflect their membership base and their choice of leader. But there is also an onus to respect the diversity of the membership base and not go out of you way to piss people off (Milne??).

Phil said...

Ah, but the MPs don't have a mandate without the party label. Substantively, how many of them would have made it into parliament were they not selected by the party to be its representatives?

Speedy said...

But the Labour Party led by JC is not what most voters wanted, as the opinion polls suggest. Corbyn is not the continuity candidate but a radical departure, in which case MPs would be justified in rebelling.

Alex Ross said...

But surely the fundamental problem is that the "party label" has now substantially changed - and many MPs who were selected under very different circumstances now feel alienated (for a variety of reasons...some because they are on the right of the party, some because they pragmatically don't think Labour can win with Corbyn at the helm, some for reasons of moral principle due to things that Corbyn has done and said).

David Parry said...


What the opinion polls indicate more than anything is that people aren't going to vote for a party that is hopelessly divided. For you to justify the skullduggery of the recalcitrant elements of the PLP on the grounds of Labour's poor performance in the opinion polls is arse-backwards - it is the rebellious actions by the irreconcilables in the PLP that have stoked division in the party and thereby caused its disastrous polling.

David Parry said...

Another thing, Speedy. I think the likelihood of UKIP pulling off in the north of England at the next GE what the SNP managed in Scotland in 2015 has been greatly exaggerated. The party's success has been predicated on it being a one-man band, that man being, of course, Nigel Farage. With Farage no longer leader, and presumably, therefore, assuming a much lower profile, with the party's raison detre, namely to push for the withdrawal from the European Union, about to be rendered redundant and with the infighting that has plagued the party recently, I think UKIP has surpassed its peak and is on its way down from here on in.

Blissex said...

«Meanwhile a PLP would still probably lose at the polls,»

Oppositions as a rule don't win elections, governments lose them by screwing up, and usually that means falling house prices.

«but has four years to assert its difference, reassamble a meaningful opposition,»

A lot of people forget the single most important event in the history of recent (and not so recent) Labour, which instead must be remembered every time a discussion about «meaningful opposition» comes up:

The PLP voted for austerity and supported (with an abstention) nasty benefit cuts, over which cuts Ian Duncan Smith resigned his ministerial mandate, denouncing them. When the PLP ends up to the right of Ian Duncan Smith, what kind of opposition is that? And never mind the Iraq vote some years earlier.

Those votes created a very clear, profound divide not just in the party, but in the history of the party: there was a Labour Parliamentary Party before July 2015 and largely "something else" after July 2015, as we all re-discovered after the referendum.

Maybe voters don't remember that event so sharply, but most members surely do.

The current divide is simple: Labour members *overwhelmingly* voted for the only leadership candidate who voted against austerity, against nasty benefit cuts (and had voted against Iraq); conversely most of the 184 "something else" MPs who supported them with abstention (several of them only because of party discipline) won't accept as leader anybody who voted against. Some choice quotes to remember that event:

«Labour is mocked by the SNP after the welfare bill is passed on its second reading in the Commons»
«Among the rebels at second reading were three London mayoral candidates, David Lammy, Sadiq Khan and Diane Abbott, suggesting that those who are standing for election in the party sense they cannot withstand the left tide.»
«Labour’s travails were made worse by the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, the Democratic Unionists and Green MP Caroline Lucas all voting against the welfare bill.»
«Jeremy Corbyn was the only leftwing leadership candidate to oppose the bill outright, but Andy Burnham stressed he regarded Harman’s amendment as a vote against the bill»
«The SNP’s fair work and employment spokeswoman, Hannah Bardell MP, said: “The Tories’ cruel welfare cuts damage the working poor and vulnerable people, and had to be opposed.»

That vote had no discernible positive effect on Labour's polls.

The Mullett Falcon said...

'They are nothing without the Labour brand.' True, because they think the Labour brand is the only thing that counts. Ironic, given that they are currently ripping that brand to shreds.