Labour is ceasing to exist

by Atul Hatwal

It’s not often that the election results for Labour’s backbench PLP committee chairs are notable, but today’s announcement lays bare the scale of division within the parliamentary party.

via the New Statesman

e-mail to MPs announcing the result, via the New Statesman

The majority of the chairs have ruled out serving under Jeremy Corbyn on the frontbench and specifically oppose key tents of his positions on the policy areas that their committees cover. They are taking their fight to the backbenches.

This is just the latest development in a rapidly accelerating process.

Labour is slowly ceasing to exist as a political party. Like those images of Marty Mcfly’s relatives in his photo, it’s fading away.

As a legal entity the party will persist. Hundreds of thousands of people will still be members. But the bonds that bind a political party and distinguish it from mass membership groups such as the RSPB or Greenpeace, are dissolving.

The point of a political party is to present a cohesive programme to the country. To persuade people that this party has a clear view of what needs to be done and set out a prospectus that outlines what this involves.

There will be disagreements on policy but political parties normally work through these differences to present a single platform.

No longer.

Under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the “new politics” has become a euphemism for irreconcilable differences.

Free votes, formerly the preserve of issues of non-party political conscience, are suddenly being mooted for topics ranging from Syria to Trident to welfare reform.

Every week, these divides multiply.

A few days ago, Liam Byrne made a thoughtful and considered speech on the type of alternative economic strategy that Labour could offer. It was reasoned and reasonable but also included this line,

“But I worry Peoples’ QE – or printing money when the economy is growing – nationalising too much, and spiralling public spending risks failure.”

Peoples’ QE, increased public spending and nationalisation are the cornerstones of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell’s agenda.

Labour has now normalised its splits to the extent that such profoundly contradictory positions are regarded as unremarkable. John McDonnell, Labour’s shadow chancellor, even made a point of tweeting that he had sanctioned the speech,

There comes a point when there are so many free votes, so many disagreements that Labour’s parliamentarians cease to be a party and become just a group of people talking at and over each other.

In his interview with the New Statesman, yesterday, Michael Dugher succinctly articulated the problem,

“Everyone should vote in a way that’s consistent with Labour Party policy. If you’d like a different policy, change the policy. But you’ve got to go through a process.”

Any notion that the public could or should vote for the rambling commune that Labour is becoming, is passing into the realms of the inconceivable.

In the past, considerations of party loyalty would weigh on members of the PLP . But Jeremy Corbyn’s election has rewritten the terms of engagement.

Unity might be essential but compromise for the sake of loyalty is impossible when the leader has made rigid adherence to personal principle a matter of conscience.

Labour MPs have consciences too and value their integrity every bit as much as their leader cherishes his.

Compromise is the glue that binds all political parties together. It’s what makes them different to debating clubs.

In Jeremy Corbyn, Labour has a leader who has destroyed the concept of compromise.

The result is that Labour as a political force is literally falling apart.

This is why George Osborne can ride out a political disaster on the scale of his tax credit changes, with such relative ease.

Ultimately, the dissolution of Labour as a functioning opposition to the government will become apparent to party members as it is already clear to parliamentarians.

A poor performance in next May’s local and regional elections might be the trigger. Or the sustained impact of poor poll ratings. Or the daily diet of divisions and spats that dominate reporting of the party might take its toll.

Whatever the immediate cause, one point is certain, Labour, as we know it today, will not make it all the way to 2020.

Something has to give.

Either Jeremy Corbyn goes and a new leader restores a semblance of unity or he remains and Labour will enter the 2020 general election campaign unrecognisable, as a gaggle of antagonistic groups standing on opposing platforms, unable to offer a common view on the economy, foreign policy, defence or any policy that matters to voters.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut


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30 Responses to “Labour is ceasing to exist”

  1. Robert says:

    There are irreconciliable differences within the Labour Party at the moment but they are mostly between the 4.5% that voted for Liz Kendall and everybody else. I suspect that they will gradually go to other parties.

