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.
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.
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,
Told Liam Byrne last night that I welcome his speech today as contribution to our debate on economy tho repeats much ofwhat I’ve been saying
— John McDonnell (@johnmcdonnellMP) November 3, 2015
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