The renaissance of the Livingstone tendency

by Jonathan Todd

“There are people within the PLP who have never accepted the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn,” claimed Clive Lewis on Today on Saturday morning, in the context of a debate on Syria. This hints at the charge that Diane Abbott has previously made: Labour MPs want to bomb Syria to harm Corbyn. It takes a particular cynicism to suggest that MPs would put political advantage before matters of life and death.

It is precisely because the decision to go to war is so consequential that elected representatives cannot be bound by mere partisan calculation. MPs need to be able to look constituents in the eye and tell them that they acted as they thought necessary to keep them safe. They cannot – and, pace Abbott, do not – let how they feel about a party leader, or a whip, stand between them and doing so.

Ministers similarly need to be able to look people in the eye. They must be prepared to defend military intervention undertaken or not undertaken by the governments of which they are a part. The shared position of ministers forms the line of the party in government and all parties that wish to be taken seriously as parties of government require such common positions.

If ministers or shadow ministers cannot support these positions, they should resign from the frontbench. If backbench MPs cannot support whips consistent with these positions, they should not so vote. Whether the grandest prime ministers or the most humble backbenchers, all act in accord with their interpretation of the national interest.

We might – though it strains practical limits – live in a direct democracy, where military decisions are determined by popular referendum. We might – though it is also impractical in a world of classified military intelligence and rapidly emerging security threats – have a have a parliament of delegates, who vote as mandated by local electors or party members. Neither, however, are this country.

“Authoritative instructions; mandates issued, which the member is bound blindly and implicitly to obey, to vote, and to argue for, though contrary to the clearest conviction of his judgment and conscience,” Burke observed in his celebrated address to the electors of Bristol, “these are things utterly unknown to the laws of this land.”

Burke would be confused by attempts to reduce Labour MPs to mandated delegates for the party membership. Such a diminution of MPs seeks to subvert the presumed will of the MPs and the PLP to that of the membership, so strengthening Corbyn’s party position.

It might be thought, therefore, a manoeuvre consistent with one of the motivations that Robert Colvile argues Corbyn has inherited from Ken Livingstone: “an obsession with winning battles inside the party rather than appealing to the electorate”. There are perfectly respectable reasons for opposing intervention in Syria. Corbyn might focus on selling them to the electorate. Instead he is sending emails to party members that seem designed to make life difficult for his MPs, who he purports to lead and who appear unconvinced by these reasons.

Perhaps this is an unduly harsh interpretation of Corbyn’s email. But there is less doubt that Lewis, who nominated Corbyn for the leadership and began his Today interview with an attack on the BBC (“so one-sided it was an absolute outrage”), exhibits another characteristic that Colvile says has passed from Livingstone to Corbyn: “a conviction that a hostile media are blinding voters to their true interest”. The proximity of Corbyn to the likes of Hamas and the IRA chimes with a further such trait: “a willingness to chum up to any unsavoury terrorists or dictators who share their rhetorical objections to the capitalist classes”.

The Livingstone tendency has never before held the party leadership. The Financial Times reports that 1000 members have left the party in the past week. For these departed members, under this tendency Labour has ceased to persuade that it is an effective vehicle for improvement of the country. The party is a dysfunctional means to a higher end for these ex members but it is an end in itself for those prioritising internal party disputes.

The 1000 will empathise with Jonathan Freedland: “With each misstep, Corbyn is handing Britain to the Tories”. The locus of the disappointment, therefore, is what is happening to the country. On Colvile’s reading of the tendency, this looks in the wrong place to understand the feelings of its adherents. Whatever may be happening to the country is secondary to their standing within the party, which has never been higher. Thus, these may be the worst of Labour times for the 1000 but they are the best for the tendency.

It is galling that MPs who are acting on Syria as their reading of the national interest compels them are being accused of conniving to undermine Corbyn, while Corbyn seeks to consolidate his party position by fermenting opinion among members that undermines them. Advocates of humanitarian intervention often draw succour from Burke’s dictum that, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”. Both sides of the debate on Syrian intervention, though, should recall his precepts of parliamentary democracy.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut   

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12 Responses to “The renaissance of the Livingstone tendency”

  1. historyintime says:

    Yes they have the right to vote their view of the national interest. Yes their party has the right to withdraw their preselection for the next election.

  2. Ex Labour says:

    Firstly I don’t get the fixation with the left assuming that the BBC is biased against them. Quite the opposite is the reality. There are so many incidents over the years where the Beeb has gone above and beyond for the socialist cause and political correctness and this has been confirmed by ex employees. Just look at the BBC website during the GE where its support of Miliband became open and embarrassing. Look at its refusal to acknowledge that Muslims were grooming and committing sexual offences in Rotherham, Rochdale, Derby etc etc. I think it was Churchill who said half the BBC were socialist and the other half communist.