  2. paul barker says:

    As a Libdem I envy Labours new mass membership, 6 of you for every 1 of us but as Atul points out, all sorts of volontary groups have mass memberships without any major political influence. Clearly the present situation is transitional, Labour cannot go into a General Election as 2 Parties with different ideologies.”Something has to give” & its not going to be The Left. Any idea that a few bad Polls or elections will restore The Labour Centrists to power is fantasy.
    What Atul & others have to decide is whether to split or to fade away, in the end those will be the only choices.

  3. Harry O'Leary says:

    I’ve been a Labour member since 1956. What is happening now is the same as happened then, the right of the party dominate in Parliament and the left dominate in the constituencies. We survived that and we can survive this.

  4. Richard says:

    ‘Labour’ is not split. A small section of the party is out of step with the majority of party members and the leadership. That this small section have power, influence and are entrenched and trenchant and really don’t care about the damage they are doing to our chances in 2020 is the problem for Labour Party members.

    That people like Hatwal and others here on LU blame Corbyn and the membership rather than the PLP for this state of affairs and think this simply means that Corbyn needs to be removed because he won’t compromise and is so anti democratic beggars belief. We decided who to elect. The direction the party would go in was patently clear, which was why the right were so ABC (anyone but Corbyn) and now their worst nightmare has come to be all they are doing is trying their hardest to overturn the result.

    Seems to me that if those on the right like Hatwal have seen that the distance between the PLP, the leadership and the membership is so great that all we will present is division to the electorate in 2020, which means we will lose badly. Then we might as well go to war with the PLP, and sooner rather than later, what more damage to the party can we do?

    Corbyn is the one with the moral high ground and the mandate here, not the PLP. The leader has always had the right to decide certain aspects of party policy and the political position of the party, it’s the purpose of the office as it responds to events. For those aspects of policy that require other bodies to decide upon then a new leader is not obliged to state agreement to that policy if s/he doesn’t agree with it else they would be a Burnham flip flop. The leader was elected on a platform of policy plans. They have every right to campaign for a change to that policy and to continue to state their position. The membership knew and expected this to happen as Corbyn made no secret of his positions in the campaign, so why does he have to compromise any more than he has done?

    As Cromwell said, and we should be saying to these MP’s as he dismissed the rump parliament, “take away that fool’s bauble, the mace”. I know it is just the speaker who has the mace, but to quote Cromwell her is apt.

  5. AnneJGP says:

    Surely this is a self-correcting problem? It may take some years but eventually the present PLP will be replaced by MPs who are more in tune with the membership. There is no need to invoke punitive de-selections, it’s just a question of time.

    Labour has suddenly become a different political party, it’s true, but it is still a party. Eventually we will see how much support this version has in the country.

    Remember that there is now a real joker in the pack: the vast number of migrants & refugees who are coming to Europe may well put all European countries’ political systems under intolerable pressure.

    For one thing, all those who settle in Europe will become voters. They’re mostly coming here because they prefer the look of what we have now compared to their own systems, but there are some hints already that a few at least become quickly dis-satisfied if the full fruits of capitalism aren’t supplied immediately.

    A small proportion of a vast number could be extremely significant. Those on the left wing of Labour who wish to scrap our system & start again might be in with a real chance as the volume of discontentedness rises.

    The only problem will be whether the new discontents will be supportive of what the radical-change politicians propose instead. They might have their own ideas & start their own political parties.

  6. ad says:

    The problemis not so much a split within the party, but a split between the party and the country.

    What happens to a party when its activists and its voters no longer want the same things?

  7. Tafia says:

    Cameron will redraw most of the constituencies for GE2020. That in turn automatically means virtually every sitting Labour MP will face re-selection. Who is in the majority in the CLP membership now?

    If I was the PLP I would remember that and think on it. Most of them are unemployable outside of politics and life on Universal Credit is designed to be nasty.

  8. historyintime says:

    The centre and right will strike back. Corbyn’s constituency support in the leadership election was broad but thin. This compares with with the early 80s Left ascendancy, which also was broad but had a much firmer base both in long term party activists and ideology. Even so, its Sisyphusian moment was actually just a couple of years.

