A Labour split is surely now on the cards

by Rob Marchant

The ballot papers have arrived. On past form for such elections, most voting tends to happen in the first week and the die is almost certainly already cast for one side or the other. And if yesterday’s YouGov poll is to be believed, there will be a second, convincing win for Jeremy Corbyn.

It is not the fact that polls cannot be wrong: we know that, especially in tight contests. But the very margin of the predicted win – 62% Corbyn to 38% Smith – must surely have brought a crushing dismay to the Smith team. Polls are not often that wrong. 62% is also, coincidentally, the exact same prediction for Corbyn’s vote made in August last year after reallocation of preferences. So we are likely to be talking about the same order-of-magnitude win.

So let’s suppose it’s right and September will be a glorious vindication of Labour’s choice of leader, in the face of massive unpopularity in the country. What happens next? There are really two possibilities.

One is that the Tories somehow find a way to subvert the Fixed Term Parliament Act of 2011 (plus Theresa May changes her earlier position) and contrive an early general election. Labour will, on current polling, be destroyed. But following that, Labour could have a chance to regroup after a further leadership contest. There is a possibility that the penny may finally drop with its critical soft left segment that the current configuration is truly unelectable and that John McDonnell or Diane Abbott cannot possibly rescue it. And then would start the long work of rebuilding the party under a new leader

The second, and apparently far more likely scenario, is that there is no general election. After winning two leadership elections, it seems unlikely that Corbyn could be dislodged until 2020 (if he is seen to be wounded in September, that is a different matter, but the polls indicate otherwise). And he has indicated he might hang on even in the event of a defeat, although one wonders whether John McDonnell would be comfortable with this thwarting of his own political ambitions.

The question then is simply, could Labour limp on until then without a split? Assuming no change of heart for the 172 MPs who voted No Confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, it seems untenable, for three reasons:

One: the MPs would largely disagree with the policies being presented on behalf of the party (and note that policy creation would likely bypass the National Policy Forum, according to rule changes being proposed for this year’s Conference).

Two: they would tend to be deselected anyway, once rule changes were put in place to force reselection using the limp excuse of boundary changes, as Corbyn himself has said he wants.

Three: a less-considered point is what an anonymous activist guest-writing in Nick Cohen’s Spectator column call the “ethical” case. The reason that Corbyn manages to keep the support of so many members is because they are mostly unaware of his past deeds and associations (or assume that any attempt to tell the truth about them is a smear). MPs are by definition political anoraks who do not fit that category, and most are painfully aware of Corbyn’s past and what it means.

In other words, that many decent MPs cannot, morally, stomach the idea of staying associated with a man who wants not only no nuclear weapons but Britain out of NATO altogether; who supported genocide denial in Kosovo; who as late as 2014 was a member of an organisation (the LRC) supporting armed struggle in Ireland; who appears uncritically on PressTV and Russia Today, state propaganda mouthpieces for repressive regimes.

Moreover, they quite conceivably might not be able to handle the idea of their beloved party going through the motions of a party conference in September, passing rule changes to turn back the clock to the 1980s, while a parallel Momentum conference is going on next door, with speakers who are far-left non-members, or even members of separate parties which stand against Labour.

Given that they would still be in their MPs’ offices until 2020, massively disappointed with the leadership and heading for career oblivion thereafter with nothing to lose, what is their motivation going to be?

Why, to split, of course, and thereby have a chance of returning to Parliament.

This could also be made significantly more attractive if the new party had sufficient critical mass to immediately become the official opposition and have access to Short money. And, as Uncut’s Atul Hatwal has argued, even Labour’s current inability to fill Shadow government positions puts in question its legitimacy to be designated Her Majesty’s Opposition.

A split is not inevitable: but from where we are now, it looks increasingly hard to resist. And if MPs were to hold their nerve and not buckle to the Corbynite line in the face of deselection threats, it would be the new party which dominated, in contrast to the 1980s.

The tragedy, of course, is that our century-old party would ultimately wither in the process. As Liz Kendall observed last year, the party has “no God-given right to exist”.

And the question still remains whether this fate, that of the Liberals in the 1920s, at some point becomes unavoidable anyway. It is certainly arguable that the sudden and overwhelming “crowding out” of long-time members by Corbynites has already made it so.

Or, put it another way: it is quite possible that we have already reached the tipping point.