    Apart from that I agree with the sentiments of the article. The far left is more interested in winning the internal battles and keeping control of the party rather than looking outwards towards world events. But you have Corbyn, Abbott, Livingstone etc and its only going to get worse before the party either implodes or gets a rude awakening at the next GE 2020.

  3. NHSGP says:

    Corbyn never accepted the previous leadership. He repeatedly rebelled.

    So what?

  4. NHSGP says:

    Next, vote against.

    Then within a short period of time, the Islamic terrorists attack the UK killing people.

    Now Labour are associated as being in favour of doing nothing and siding with the terrorists.

    eg. Out come those segregated rallies and Labour doing as they are told.

    Not going to look good.

  5. AnneJGP says:

    With greater familiarity, it is beginning to seem to me that Mr Corbyn’s principles are actually ideas fixed in concrete. If he even understood what a principle is he would recognise that different people can have different principles. So I doubt if he’d know a real principle if he saw one.

    Also, he backs his fixed ideas up with behaviour suggesting both manipulation & fear of responsibility.

    Given these things plus the fact that Mr Corbyn plainly wants rid of most of his PLP colleagues whilst most of them plainly want rid of him, it is less than surprising that Mr Corby cannot recognise the difference between a principled objection and a party-political objecftion.

    But Mr Corbyn has won the majority of the party membership. Therefore he has the right to mould the party to his own image.

    If I were a Labour MP, I’d be brushing up my CV and looking at alternative careers. The Labour party may again become an electable party of government, but I doubt if it will be in time for the present PLP to benefit.

  6. Madasafish says:

    “The 1000 will empathise with Jonathan Freedland: “With each misstep, Corbyn is handing Britain to the Tories”

    He’s no the only one saying that..

    “Jeremy Corbyn is seen as an unpopular leader across almost all demographic groups and leads a party whose voters are increasingly out of step with majority opinion in the country.

    Since the election, Labour has attracted voters from two main sources: the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, many of whom hold views on immigration, defence, welfare and patriotism that are at odds with public opinion.”

    and much more..

    Labour under Corbyn are doing their very best to do everything wrong.
    At a time when the Government has a sexual scandal, a Budget balls-up and a NHS strike all at once, only a proven utter incompetent would delete ALL those from the headlines and concentrate on an internal war over Foreign Affairs.

    The Tories should be reeling from the Opposition attacking their credibility to govern. Instead, Labour are reeling.

    And it’s ALL Corbyn’s fault.. well err except for McDonnell. Chairman Mao anyone?

    I have followed politics since 1963. This is the biggest shambles I have ever seen. Labour make UKIP apppear sane.

  7. John p Reid says:

    I know a Met police is lector who’s a big Corbyn fan ,says Livingstones comments about Blair causing 7/7 ,are twaddle,there would have been terror attacks in Britian sooner or later if we hadn’t invaded Iraq and its degrades other people like me,who were against the Iraq was to see Livingstine come out with such tosh, that our argument against the war is now based,down to Livingstones lies

  8. Anne says:

    I am pleased that Jeremy Corbyn has decided to do the right thing and give his MPs a free vote on bombing in Syria. It is a difficult decision and there are no clear answers. To threaten these good MPs with deselection is a disgraced. When Jeremy Corbyn became leader he did so on a mantra of kinder politics – I would not say threatening MPs with deselection was in anyway kind.
    As I understand it Jeremy Corbyn defied his wipe 500 times – why was he never deselected?

  9. Ian says:

    @HH what tosh. I was taught by Evan Davis many years ago when he lectured st London Business School and at that time his politics were right wing, particularly on economics and Europe. I very much doubt he has since transformed into a rabid lefty.

  10. John P Reid says:

    Well said ex labour

  11. Mike Stallard says:

    On Labour List is an excellent article about this.
    The bare truth is that we have no military left which is capable of making any difference. President Obama, having deliberately stirred up the Arab Spring, walked away. Now there is chaos stretching from the West (Maghreb) through Egypt and Palestine to Iraq and Iran even.
    We need to cut down spending on ourselves and pretending it is virtuous and for the “vulnerable”. We need to defend ourselves by defending other people. Otherwise these very other people – some of them enthusiastic mass murderers and religious psychopaths – will do it for us.

  12. Samuel Dada says:

    Labour Party interest to be Party of Government does not mean it should turn to a Party of warmongering.
    Let us engage in a mature debate, if we bomb without ground troupe to capture and take control of the area been bomb, there is no way to control ISIS spreading.
    There no way of distinguishing between the so call moderate rebel and ISIS. They both have the same objective.
    Evidence shows that all weapon supplied to these groups end up in the hand of ISIS. What evidence to show that these moderate group will not join the ISIS at end, if they are not winning to establish the Caliphate they all want.
    Britain should concentrate uprooting ISIS from Iraq first and let America and Russian do what they are doing in Syria.
    Let coalition to work with Al-Sad, Syrians Army with those really believe in Sysria among the opposition to uproot ISIS. They political solution.

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