Monday 30 November 2015

Labour’s Phoney War is Over – Now the Battle Commences

Since Jeremy Corbyn became the leader of the Labour Party, let’s not forget, with a massive majority in the member’s ballot, there has been constant sniping from the Labour Right. Leaks to newspapers from shadow cabinet Ministers, ‘senior MPs’ and random Blairite ex spin doctors, have abounded. 

Mutterings about how fit Corbyn and his shadow chancellor John McDonnell are for office, poor opinion poll ratings for Labour and stories of splits over policy with shadow cabinet members all are meant to show a party in turmoil. It has all been part of a softening up process, readying the ground for a coup.

The current disagreement between Corbyn and his shadow cabinet has though taken this confrontation to a new level. Ironically, this, what now can only be called a civil war, has been triggered by a real war issue in Syria. As perhaps over a hundred Labour MPs contemplate voting with the government for extending airstrikes into Syria, this is the first full scale rebellion by the Labour Right since Corbyn’s election.

The strategy seems to be at this stage, to try and force Corbyn into resigning, ‘for the good of the party’. How can he be leader when more than half of the shadow cabinet are against him they ask? The damage that this split will do to the party, only goes to make a Tory win in 2020 inevitable, and look at all those working class folk who will suffer. If Labour polls badly in Thursday’s by-election in Oldham West, the pressure will increase even further.

The problem with all of this for the plotters is that Corbyn shows no sign of resigning and even if they can force another leadership election, all the indications are that Corbyn will win again amongst the membership. With Corbyn allowing a free vote for his MPs, and if they vote in large numbers against his position, he will look weakened, and that is a victory for the rebels. Then they will return to the drip, drip of damaging media leaks.

The Labour Left are probably not going to take this lying down though, and I was alerted to this by a blog by David Osland, a well-known figure on the Labour Left. Writing on the Left Futures blog, in a piece titled ‘Time for the Labour Left to debate reselection of MPs’, Osland says:

For the past three months, the very word ‘reselection’ has been unmentionable in Labour left circles, for fear that even talking about it would represent an unwarranted provocation of the Labour right. But as the events of the last 48 hours clearly underline, it’s time to break the taboo.

At the very least, Corbyn supporters now have to – how can I put this gently? – engage in measured debate on how we approach the next round of trigger ballots for sitting MPs.

A member of the Labour Party that I know tells me, that in his south London constituency, the new members are causing tension in the local party as the old guard resist their attempts to get the party behind Corbyn’s new old Labour platform. My friend describes himself as on the Labour Left and voted for Corbyn, but he doesn’t think Corbyn will be Labour leader at the next general election.

The problem for the Labour Left, is that it will take time to organise successfully, many years probably, and time doesn’t seem to be in Corbyn’s favour. The elections next May for the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh and London Assemblies will need to show an improvement in Labour’s electoral appeal, or things could get very bleak for Corbyn.

Labour’s warmongering foreign polices of recent years make this issue totemic for the changed party that Corbyn's leadership signals, many members and supporters left Labour over the Iraq war, me included, and to put behind them those years, Labour needs to oppose a further escalation of our military actions abroad. I think for the Labour Right, it is the best chance yet for them to topple Corbyn.

Labour has traditionally been rather sentimental over its leaders, and unlike the Tories, rarely force their leaders out. I think Corbyn is an exception, and it is just a matter of time before someone plunges the metaphorical dagger into his back (or front).  

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