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


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23 Responses to “A Labour split is surely now on the cards”

  1. Mark Livingston says:

    The hardcore Tory-lites will go but most of the soft left will stick with Labour. The likes of Kendall, Reed, Mann, Streeting etc won’t be missed.

  2. john p Reid says:

    it depends on solidarity to others who maybe councillors who’ve canvassed without wanting reward for years or rely on others in CLP’s that have teams who know what their CLP is capable of ,without many resources,
    If I lived in a CLP that was full of moderates and not prepared to let momentum over take it, and there was any chance of getting a moderate labour council, I’d stay fight on, other wise I’d find a moderate labour MP who won’t be deselected with a majority of 8,000 go canvass for them in 2020.

    also if Momentum take over the party and we have a worse result than 1931, will they stay on and want to turn it into the SWP mark2 ,or will they realise what they’ve done and give up, trouble is that I can see labour councillors coming third in 2018 behind Ukip and the Tories in England, and we’ll never recover from that either,

  3. James Martin says:

    What on earth is wrong with certain parts of the right wing of Labour? The left had to suffer Blair for years. Years, not months. But as soon as Corbyn was elected overwhelmingly last year we had talk of splits and coups. Well we have now had the (failed) coup, so now comes the split? So much for Labour Party democracy, and given how childishly pathetic these calls for splits are (toys and prams come to mind) you can only assume that those that make them lack even the most basic level of self-awareness, as well as lacking the most basic understanding of socialism – in fact what is really notable about Rob Marchant’s views is just how lacking in politics they are, no policies, no program, just… splits. So childish, so pathetic.

  4. Tafia says:

    Well the PLP are not very good are they in all truth. They’ve lost two leadership elections to Corbyn, backed the wrong horse in the EU referendum, and a huge swathe of them will lose their seats not to the tories, but to thoroughly well deserved deselection by their own members.

    Bunch if tits who somehow couldn’t see any of this coming when it was blatantly bloody obvious. yet they seem to think they are professional politicians.

    PS – Anecdotal. Everyone I know who voted for Corbyn last time is doing so again. BUT, far more interestingly, a fair few who didn’t vote for him last time are doing this time. Not because they think he is a capable leader – quite the opposite because they are so disgusted with how ‘their’ PLP has been behaving and they think it’s a way of teaching them a lesson.

  5. paul barker says:

    We will see, if nothing has happened by a Month after Corbyns re-election then I would guess nothing will happen for another 6 Months after that. The 172 are by no means a coherent group & they could easily go off in different directions. If a few dozen of The Soft Left rejoined The Shadow Cabinet Corbyn would look a lot stronger.Any breakaway has to have at least 117 MPs to become The Official Opposition.

  6. Peter Kenny says:

    A new party with no social base would be destroyed.

    If they had a social base they’d have recruited hundreds of thousands to ‘save labour’ and Owen Smith would be leader.

    I agree that they’re reckless enough and desperate enough but are they stupid enough?

  7. Eddie Clarke says:

    We, including our elected MPs, built this Party. We should not be forced out by interlopers. The members – and the country – want a clearly laid out position in opposition to globalised neo-liberalism. However simplistically, and disingenuously, Corbyn and his team is the only show in town with this on offer (at least on the left). He is going to be there until his rout at the next election (at least). Can the MPs find a platform which is equally appealing to the members and the electorate? Can they organise themselves collectively to deal with Corbyn in some sort of working arrangement? Or could they just go on strike? They really should not think of splitting, though that is easy for me to say, far from the threats and intimidation they face daily, even though with winks and nods from the leadership. It is a sad business but the Labour Party is and will be the only possible opposition to organised capital. We need to stay and fight.

  8. james says:

    How’s it going in Grangefield?

  9. I’m not sure if some of you were listening. This piece is not actually advocating a split and personally I would prefer to avoid one. It is commenting on the likelihood of one, which is high in the event of a Corbyn win. Especially in the event of deselections.

  10. Richard MacKinnon says:

    The Labour Party’s present day malaise is all self inflicted. Maybe if a little moral fibre had been shown over the last few years and The Party had demanded Tony Blair’s indictment for war crimes it might not be in the position it is today.
    I believe the madness that is Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership is as a direct result of The Party not standing up to Blair and his lust for war at the time and its denial ever since. The hypocrisy of the claim ‘my moral compass’ when none exist disgust decent citizens.