    But Mike Gapes and Chris Leslie are poor choices. Especially the latter. Even Ben Bernanke is now saying the UK’s fiscal policy is wrong and Labour deficit fetishists will delay the return of sanity.

  9. I can understand that John McDonnell might not be everyone’s idea of an ideal Shadow Chancellor but Chris Leslie?

    Come on Get real! The guy is an economic illiterate!

  10. OllyT says:

    I get that the Corbynites won the leadership very comfortably and therefore have a right to offer their brand of policy to the electorate. Whilst the numbers voting for Corbyn were large they are insignificant in terms of the number of potential Labour voters. The real test will come when we see how much the membership are in tune with the voters – I suspect that those being vilified by Corbyn’s army are more in tune but time will tell. I certainly don’t feel welcome and have taken the advice of the Corbyn brigade and left the party. The left I am sure will go on to dominate the party totally, whether that ever achieves anything politically remains to be seen.

  11. Tafia says:

    The Labour party no longer exists as a coherent national party and probably never will ever again.

    Old traditional Labour remains in the North West of England, parts of Wales and some of the midlands. It and it’s supporters despise professional politicians, tend to be slightly euro-sceptic (especially where access to benefits etc are concerned), are socially conservative with firm beliefs in strong law and order, the family and hard work and are not convinced the levels of immigration we currently have are either good or necessary. **

    Then you have the southern England Labour party – rapidly becoming some sort of ‘EU no matter what’, liberal professional middle class faux socialist movement eith high ideals but low copmpetency and out of tune with the original solid working class backbone.

    Then there are the remains of Labour Scotland who are now diametrically opposed to the Parliamentary Party over key issues, are not going to back down and will almost certainly have to break away. (The Welsh Labour Party ios going the same way but more slowly so remains in the first group of o’Old Traditional Labour. For now.)

    Then there is the Parliamentary Labour Party. Still stuck in the New Labour mold, suffering massive delusions of grandeur and stupidly and suicidely thinking that the party is there to serve the PLP as opposed to the reality – that they are in Parliament to do what the party tells them to do. Hopelessly out of touch and hell-bent on destroying themselves holding up such paper tigers as ‘Chuckles’ Umanna as somne sort of future messia when in fact he is looked at as little more than an upper class clown and pretentious dandy by the ordinary voter.

    Then there is the Labour Party in Northern Ireland – the SDLP. Avowedly committed to the break up of the UK despite the PLP being avowedly unionist.

    It’s a farce. And until the PLP is broiught to heel AND a coherent national strategy put in place that appeals right across the country then it is basically fucked.

    (** – The selection of Jim McMahon for candidacy of Oldham West is an example. Wrongly labelled by the press as a moderate. I have met him many times in the past. He is avowedly anti-austerity, was against Iraq, would be against Syria, strong on family ethics and the family itself, strong on work ethic and self-responsibility, staunch and out spoken trades unionist, good working class stock – and doesn’t like pretentious middle class southern softies. He will win that seat easily and hold it for the rest of his life)

  12. Henrik says:

    @Olly T: It;s not my sense that the Party under JC has any particular interest in talking to the electorate – or, at least, not yet. There are more pressing issues such as getting the Red Tories out of the party and, as m’learned and gallant friend @Tafia observes upthread, getting ready for the forthcoming wave of CLP selections.

    This is obviously a huge strategic error – either that or an incredibly cunning plan, although I know which of the two I think it is – and generates a huge risk that, by the tie the party is actually ready to talk to the electorate about the good things a Labour government could do, the electorate’s attention will be elsewhere and Labour merely a slightly amusing reminder of days past.

  13. paul barker says:

    The fundamental problem is that most of The PLP were chosen to stand for a Party very different from the one that Labour members are creating. We see 2 conflicting sets of Rights, the Right of Labour MPs to go representing the Politics they were Elected on & the Right of the Renewed Party to have MPs who speak for it.
    This could all be settled resonably amicably if both sides were honest about what they want. Most of The PLP could call themselves something different ( Liberal Democrat has a nice ring to it) & The Party could choose new Candidates. Perhaps we could have a series of Parliamentary Byelections to discover which “Labour Voters” want ?
    In practise its all going to be very messy & unpleasant though the end result will be much the same.

