The die seems cast: Labour either gets rid of Jeremy Corbyn and causes the hard-left to split from the Party, or it allows him to stay and eventually the Labour moderates will have to leave.
The PLP seems to have made the cardinal error of launching a coup – by its mass resignations from Shadow jobs and then a vote of no confidence and now Angela Eagles leadership challenge – without a really clear idea about how to politically finish off Corbyn and who to replace him with? Even Eagle’s bid doesn’t seem to have unanimous support amongst the insurgents.
So we have several possible scenarios, all of which end in a split. The only question is when and on whose terms.
What seems like the most likely development at the moment is Angela Eagle’s challenge goes ahead, Jeremy Corbyn get on the ballot and after a long dirty battle over the summer Corbyn wins again.
At that point most Labour MPs will face a choice – buckle down or leave. A new “SDP” type splinter party would be on the agenda – possibly (again) in some sort of alliance with the LDs? Even those that try and keep their heads down will eventually face reselection if they are not sufficiently ‘left’.
Either way the Corbyn Labour Party will shift (permanently?) in a hard-left direction and face electoral marginalisation.
Of course, a variation on this is that Labour’s NEC insist Corbyn needs to get the requisite nominations, which he won’t. Nor will any other ‘Corbynista’. The reaction of the Corbynist faithful would probably be to decamp to other groups – maybe Momentum turned into a Party? However this option seems unlikely.
The only alternative to this is what has been suggested by people like Joe Haines and John McTernan – that the PLP majority seize control of the Labour brand regardless of the niceties.
How could they do that? It’s really very simple – MPs cannot be instructed by anyone outside of Parliament. It is a fundamental principle of our representative democracy. So the decisions they take inside Parliament cannot be challenged through the Labour Party rule book or anything else.
If, then, the PLP decided to elect its own Leader and let them appoint a Shadow Cabinet there is nothing the LP outside Parliament could do about it in the short-term. Such a move would mean the PLP was still HM Opposition with all the privileges, money, access to the media and time at the despatch box that would bring.
Corbyn and his supporters could complain as much as they liked, there would be no way to overturn such a move within Parliament.
What comes next would be the really tricky bit – a battle for the Labour name, machinery and membership. It would be all out civil war but with the PLP occupying the “commanding heights”. How this battle would turn out would be hard to forecast, but the PLP could probably retain the name and a sizeable portion of the membership. And crucially they’d retain Labour voters.
On current performance I don’t see the PLP being united or determined enough to carry off something like this.
I haven’t discussed here a bigger problem: Labour’s historic fudge about whether it is a socialist or social democratic party. The sentimental clinging to the ‘socialist’ label is one of the things that allows people like the Corbynistas to claim membership and attempt to capture the Party. I have already done that elsewhere and will do so again.
So time to start work on the book: “Labour: chronicle of a death foretold” ?
2 thoughts on “Split now or Split later: Labour’s unenviable choice?”
Why would the party split when the most PLP can do is remain in permanent, unproductive rebellion and the most Corbyn can do is keep winning membership votes? What should trouble everyone is that this isn’t an issues-based or policy-based dispute; there are no substantive differences being debated and discussed in any of this. To me, that signals that the Labour Party is in near-terminal decline or some kind of permanent blind alley, stuck between New Labour (1990s) and Old Labour (1980s) when what’s really needed is something new and relevant for the 21st century.
I know many people including myself who are not the hard left or Corbynistas. We are traditional Labour voters. I am willing to vote for another leader but problems with your plan 1) Labour’s 9m voters won’t get Labour back in power. How will Labour get another 3m voters from UKIP & the Tories whilst keeping the 9m? Please enlighten me to which leader is able to do that? So the PLP will win against the membership but won’t win the GE. 2) Labour’s problems are not about the leader. The PLP have had months to plan their coup, which they openly started the day after Corbyn was elected. Eagle and Smith? Really? To get those UKIP voters and Tories?
The PLP could have served him for at least 2 years, given everyone a chance to see what Labour under Corbyn can do. Many members might have come to the same conclusion as the PLP. But they didn’t, telling the media every little thing that was wrong when they couldn’t win the last election.
Labour can only win if Tories and SNP fup big time. Otherwise, the PLP really are delusional if they think another leader will fix the problems.