  11. Sean says:

    If you had to give a percentage chance of a split, then it would surely be low. Regardless of the current state of the party, the electoral system and name recognition value means that the Labour name and mantle is important to both sides. Far better to remain in the party, allow Corbyn time to do the hard left enough damage himself. By all means fight the rule changes, which will be harder than Corbyn’s team thinks, and continue to provide an alternative option. Use the time away from the front bench to produce a real and substantial program for the country which Labour has failed to show post-2010. Show competence and vision that is sorely lacking in the real leadership and challenge post 2020. If Corbyn allows mass deselections then he removes all incumbency advantages, which would lead to seat losses by itself. The main threat is of course that people will lose their seats in 2020 but it may be enough to sustain the party.

  12. NickT says:

    I think a split is long overdue. Let Corbychev have the fantasists, bigots and closet-Kipper vote. They can merrily dance off down the yellow brick road to nowhere. The majority of longterm Labour supporters are against Corbyn and his fanatics – so take them away from him, build a Real Labour party that can win elections and watch as the Stalinists rage impotently from Islington. That’s a better prospect for Britain – and it beats being slowly destroyed in a series of Momentum show trials led by the appalling McDonnell and Milne.

  13. Caracatus says:

    Who is going to lead this breakaway Labour ? Angela Eagle was 4th for the deputy leader contest, that welsh chap, no one had heard of him before and he comes across as compete insincere. What is their programme for Government. Ed Balls says he only spoke to Ed M twice in the general election campaign. Why do labour MPs put up with this ?

  14. @Richard MacKinnon: *Sigh*. Tony Blair will never be indicted for war crimes because no-one has ever remotely found a charge applicable to him of any kind, much less one which fits the category of war crimes. It is fantasy to suggest otherwise.

    Furthermore, the only party leader who subscribes to that fantasy is Jeremy Corbyn who, as you agree, is a disastrous leader for the party. The madness is not a reaction against Blair, but rather the opposite; an indulgence of this kind of empty grievance politics.

  15. John P Reid says:

    Richard McKinnon.the idea the far left ago are still trying to save face that they nearly destroyed the party in the early 80’s are only letting young student momentum types, takr over some Moribund areas,or ousting hard working councillors from positions by getting their mates to tun up,is more obvious, they’re not doing it because not enough people want Blair at th Hague ,in fact some blairites were dead against Iraq, some blue labour types want Blair at The Hague, the far left would have gone done their path,had nine of this happened, they waited for their chance 2010 we were bunt out, 2015 was the first time, after we’d lost power in history,where we didn’t have a civil war, we showed loyalty to Ed M, and look what happened, the hard left are using tricks, on having their open meetings with motions, or getting George Galloway backers to turn up to meetings, momentum, even have kill Blair protests , via Socialist worker

    They won’t listen even if we get massacred t the 2020 election they’ll blame ever one else as they will have done for the previous 37 years, by then

  16. Saul Till says:

    To answer James Martin’s point, the reasons why the far left had to ‘put up’ with Blair whilst the current Labour centrists don’t have to put up with Corbyn are twofold:

    1. Corbyn is essentially unelectable. Blair OTOH was highly electable. In the real world electability is pretty important. One might even say it’s necessary if you wish to become the ruling party.
    It’s only a relatively small group of loonies who consider the ascension to government to be some kind of grubby betrayal of the far-left’s commitment to eternal, pointless irrelevance.

    2. Blair was popular with his PLP, even in his relatively unpopular moments. OTOH Corbyn is one of the most crushingly unpopular party leaders in British political history.

    These two asymmetries between the two leaderships make all the difference in the world. Feigning outrage at the injustice of it all convinces no-one but your already-convinced Corbynites – the useful idiots who are doing more for the Tories’ chances than the Tories themselves.
    The actual electorate might listen, bored, for a few seconds(if any Corbynites dared speak to them), but only before mentally switching off and vowing not to vote for the peculiar, charmless, humourless hypocritice who babbles on Press TV about how appalling the west is whilst the Iranian government who fund the channel hang another evil homo from a crane.

  17. Ultraviolet says:

    Another article that seems to completely miss the point.

    One: The MPs would largely disagree with the policies being presented on behalf of the party.

    Would they really? “Largely” disagree? That is not what Owen Smith is saying. And, foreign policy aside, which of the policies Corbyn has proposed would anyone who believes in the principles of the Labour party have a problem with?

    Two: they would tend to be deselected anyway, once rule changes were put in place to force reselection using the limp excuse of boundary changes.

    If you have two MPs/candidates going for one seat under the new rules, it is hardly a “limp excuse” to say that they can’t both stand.