  14. John P Reid says:

    Robert, the way I see it ,saying labour will cease to exist won’t be due to the members, debating with themselves about issues that the majoirity of the public aren’t interested in,but the Corbynistas are, it’ll be the millions of labour votes who aren’t part of the 4.5% ,or for that matter the 40.5% who voted for Burnham,and Cooper with Kendall too.

  15. Hi Atul,

    From the point of view of an outsider, it does look as though Labour is entering into a civil war between the MPs and a leader with a large mandate from the membership.

    It’s all happened so quickly, I think we’re all struggling to come to terms with what has happened. But it seems to me that the damage to Labour will be immense.

    On 16th May, Jon Cruddas said of Labour’s situation tyhat it could be “the greatest crisis the Labour party has faced since it was created. It is epic in its scale.”
    http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/may/16/labour-great-crisis-ever

    Many agreed with him.

    By electing a leader who is totally at odds with the views of centre ground voters, surely the crisis is now far, far, more serious.

    I struggle to see how centrist Labour MPs can get out of this hole.

    To regain control of the Labour party, they need Jeremy Corbyn to demonstrate that the party cannot win from the left, and needs to win over centre ground voters.

    For that to happen, centrist MPs need to avoid taking blame for anything that goes wrong. But, surely, that’s impossible.

    If they try to help Corbyn, they’ll be associated in the electorates mind with a political of the far left, and make a Labour recovery all but impossible.

    If they sit on their hands, and wait for Corbyn to fail, members will see what has happened, and be furious at the failure of the parliamentary party to help, and they’ll get the blame for the failure.

    From 1979, even with a compromise candidate elected as leader, Labour was unelectable for 18 years. Now they’ve elected a leader of the far left, realistically, how long will it be before they are electable again. Will that ever happen?

    The reputational damage to the Labour brand is going to be catastrophic.

    Of course Labour centrists have to try to retake their party. But I hope they are thinking hard about alternatives.

    Perpetual Tory rule for the forseeable future would do immense damage to the social fabric of the country.

  16. John Reid says:

    Harry O’ Leary, I doubt in 1959′ the Manny Shinwells,and Bevans, would have preferred labour to lose in a left platform as it was a moral victory

    Richard I hope so.

  17. Mr Akira Origami says:

    ref: Redrawing of constituencies…..

    Cameron will probably airbrush out Islington North – Corbyn will probably join the local domino club.

  18. fred says:

    Labour isn’t ceasing to exist at all. It is going through the usual cycle with an uncertain outcome.

    The real truth is that Labour is an incompatible coalition. Like a warring couple who hate each other the left fights the right. In times past there have been reconciliations, but the parents are fighting in front of their relatives with consequences.

    IMHO we need a divorce a final once that allows a return to ideological purity. That way everyone largely agrees and there is a clear message for the public. There must be a purge.

    The single biggest factor is Corbyn’s support base. Mike Homfray and his Motley crew should be allowed the party. They won it democratically and they represent what ideologically pure Labour are.

  19. historyintime says:

    Jeremy Corbyn is simply incapable of being an effective leader of a major political party. And the people around him seem very very marginal too. That’s not a matter of ideology but competence. So he will definitely be replaced.

  20. paul barker says:

    Both sides in this believe they can win mass support among the voters, the problem is that as long as both are wrapped together in the same Political offer theres no way to test which has the most support. Each side can always attribute success to itself & blame failures on the other. This mess will continue until either The Left pluck up the courage to start throwing people out or The Centrists have the guts to leave.
    I am not holding my breath.

  21. Mr Akira Origami says:

    “Then there are the remains of Labour Scotland who are now diametrically opposed to the Parliamentary Party over key issues, are not going to back down and will almost certainly have to break away. (The Welsh Labour Party ios going the same way but more slowly so remains in the first group of o’Old Traditional Labour. For now.)”

    Tafia is probably correct here.

    British Labour is in it’s death throes – It’s time for the Labour moderates to jump ship and create the English Labour Party.

