Trevor Fisher on Labour’s deepening quagmire
The Labour Party official notice for the leadership election issued on August 1st invited members to vote for “the candidates to be Labour’s next Prime Minister….” which was tempting fate. All that the election does is choose a leader. The Premiership is a very different matter, and claiming that the leader will automatically become PM shows that there is massive overconfidence in the party machine. At the start of General Election this kind of statement makes sense, but at the moment this points up the Reality Gap in the Party as it struggles to cope with loss of electoral support and the over confidence of many of its supporters misled by the Corbyn surge.
The immediate future of the Party depends on Theresa May not calling an election. If she does, the polls suggest wipe out. At the start of August the Tories had 43%, Labour 27%, Ukip 13% and Lib Dems 8%. SNP don’t have a UK rating, but in Scotland are dominant. Thus while the Tories would have to repeal the Fixed Parliament Act and so its not likely they would have an election, for the next year Labour’s electoral position is so weak it would be destroyed by a General Election.
While the Corbynistas believe that the left dominance of the party can win elections, this is unlikely in a culture swung well to the right – as the June 23rd referendum showed. To take only one feature which makes Labour’s victory less than likely, Scotland is showing a rejection of Labour which is not only damning in itself, but underlines major problems which affect the rest of the UK. What Gerry Hassan said about the May elections is worth recalling. He wrote:
“Scottish Labour found a new basement level of support – winning a mere 22.3% of the constituency vote and 19.1% of the regional list vote – putting the party in third place behind the Tories on the list vote and seats… The Party found themselves caught between the dynamic of the 55% pro union majority – which the Tories had no qualms about standing up for – and the 45% pro independence camp… Anas Sarwar, newly elected as a Glasgow MSP, said that Labur ‘are not comfortable nationalists, and they are not comfortable unionists….Labour held out in a few isolated constituencies, and not one part of the country can be described as a Labour heartland – a seismic change from twenty years ago”.
Gerry’s comments are not only sound in relation to Scotland, but point to an identity crisis which can be parralleled elsewhere. Outside the big cities Labour is polling badly, and the threat of UKIP is real in the heartlands – though Tribune reported on July 8th UKIP did badly in council by elections in the South East of England, but commented that there had been no post referendum by elections in the North of England “which will really test Labour strength”. This is true, but holding on to core areas alone will not do. Labour has to win in non-traditional areas. While Corbynistas point out that Labour has won majorities south of the Scottish border before, the national swing backed the vote in these floating seats which normally floated in other directions. In no case has any party with 27% of the poll findings against a Tory party with 43% of those polled ever gone on to win a majority in the subsequent
The rebel faction and the reality gap
However the current crisis is because the Parliamentary Labour Party lost its marbles and triggered a leadership contest. The rebels have said that if they lose they will indulge in a war of attrition, while if they win the Corbynistas have the support levels to make the battles of the 1980s seem modest by comparison. The reality is that the Labour Party cannot win a snap election and though it is unlikely Mary can call one its chances of winning in 2020 if it goes to that point are diminishing with each example of factionalism, both right and left.
The immediate reality is a party headed for a civil war, and sensible people must produce action to combat this. No unity campaign can bring together irreconcilables, but there have to be people in both camps who can see that neither side can win so a centre ground has to be created. I would suggest two planks of a unity platform, around which others can be developed.
The first is the rejection of any attempt by elements in the PLP to move toward a party within a party. There is a projected attempt to take the name of Labour – which would be legally dubious – and become the official opposition with the aid of the Speaker. This has to be fought. While the PLP has the right to form groups (Tribune and Campaign are models from the past) the NEC has to discuss with group leaders how they operate and ensure the moves do not lead to a party within a party.
Secondly, there must be opposition to Mandatory Reselection, which Corbyn has said he does not want. Indeed, with boundary changes it is nonsense. But Corbyn is probably too weak to control his ultras and a campaign based in the grassroots is vital.
In addition to this, bullying and intimidation have to be clamped down on and eliminated. Words are not enough. The ‘gentler kinder politics’ is a fine idea, the reality as Martin Rowson wrote in Tribune a couple of weeks ago is a turbo charged bullying aided by the internet. While this is far from Labour exclusive and I have no evidence any organised group is responsible, the trend is clear and must be negated.
The future for Labour is cloudy. Years of New Labour destruction have damaged the party at grassroots level across large parts of the UK notably Scotland. There is no sign that electorally the party is recovering. Much has to be done to maintain the party at the most basic level to operate effectively, and a civil war has to be stopped not by pious unity rhetoric but a clearly worked out strategy to survive and develop.