It would seem from recent events at the Labour Party conference that Momentum’s subsumption of New Labour is almost complete.
Having taken advantage of the frankly perverse leadership election process, thousands of new members and ‘registered supporters’ have delivered an even greater mandate for Jeremy Corbyn after an ill-fated attempt by the Parliamentary party to deliver them a leader they felt they could work with.
Now I can hear all those knuckles being cracked and keyboards being bashed as you prepare to lambast me for daring to describe Labour’s leadership election process as ‘perverse’, so I’ll explain.
In the May 2015 we had a General Election where all parties selected candidates to stand. Each local party then campaigned for them, leafletted, canvassed, attended hustings and prayed for them in the dead of night to whichever god of politics they subscribed to.
When the results were in, Labour still didn’t have a majority, and as we all know, the Tories increased theirs to take the reins of Westminster and kick their erstwhile pals the Lib Dems out of the wagon and back onto a path that had become much lonelier than it was before.
At this point, as is customary for reasons I’ve never really understood, Labour and the Lib Dems both jettisoned their leaders who toddled off into political obscurity to grow beards and write their memoirs.
The Libdems elected a new leader with very little fuss and continued to dream of lost opportunities and plan for their next stint in government, sometime around 2120.
Labour, on the other hand, launched into one of their periodic bouts of self-excoriation, blaming everyone and everything for losing an election that should have been theirs for the taking.
Availing themselves of the new system of leadership election, thousands of supposed Labour supporters threw £3 into a bucket and a spanner into the works in the shape of Jeremy Corbyn who, amidst a roster of other candidates, each about as inspiring as a two day hangover, was packaged as the new messiah of the left.
I’m not disputing that Corbyn is well deserving of that title, and at the time it was truly delicious to see all the other plain vanilla candidates desperately trying to appeal to a population being provided a choice between the status quo and the status quo. But he was undeniably at odds with all of them, and with pretty much all of the Labour MPs who had been elected only a couple of months earlier.
To many people that was exactly the point. Corbyn was a fresh breath of real socialist air. A new dawn after the sun had set on what became Labour’s love affair with neo-liberalism. But to many others, myself included, the question remained as to how a party could elect a leader so far removed from its parliamentary party and not expect an implosion akin to Eric Pickles in a bouncy castle factory. Hence my description of this process as ‘perverse’.
Into this maelstrom stepped Momentum, the latest in internal pressure groups following on from their equally sexily monikered predecessors, Progress and the somewhat less heroically named, and ultimately doomed, Militant.
And of course the implosion came. Not once but twice. The second time resulting in the challenge to Corbyn and, driven by Momentum, an increased mandate following re-election.
Which leaves the same question: How can the constituency parties work to elect a set of candidates, who they apparently disavow only 6 months later? And it’s a question to which I’ve still not found a satisfactory answer.
Were these candidates imposed on the constituencies by central office? Apparently not.
Did they change their stance on policy after being elected? Nope, so I’m told.
Has there been a grass roots change in membership aspiration since the General Election? Well, that’s a maybe. But judging by events during the same period that Corbyn was coasting to another historic victory maybe not.
One would imagine that if there had been sea change in the membership we’d see local parties de-selecting anti-Corbyn candidates at the first opportunity but that isn’t happening.
One of the first such opportunities came in the Witney by-election where the local CLP, after a reportedly fierce internal wrangle, put up their usual candidate Duncan Enright, a local councillor, who along with 50 colleagues called for Corbyn’s resignation in June.
In local elections earlier this year we also saw many Labour candidates who had been openly hostile to Corbyn’s position, riding the wave of popularism surrounding his appointment in a blatant display of political opportunism. I don’t doubt that Duncan will be playing the same game over the next few weeks.
This all seems to run counter to the narrative being spun by Labour after their conference. It also belies the situation that I’m constantly being assured of: that the local constituency groups are all behind Corbyn and a return to Labour’s heyday as the party of almost perpetual opposition. So I remain confused.
Veiled threats from Corbyn about deselections would seem to suggest a cleaning of house. Personally I agree with him on this and have said for some time now that it’s time to ‘piss or get off the pot’ for the PLP and the shadow cabinet.
I expected Corbyn to win last week, but I’ll admit I also expected to see his mandate dented. Now it’s clear that he’s going to be the leader, probably up until the next election, Labour MPs have to decide for themselves if they are representing the constituents who elected them based on their pre-Corbyn platform, or if they will fall in line with the new order now being dictated by Momentum and it’s vast army of eager activists.
I agree that if those who support Corbyn outweigh those who don’t, the latter should go. And they should go now.
Those who refuse to accept the democratic will of the party membership should be deselected as Labour MPs, meaning they will sit the rest of this Parliament out as independents. True this will mean a precipitative drop in Labour’s Westminster powerbase and they will effectively lose their role as the official opposition. But let’s face it, they lost any legitimate claim to that months ago, and if they carry on as they are we may as well assume the Tories will have a free hand until 2020.
At that point Labour can freely select new, Momentum approved, candidates and fight the election on an entirely Corbyn-led stance. The other MPs would be free to stand again as independents or perhaps form their own breakaway party.
I know this would be a de facto split, but I think it’s coming anyway. If not in fact, in principle. Better to get it out of the way now and for both sides of the divide to be in a position to move forward come the next election.
If Corbyn’s supporters are as certain of victory as they appear, they’ll have nothing to lose from this scenario except three and a half years of more division and strife which will ultimately end up with the same result anyway.
It seems to me that if Corbyn really does want a new form of politics and honest representation from the constituency parties, this is the only way to go now. He’s already shown that he’s unable to unite the PLP as it stands and 3 more years at loggerheads won’t help him or them.
To me, honest politics means having the courage of your convictions. Corbyn has proved down the years that he has that courage in fighting social injustices. Let’s see him use it now to deal with the unrest in his own ranks. Just saying he’s reaching out to his detractors doesn’t mean it’s going to work. How many more olive branches can he see returned to sender before he accepts that he needs to plant a new tree? I think it’s time to get the spade out.