by Kevin Meagher
You can disagree with Jeremy Corbyn, you can think he’s deluded and you can even think his continued leadership of the Labour party is a one way ticket to political oblivion, but he has a fair point in trying to hold on.
He was elected with an overwhelming majority as party leader just ten months ago. There is no chink of light, no clever tactical point that reduces the power of his victory. He won a fair fight, securing a first ballot victory with 65 per cent of the vote to succeed Ed Miliband. It was a clear, unambiguous call for a different kind of politics.
Since then he has clearly tried to implement his mandate to refound Labour as a democratic socialist party. A decent chunk of the party’s moderates have tried to work with the grain of his victory and should be commended for doing so.
Teeth may have been gritted and smiles painted on, but, largely the ship has stayed afloat until last weekend as Brexit changed the terms of political trade, raising, as it does, the prospect of an early general election.
Yet despite all the courtliness of the past year, a battle was always coming. And, indeed, here it is.
But the manner in which this awkward modus vivendi, this unhappy cohabitation between left and moderate sections of the party, now ends is of critical importance.
The risk is that the current putsch plays straight into the hands of the Corbynites and inflicts lasting, long-term damage on the party. The poison released by killing a king will not seep away easily. As Atul argued the other day, if Corbyn is to be replaced it has to be in a fair and open fight.
At the moment, Labour centrists look like bad losers who are using any excuse to decapitate their leader, shaming him into quitting with a series of ‘drip, drip’ resignations that are so delighting the broadcasters.
It’s a tactic designed to maximise the damage to Corbyn personally, but also to prolong the party’s agony.
To be fair, it seems this strategy owes more to accident than design, as this coup gives every impression of going off half-cocked.
Key players were not teed-up, especially the trade unions, who are absolutely critical, both in terms of their organisational heft, but also because of their links into the left, in making this ugly business pass off as smoothly as possible. After initially coming out to defend Corbyn, it looks like the big three – Unite, GMB and Unison – will shortly back the prospect of a leadership election while maintaining their support for Corbyn.
Still, it would have been cleaner and more honourable if the frontbench had quit en masse at the start, announcing a challenger straight away. Concern over Jeremy Corbyn’s performance and the threat on an early election would have been understandable reasons.
Instead, they have manufactured a complaint about his performance during the EU referendum as justification. The risk in the approach they have taken is that they trash his democratic mandate and forfeit the moral high ground for grubby realpolitik.
The price of doing so will be to unleash the furies of the left, who will feed on this betrayal for a generation. Egged on by their allies in the unions, they will now push for the mandatory reselection of MPs.
It bears saying that the left, no slouches with in comes to intra-party plotting, have taken repeated setbacks down the years with more grace.
When Tony Benn lost the 1981 deputy leadership contest Denis Healy by half a percentage point, the defeat was accepted. Benn, whatever his faults, would never, under any circumstances, abandon the party.
It was, of course, the moderate Labour MPs – 28 of them – who defected to the SDP, flouncing off because of the left’s growing influence.
As ever in Labour politics, we have learned nothing and forgotten nothing.
Except that a week is indeed a long time in politics. Time enough, it seems, to kill a political party.
Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut