Labour’s right had better focus on conference

by Rob Marchant

The reshuffle resembled nothing more closely than the careful rearrangement of deckchairs on the Titanic. While it is mildly good news that the Corbynistas do not yet feel confident enough for their own Night of the Long Knives, it is hardly going to change much.

So it is now time to look forward to the year ahead and plot – er, think about – a strategy to bring the party gradually back to some semblance of electability and political normality. 2016 is likely to be critical for the future of the party, in that it will most likely determine whether a Corbyn leadership actually has legs and can stumble on until the general election of 2020, or will fizzle out long before.

While common sense would indicate the latter, there is also a strong correlation between the time taken for that meltdown to happen and the cumulative damage wreaked on the party.

Meanwhile, British politics in general this year is likely to be dominated by two stories: the first half by the Scottish elections and the second by the start of the build-up to the EU In-Out referendum, assuming it does not happen earlier. Sadly, there is very little which Labour can do about either.

The Scottish elections are likely be a terrible story for Labour whatever happens: it is clear from the polls and the general election result that it will lose many tens of Holyrood seats (if not all of them, as nearly happened for the Westminster election).

Despite the vain hope that SNP voters will somehow be attracted back to Labour by a more left-wing agenda, it seems clear that Scots, like other Britons, remain unimpressed with Corbyn, who is both quintessentially English and from a London-lefty school of politics which has little resonance in Scotland. Moreover, the SNP’s attraction was never about being more left-wing: it was about being (a) populist and (b) not Labour.

No, the only remotely positive outcome might just a sign that the flow of blood from the wound has been staunched and that Scottish Labour can now start to recover. But that is all.

Even though the Tories are likely to be tearing themselves apart over Europe, as usual, Labour is unlikely to be able to take political advantage. Its current position, thanks to a newly-resurgent anti-EU movement on the left and far left, is split and largely incoherent.

Oddly, therefore, the most decisive event for this party in 2016 is likely to be party conference. Why?

Because this party is not in a normal state. It is close to civil war and the reality is that internal matters take precedence, particularly when there is little to gain from politics-as-usual.

To this point, it seems clear that the Corbynistas in the party and the labour movement will be organising like crazy. If there are to be deselections in the constituencies, if there is to be a change in the internal balance of power within this party or the leadership ballot rules, they will start in the dull mechanics of NEC committees and constitutional resolutions, which are the key to all this.

Labour’s right did have a minor triumph in November, when they managed to get leadership of a number of key PLP committees. But the hard left, while generally useless at the bread-and-butter of mainstream politics, are past masters in manipulating the internal processes of the party. This can happen at central level with the NEC, National Policy Forum and so on (where Unite, for example, can provide key placemen and -women). But it can also happen at local level, where the hard-left entryist, er, I mean “grassroots”, organisation Momentum may second their activists en masse to vote at selection meetings for MPs or local GC and EC committees.

In short, if they are not already starting to meet in Westminster backrooms or coffee bars to agree a strategy for avoiding a conference coup, moderate MPs may shortly wake up to find themselves in a party where they have been politically emasculated.

Or out of a job.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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8 Responses to “Labour’s right had better focus on conference”

  1. paul barker says:

    Labour Centrists are still in deep denial about the scale of The Lefts victory. You are not going to get the Labour grassroots back & you cant think sensibly about what to do next until you accept that.
    I am a Libdem so naturally I think Labour Centrists should join us. That option has the great advantage of being something individuals can do by themselves with no need for conferences, organisation or finance.
    For those determined to hang on to the Labour brand, you have, in theory at least, more than 90% of The PLP. If a majority of Labour MPs could stick together, they could assert their sole right to stand “Labour” candidates. It would end up in The Courts but The PLP would have a good case, given the Westminster-centric traditions of British Politics.

  2. Robert says:

    Labour left or right is now struggling with the power game, it’s being played out while the Tories win the war and the battles.

    As for joining the Liberals why the hell would we do that, all you have as a leader is another Miliband.

    I suspect labour will be joining the LibDems at the bottom for a long time.

  3. Forlornehope says:

    I am still waiting for an honest proposal that Government spending has to be higher than this government, or the coalition, propose and that this cannot be paid for without everyone above median income paying more in income tax and VAT. Pretending that we can get enough out of taxing “the rich” or “tax avoiding international business” is dishonest nonsense. Labour needs to get some backbone and present a real alternative to the British people. Everything else is just dishonest political hot air.

  4. Peter Kenny says:

    I hear the faint sound of someone whistling in the wind.

  5. James Martin says:

    You see Rob, your article sums up far better than I could how utterly shameless the right-wing in the Party are. You throw out all sorts of accusations in the direction of the left, and then call for doing the very things you accuse them of! Why can’t you just argue for your political positions? I’m happy to argue for mine, happy to vote for conference delegates that I think might share some of them, and happy to let the democratic processes do their work. But you? No, none of that is there, no argument for political positions, no support for membership democracy and elected official accountability, no arguments for transparency. And the funniest thing of all is that clearly you just don’t understand that it wasn’t just Iraq that did for the the Blairite right in the Party, but the building clamour from long-suffering members like myself for a restoration of the internal democracy that had been taken away under Blair. The democracy genie is out of the bottle again Rob, and all your obvious undemocratic control-freak tendencies that you wish to use instead of honest debate will not stop it.

  6. @James Martin
    I think you’re being unfair on Rob Marchant. You imply that those with Rob’s views have always been in a minority.

    In the 2010 leadership contest, David Miliband got 66,814 votes to Ed Miliband’s 55,992. It was support from the unions that got Ed elected. The equivalent candidate to Corbyn, Diane Abbott, only got 9,314 membership votes.

    Between 2010 and 2015, a lot of Blairites left the Labour party. I’ve heard estimates that it was half of them.

    In the 2015 leadership election, the equivalent candidate to David Miliband, Liz Kendall, got only 13,601 votes from the membership. And, of course, the equivalent candidate to Diane Abbott, Jeremy Corbyn, got 121,751.

    Since 2015, more Corbyn supporters have joined, and more moderates have left.

    It’s not that Rob was always in a minority among Labour members, it’s just that he is now.

  7. James Martin says:

    “It’s not that Rob was always in a minority among Labour members, it’s just that he is now.” Yes George, but that in a way is the point because I have been in a minority for most of my 30 years of membership but did not counter that with attempts at undermining what little democracy we had at times or with (many) thoughts of leaving the Party or taking my ball home even after the awfulness of things like Iraq. I just think that if we could just simply argue the politics and respect the votes then things would be a lot better when it comes to our chances of getting back into government and defeating this nasty shower currently in office.

  8. So did I get it right? Did Blair really say he would rather have Labour lose the next election than have Corbyn as prime minister? If so, do Rob, Atul and the Labour Uncut contributors agree with Blair?

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