is it labour’s democratic responsibility to split?
It increasingly seems like the world is a conflict zone. The Middle East is busy tearing itself apart, while NATO and Russia frantically add lighter fuel to the flames; ISIS run seemingly unchecked around Western capital cities; and in the labyrinths of Westminster, the Labour Party continues to dunk a toaster in its bathwater.
After his election in September, no one thought that Corbyn’s premiership was going to be a walk in the park – the optimistic amongst us hoped that at least some sort of coherent opposition could be made in the now Tory-dominated Commons. Alas, since that fateful day Jeremy Corbyn’s party has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. Rather than capitalising on and exposing half-baked Conservative ideas: from slashing tax credits, to poorly-veiled assaults on social housing and society’s most needy, the only storm Labour has created is in its own teacup. I would wager that apart from mumbling something about Trident and enforcing oil lamps and coal strikes, the majority of the public know very little about the alternative policies that Labour are offering. More importantly, do Labour even know? This in-fighting has come to dominate Labour’s media space in a highly detrimental manner – and like watching a woman throwing her partner’s possessions out of the window during a breakup, there’s something morbidly compelling, yet intensely embarrassing about witnessing the spectacle.
The current Labour Party is undeniably a very different beast from the one my Grandfather would have supported. Faced with deindustrialisation and rapidly changing social demographics in the latter part of the 20th Century, the party increasingly fought for the middle ground of British politics. At the same time, the media and political elites were busy shifting perceptions of the British political spectrum. On issues such as taxation, Corbyn is arguably more right wing than Margaret Thatcher. The Iron Lady maintained the top rate of income tax at 60%, 10% higher than what Corbyn has publicly backed. Of course it suits these elites for the public to perceive Corbyn as somewhere left of Chairman Mao. He is many things, but a throwback he ain’t.
In the Blairite years, the middle ground was a battle that Labour briefly won – some feel at the cost of a true identity. Which leads us to now. Corbyn and his followers, along with an unprecedented public mandate, ranged against the cohorts of the party still aligned to the principles of the chemical brothers Blair and Brown. In my eyes, these two factions boil down to some simple facts. The former are obsessed with an idea of morality, an almost messianic sense of principle; the latter with a responsibility to appear electable. When half a party believes that an idea must lead to power, while the other half see things entirely the other way around, are these differences not irreconcilable?
The Blairites are exasperated by Corbyn’s views, his lack of moderation – to them he is a man of the past. What this fails to explain is why Corbyn has vast support among young people. It also points to a lack of foresight on their parts. Corbyn has been a serial rebel for years, repeatedly resisting attempts to muzzle and change his principles. The MP’s who agreed to join his Shadow Cabinet with the vague hope of influencing Corbyn to align his views with their own appear at best optimistic, at worst downright destructive.
The spate of high profile resignations were both predictable and saddening. It tells the public nothing they didn’t already know about Corbyn’s divisiveness, while fuelling the right wing media’s vitriol – distracting from the major decisions and crises the country is currently facing.
Some would argue that these martyrs should have fallen on their political swords the day Corbyn was elected, as it must have been fairly obvious from the beginning if personal views were going to be incompatible. With that option now passed, is it so terrible a thought to picture a Labour Party split? Yes, it would presumably trigger all sorts of by-elections and short term wranglings and yes, ‘Labour’ in whatever form would most likely be unelectable for the next decade. But times are changing and as the SNP have shown, parties can come from relative nothingness to become game changers. Centrists from Labour could perhaps find their views more aligned with those of the Liberal Democrats, potentially providing a welcome check to the Tories whilst the Left sorts out its house. Alternatively, there could be a new party based along the lines of New Labour: pro-business, pro-US, pro-arms deals with despots; leaving Corbyn’s new/old look Labour to appeal to its undeniably more left wing supporters. The atmosphere in Westminster would probably resemble that of the Continent after a Brexit, but at least voters would be left with a clear choice.
To all the MP’s who didn’t sign up to serve a party that wants to renationalise the railways and scrap Trident, I hear you! But spare us your staged resignations and your petty backbench coups. Labour should be a party of change – and if you want to sacrifice all to uphold the status quo of the political establishment, then go and join the Conservatives.
Left wing politics and democracy is evolving, and you’re getting in the way.