Friday, 29 July 2016


'Jeremy Corbyn's election as Labour leader is a symptom of the party's existential crisis not it's solution.' That was the conclusion I reached last summer following Corbyn's astonishing victory in the 2015 Labour leadership contest. The electorate's rejection of Ed Miliband's 'more of the same neo-liberalism' was followed by equally stark warning to Labour from its own members to change direction and outline clearly what it now stood for.

In the year since that vote Labour's crisis has worsened markedly. The Parliamentary Labour Party simply ignored the outcome of the leadership vote. Morale amongst Labour members deteriorated with each Parliamentary rebellion against Corbyn. The infamous 'chicken coup' organised by members of his Shadow Cabinet was designed to force him to resign. Instead it stiffened his resolve. And it has now produced this unprecedented second contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith the agent of the PLP faction that so despise him.

There is no shadow of doubt the contest will be poisonous nor that Corbyn will again emerge victorious. Some 600,000 Labour members are determined to deliver their verdict on the anti-democratic treachery of Smith, Angela Eagle and the rest of the PLP plotters.

The entire episode highlights the fundamental division in the Labour Party which was again laid bare when Andrew Marr interviewed Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell last weekend. Labour, Marr pointed out, has always been divided between those who see capitalism as a powerful, unopposable force they seek to manage in Government and those who see it as an exploitative and at times barbarous system which must be replaced by socialism. Corbyn is of course the first Labour leader to emerge from the latter camp.

In the 100 years of its existence Labour has never in truth resolved this core conflict. In recent years it has become politically, economically and socially neo-liberal. Neil Kinnock, John Smith, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Miliband all brought it to this place. Their policies were unashamedly capitalist, pro-market and 'business friendly'. They made it clear they saw Labour as a parliamentary party that sought the acceptance of the UK establishment. Corbyn on the other hand is an outsider contemptuous of the British ruling classes who seeks to end their undemocratic and ruthless grip on power. He seeks to replace capitalism with a more efficient, fairer and more democratic political and economic system.

I agree with Jeremy Corbyn on many things, but not about Scottish independence. He does not see the progressive democratic case for self-determination. And he is also wrong in my view to foster illusions in Labour as a socialist party, even under his leadership. Nonetheless every democrat in Britain fervently hopes he wins again for those in the PLP faction who have stabbed him in the back so often and so publicly deserve to feel the wrath of party members.

But many question arise should he win a second time; above all what exactly has changed? Are his enemies in the PLP and beyond going to bury the hatchet and accept the will of the membership this time? Or are they more likely to leave and form a new party? Labour MP's fear Theresa May is about to call another General Election and most fear they will lose their seats. And they would rather lose on their own terms than under Corbyn's leadership.

There have, its true, been predictions of a Labour Party split many times over the years that came to nothing, but this time it seems unavoidable. If it does happen the implications for politics across these isles will be profound.

No comments:

Post a Comment