by Trevor Fisher
Despite the legal issues being resolved, Labour’s political options are becoming more sharp-edged and legalistic. This situation is worsened by the antics of the Parliamentary Labour Party, a group whose political judgement and even grasp of political rules is dire.
I agree with Richard MacKinnon in the comments for my last piece questioning, “How can a party be trusted running a country when they can’t even run themselves?” though his call for a purge is unwise. But the key issue is that the MPs can’t get the most basic political issues right. Certainly the Labour rules and those of the British constitution seem to be beyond them.
The MPs were deeply foolish in acting to pass the vote of no confidence, which has had no effect other than to trigger the current leadership contest. That Corbyn simply ignored the vote is a sign the MPs did not understand the nature of the man, and once he called their bluff they had to challenge him… hoping it must be assumed that the NEC would exclude him from the ballot paper or perhaps the courts would.
Even before they made these foolish moves, which risks Corbyn winning a new and stronger mandate, the MPs had made many stupid decisions. Bob Crossley was right in his comment to me that the big mistake was letting JC onto the ballot paper, but it remains the case that the previous mistake was approving the Miliband reforms which only allowed the MPs to have the limited control of nominating. Which they then bungled as fools like Margaret Beckett and Frank Field nominated JC. He can’t be blamed for saying Thanks Very Much.
Subsequently the MPs have made massive errors in taking on the Corbyn machine. The consequences are that they have opened divisions which allow Richard MacKinnon and many others to talk of purges to impose unity by producing a united PLP. But this would be folly on folly given that the MPs would stay in parliament. They would lose control of their limited options as soon as they walked away from Labour. By taking them out of the Labour Party – I assume that we are talking the 172 who backed the vote of no confidence – they then have three and a half years to plot but the rest of parliament would then also maximise the damage to the Labour party.
The threat of deselection or the withdrawal of the whip -the latter more likely this autumn – would give the Speaker a chance to intervene. If the majority of Labour MPs are not taking the whip, they are independents…. and while the SNP would have a good case for becoming the official opposition and making Labour sink even further, the Speaker could approve a new parliamentary group as the official opposition and get the Short money. This is a nightmare scenario, making Labour look like a Punch and Judy show.
But the unknown factor is the effects on the Tory Party. It is suggested that the PLP wanted to challenge Corbyn as they fear a snap autumn election and wanted a better leader to avoid defeat. We will know the result of that gamble in a months time, but its the Tory Party whihc now comes into the frame. Could May call a snap election to exploit the M Ps rebellion?
Up to now it has been unlikely for the reasons Martin Kettle argued in the Guardian a couple of weeks ago. The Fixed Term Parliament Act demands 2/3 of M Ps vote for an election, and that is 2/3 of M Ps, not 2/3 of those present and voting. Unless the government loses a vote of no confidence, which is unlikely as the other parties don’t want an election where the Tories would get another five years. May could repeal the Act, but this probably means that the Lords have to approve, and I have felt until now that May would not take the risks.
However if Labour splits and the Speaker gets involved, then the risks look worth taking. Indeed the pressure in the Tory party for an election would intensify. We have never had a parliament where the Official Opposition had to be cobbled up by the Speaker before. References to 1931 are then relevant, as Ramsay MacDonald split his party, Lloyd George already had split the Liberal Party which had more or less vanished….like 2015…. and the Tories were the only show in town. Baldwin forced an election and the Tories won a landslide.
Today’s new rump party granted the Short money could trigger May asking the country to approve who they want to represent them as the current Labour MP s were not elected in 2015 to walk out of the Labour camp and set up on their own. A recall election would look better and better for May.
The Parliamentary Labour Party has made error after error. If they wanted the leadership election to get a better leader in case of a snap election, one looks at the current contest in disbelief. But the bigger nightmare is of splitting Labour and allowing the Prime Minister to call a snap election to resolve the issues.
There is an increasingly strong case for a parallel with 1931, with Labour in disarray, the Tories should call an election to see who the country wants at Westminster. Of the many ominous possibilities arising from the decision to challenge Corbyn in the way they have done so, the PLP may have given Theresa May the chance to call a General Election and get 5 years of office. Would the leaders of the Parliamentary Labour like to explain how they have behaved since the 2015 general election?
Trevor Fisher was a member of the Labour Coordinating Committee executive 1987-90 and secretary of the Labour Reform Group 1995- 2007