  22. Chris says:

    @Atul

    You really should change the name of this website to Tory Uncut! I think there has been 1 article, by a regular hack, on here that contained any criticism of the government in the past month. There were/are daily missives attacking Labour even during the general election campaign.

    “Compromise if the glue that binds all political parties together”

    So why don’t the Blairite ultras attempt to reach some accommodation with the rest of the Labour Party? You lot will not compromise, within 3 seconds of Corbyn’s victory the first unknown ultra had picked up his ball and gone home. Consequently, Labour isn’t falling apart – its being deliberately pulled apart by the small gaggle of MPs and ex-Spads who represent 4.5% of the party.

  23. Well I’m going to follow Atul’s example and make a prediction, although I may leave myself quite a bit of leeway so as to not look as foolish as he did.

    There are sections of the party which are going all out to force a left/right battle. On the left it seems so far to be rather minuscule, but on the right it looks like a large part of the 4.5% who were Kendal supporters in the Mandelson camp. For the sake of a name, let’s call them the ‘anti-democratic’ faction, although some may prefer modernizers; (as in ‘new’ I guess.)

    By forcing the fight they are moving the party towards a split. Probably they consider the best way to do this is to bring on some deselection wars with some of their MPs crossing over the line of going too far. A few martyrs being burned by left wing CLPs may just do the job and we will get a SDP mark 2.

    What they may like to ponder, and what those not quite so far to the right in the PLP especially should consider, is the history of the two times it has seriously been tried before. The first time was with Ramsay MacDonald who became a pariah in the labour movement. The second time was with the Gang of Four, but after their bright beginnings we saw them fade into obscurity. With the near total wipe out of the Liberals in May, it looks like a step too far.

    So my prediction is that some time well before 2020, let’s say by 2018, there will be a split and Atul will go with them. So all that’s left to say is bye-be Atul.

  24. Paul Tinnion says:

    I think Atal is being too apocalyptic. It is true that Labour is not a serious candidate for power in 2020 under Jeremy Corbyn. He is not fit to be Prime Minister and most MPs know it. However, by elections etc may go quite well until then. The Oldham selection shows that some local CLPs, perhaps most, may not in practice be flooded with loony lefties. Union leaders are not as daft as their executives (and I speak as one who left the Party because of union fixing). I think a Neil Kinnock-type figure may come along who will be able to claw things back. It may take a long time, of course.

  25. leslie48 says:

    Too many Corbynites here assume its MPs versus members. Nonsense Corbyn did not win a massive backing from fully paid up members – his vote was inflated by £3 supporters. In the constituencies especially marginal seats many active Labour members know Corbyn has no chance whatsoever of winning the 100 Tory marginal seats now needed to catch up with George or Boris in 2020. Some of us will not wait 5 years however as politics is about power not protest, progress not sectarianism and making the world a better place where all groups have chances not bitter class war speeches from the powerless far left and their allies and rabble as we saw in Manchester outside the Tory conference.

  26. Mike Homfray says:

    There is no one who could be a unifying figure because differences of view are so apparent and irreconcilable

  27. Lizzy Salander says:

    @Chris

    ” I think there has been 1 article, by a regular hack, on here that contained any criticism of the government in the past month.”

    I think you are looking for the Conservatives Uncut or Labour Cut website.

    Perhaps a keyboard error?

  28. Chris says:

    @leslie48

    “…Corbyn did not win a massive backing from fully paid up members…”

    He won nearly 50% of full members on the first round, more than double Burnhams second place vote. If you don’t think that is massive backing from party members then I don’t actually don’t know what to say.

  29. John P reid says:

    Danny Speight,not all the sDp went into the liberal democrats, some joined the Tories, Andrew Lansley, Danny Finkelstien, Chris Crayling Andy Cooper, some joined Labour Andrew Adnis, Roger Liddle

    Paul tinnion, Kinnock was called Ramsey Mckinnock within a year of being leader,as he couldn’t support Scargills illegal calling for miners to strike without balloting them,

    Maybe Jon Cryer,but I can’t honk of anyone else

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