Labour leadership – time for the stalking horse to be stabledI think the unthinkable – a re-united Labour Party by the beginning of next month
Am I alone in thinking nothing good can come from the Labour Party leadership election continuing another day. What we have learned is multifarious. For me the most shocking realisation is that Labour’s elected and unelected representatives can trash the Labour ‘brand’ with impunity. Rank and file members do not enjoy such liberties. That is not right or equitable. For me this was sufficient reason to vote the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA) slate for the constituency section of the National Executive Committee slate. And even though there are major issues with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, I will be voting for him again if this wretched election is dragged out to the bitter end. I suspect I will not be alone in that regard!
This deepening fissure between the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and the membership has to be bridged as quickly as possible. Parliament resumes after its summer recess on Monday 5 September. Labour needs to be able to take the Tories by surprise and present a united front that day. A full complement of Shadow Cabinet members needs to be assembled. That can only be achieved by mutual recognition that the rule changes arising from the Collins Report changed the relationship between elected members of the PLP and party members hopefully irrevocably, and for good reasons. Labour MPs, Lords and Baronesses have to adjust to this new political paradigm.
Early last summer a number of Labour MPs lent their support to Jeremy Corbyn to enable him to get on the ballot paper for the Leadership following Ed Miliband’s precipitous resignation after Labour’s 2015 election defeat. With the benefit of hindsight this act of electoral pluralism highlighted how far divorced those MPs had become from Labour members in the country and the party’s closest supporters. I’m not referring to the ones with deep pockets that help finance the party. It’s the one’s with a longing for Labour values – some of whom have been waiting for 40 years since former Labour Prime Minister Jim Callaghan first pandered with neo-liberalism.
There is a hardcore of Labour MPs who refused to accept the democratic decision of Labour members, registered supporters and affiliates last year. This cancer is eating away at the core aims and purposes of the Labour Party. In business speak trashing the Labour brand has to stop. In the run up to Conference a consensus is needed to marginalise them and, if necessary, change Party rules to enable them to be more readily disciplined. It is shocking that local parties have recently been suspended, and all ordinary political meetings of rank and file members banned while these PLP members have been undermining Labour’s electoral prospects unchecked.
I’m prepared to forgive Corbyn all his faults while this arrogant behaviour on the part of a small minority of Labour parliamentarians goes unchecked. In addition, we have the unedifying revelations of apparent disloyalty to the office of Leader by some elected members of the party’s National Executive Committee and paid Labour staff including the current general secretary, Iain McNicol. There is no way these issues can be solved with a succession of purges, however great the appetite for blood in both camps.
Much publicity has been given to accounts by Labour MPs who recently resigned from the Shadow Cabinet alleging Corbyn was impossible to work with, undermined their work and lacked essential leadership qualities. When I first enquired of the circumstances leading up to the ill-fated spate of resignations, I was shocked to discover that Corbyn had taken a leaf out of the Blair playbook and was deciding policy without enabling Shadow Cabinet a say (as reported in an article by Mike Davis and myself in the current issue of Chartist magazine). What I also learned was that this dictatorial way of working had been established very early in Corbyn’s term as Leader. “Why didn’t you say anything?”, I asked. “Oh, that would have been disloyal”, I was told in all seriousness by my source who shall remain nameless. Doh! One of the key lessons the whole Labour Party should have learned from the Blair/Brown era was the political hazards of misplaced personal loyalties.
So for 10 months or thereabouts you and I have been kept in the dark about how parliamentary business was been conducted by Corbyn. Sorry, PLP, you really should have called time on that months ago – not through an expression of ‘no confidence’, but by being honest with members.
As matters stand members appear to see relentless plotting by a PLP hardcore as a bigger problem than Corbyn’s folly losing a no-confidence vote and the bulk of his shadow cabinet over the Brexit vote.
That deserves much more direct consideration now, especially by the stalking horse’s campaign team.
Corbyn’s political stamina is a phenomenon. Lesser mortals would have long gone. But Corbyn has awakened a thirst and hunger for Labour values in the minds of hundreds of thousands of people who have joined as members, registered supporters and affiliates. For too many of the plotters and Labour staffers we, the members, are an administrative and political nightmare – a bit like small shareholders in quoted companies. But I have a sneaking suspicion that news of the no-confidence motion to be tabled at the PLP by Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey leaked out was like a starting gun being fired in the minds of yet more people seeing Corbyn as the embodiment of those Labour values most yearn for in a future Labour government.
Parading the stalking horse for a day longer just reinforces that message. Restarting Operation Fear – a party split, unelectable, catastrophe, complete embarrassment – that really isn’t going to help Labour win the next general election whenever that might be, is it?