Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party – two obligatory longish questions.
I have many friends in the British Labour Party. And many of them are making one of two points…
- Jeremy Corbyn has a massive mandate from the rank and file membership. His leadership campaign greatly expanded Labour Party membership. Any PLP attempt to remove him as leader would alienate this membership. Indeed, many people have pledged never to support Labour ever again if he is betrayed/removed by his parliamentary colleagues.
- Jeremy Corbyn only enjoys the loyalty of one quarter of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Three quarters of all Labour MPs have no confidence in his ability to lead the party in parliament. The chief responsibility of a Labour opposition leader is to oppose the government in parliament. How can someone like Corbyn do the most important part of his job?
The central problem is that both of these statements are true.
Nobody ever thought this could happen. The party rule book never imagined that the PLP and the membership could ever become so estranged from one another. But it’s happened – and this estrangement must be dealt with.
Perhaps talk of “betrayal” and “back stabbing” needs to be toned town. The Tories have betrayed and back-stabbed each other so often that they resemble a bunch of walking colanders. It’s amazing they risk drinking liquids on camera. Yet they function. Perhaps they function because they cherish fewer illusions and far less is expected of them.
How to join a head to a body? Without a party membership, a PLP is an unrepresentative clique. Without a PLP, a party membership has no power of action or decision, no mechanism of effective resistance.
So each of the two groups of people who repeat propositions 1. and 2. need to answer the following questions.
If you are a dedicated defender of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership – then how can he exercise that leadership in parliament right now? How can he either win over or outflank his parliamentary colleagues? How can he prevent Theresa May from deflecting every challenge he makes into an attack on the chaotic state of the parliamentary Labour party? Or does the Labour Party give up on parliamentary opposition and become a party of the streets until 2020? Does a government with only a small parliamentary majority get a free hand to legislate whatever cruelties it likes until 2020? In the meantime, are the 3/4 of sitting Labour MPs to be deselected by their constituency parties? Or are we happy with those MPs forming a new party or joining the Lib Dems and Tim Farron becoming Leader of the Opposition? What’s the plan to deal with any or all of these contingencies? What’s the plan… no really what’s the plan?
If, on the other hand, you sincerely believe that Corbyn must go and go soon in order to make way for a more effective parliamentary opposition leader then you must answer this set of questions? How will you make your parliamentary party remotely relevant to a disenchanted electorate that is more intolerant of conventional politics than ever before? How will you deal with the “betrayal” narrative that will be louder and longer than Ramsay Macdonald’s “betrayal” of 1931? How will you address the party memberhip at conferences and what will you tell them? Where will the 600,000 party members go? And quite apart from the sense of betrayal within the Labour party, how will you challenge the dangerous prevalent sense that politics has become the preserve of “elites”?
These are not trick questions and I genuinely don’t know how to answer any of them.
I was hoping someone out there in the wide wise world might.