    Three: The reason that Corbyn manages to keep the support of so many members is because they are mostly unaware of his past deeds and associations. No, we aren’t. We could hardly be so after months upon months of people yelling “Hamas/IRA/anti-Semite” at every opportunity. We just know that those making these points are deliberately and grossly lying about Corbyn’s dealings with these organisations in pursuit of their undisguised hatred towards him. As a result, any nugget of truth there might be in the criticisms of Corbyn for those dealings gets lost in all the lies, and gains zero traction.

    After the Scottish referendum, after the anti-Corbyn barrage of the past year, after Brexit, people just aren’t listening to mainstream politicians and those who seek to preserve the status quo any more. That is the uncomfortable truth that the right of the party and its apologists still can’t grasp no matter how many elections they lose.

  18. Richard MacKinnon says:

    Rob Marchant,
    OK I know Blair will never be charged with war crimes, that is something the British establishment reserve for Balkan and African leaders. But there is nothing to prevent him being stuck infront of a Commons Select Committee and made to answer the question ‘Did you mislead parliament’. That the Labour Party has never demanded this is a disgrace.
    Labour lost its soul and decency with Blair. Corbyn is the dirivation of Labours pact with the devil. A caricature of unkempt left wing intellectual. They have been about since Marx. Full of well intentioned but totally impractical irrationality. He probably realises this himself, but what can he do other than carry on? He never expected or planned to be leader, but he is and he seems determined to go along with this charade. Those ‘activists’ that support him see an opportunity for theselves. They know like you Rob, politics can be a good career, and lets us not forget their not unreasonable hatred of the Labour establishment.
    Labour deserve to be in the place they find themselves. Post Blair Labour have never stopped digging and now they cant get out. How it will all end is beautiful speculation. I have said before a purge should follow a coup. It is what good leaders do but therefore I dont think it will happen. Will the 170 walk? They should if they have any self respect. But the wilderness is an uncertain place to be and so probaly not.
    Whats that noise Rob? It sounds like one of those big yellow excavator things.

  19. Mike Homfray says:

    The problem is that the myth that Labour was elected in 97 because of their inherent wonderfulness appears to have been believed by some.

    Lets get it clear. Labour were elected because they weren’t the Tories. It wouldn’t have mattered who the Labour leader was, we would have won.
    The Tories then decided to continue and exacerbate their own internal disagreements leading to a very low turnout in 2001. Electoral arithmetic benefited us in 2005, though its going against us now.

    You could bring back Blair or a Blair-a-like tomorrow and Labour would be doing no better, simply because those who voted Tory are generally happy with what they are getting – which is what they voted for.
    However, that’s not so with regard to the many who have stopped voting – turnouts are now permanently in the mid-60’s, and its Labour voters or former Labour voters who appear to make up most of the missing voters.

    I think the party is incoherent, but the electoral system makes it difficult to have any sort of successful split. There are people who would not want to vote for a New Labour type option again, others who don’t want a more left wing party. I don’t see any logical way of bringing them back together other than in very grudging acceptance of the practical need to do so, but I don’t think that will extend to genuine agreement on policy

  20. Richard MacKinnon says:

    Rob Marchant,
    I replied to your comment of 2/09 5.58 but I have not been published. I hope Labour Uncut is not looking away from ideas they prefer not to acknowledge.
    And what do mean * sigh*? This is not Mills and Bloom. We just need to know what you think Rob, not how you are feeling.

  21. John P Reid says:

    Mike Homfray no in every is talking about bringing a blairite leader back, you’re half right on 2001 and 2005although William Hague was competent and electable unlike Michael foot ( but you say benefited us in 2005, yet you weren’t a member in 2005 so you meant benefited you) not any leader would have won in 97′ as Kinnock lost to john Major and Kinnock got more votes in 92 than Wilsoj in 74′ Callaghan in 79 and a lot more than foot.

    I dont think it’s former labour voters that make up the missing votes, as most gave died, but the ones who stopped voting labour went to ukip, and they’re not going to fine back,if labour swing to the left.

    Saul Till,you’re right for once

  22. Imran Khan says:

    The real point about Corbyn’s past association with the IRA/Hamas/CND et al is not that the majority of new Labour members are unaware of it or believe it to be smears but that they are aware of it and fully endorse it!

  23. Landless Peasant says:

    If you oppose Corbyn you’re in the wrong Party, quit and join the Tories, Labour is a Socialist Party..

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