Avoiding a Labour split is possible but it will take strong stomachs

by Rob Marchant

Last Saturday’s Corbyn win was expected. However, most politicians and commentators were waiting to see how convincing it was. The fact that Corbyn is still party leader is still clearly disastrous for Labour’s electoral chances and for its future in general.

On the positive side, while it was a marginally better result for Corbyn, it was not a statistically significant difference. It is essentially the same result as last year, implying that there is not necessarily a growing level of support for him within the party. Bearing in mind some of the worst Corbyn news – such as the Dispatches and Panorama programmes on Labour – did not even surface until most people had already voted, it is highly possible that some Corbyn voters might have voted differently, even now.

In very simple terms, the position is fairly stable. Three-fifths of the membership, plus those others with voting rights, who turned out, are pro-Corbyn. Two-fifths are against.

In short, it is perfectly possible that this level will end up being the high-water mark of his popularity, as the grim reality of four years more of fantasy politics sinks in.

There are some crumbs of comfort that moderates can take from this.

The first positive thing about all this is only 10% need to flip from pro-Corbyn to anti- for him to be lost as leader. Things could have been far, far worse. If Owen Smith had polled 20%, game over. It is not game over, not yet, anyway. And the NEC, the General Secretary, the Deputy Leader and 80% of the PLP are now clearly in the anti-camp. Corbyn’s support depends on that 20% of the selectorate, plus some major unions.

There could yet even be a final pre-2020 attempt to oust Corbyn, although the chances look slim. This is for two reasons: first, that moderates might struggle to find a candidate willing to risk the humiliation of defeat; and second, that a third win for Corbyn might mean cementing the hard left forever.

The strong likelihood, therefore, is that Corbyn will now be there until 2020. But after the inevitable general election monstering by the Tories and the SNP, he would find it very difficult to stay (and if he or a hard-left replacement succeeded, a split would become inevitable).

And if you doubt the level of mass electoral destruction, just imagine Tory attack ads raking over his relationship with Hamas and the IRA, stories surely still not yet in the consciousness of most voters.

Corbyn would have to do TV in a general election campaign too, he couldn’t hide away from mainstream media like he does now. Imagine a head-to-head with Theresa May where she taunted him on leaving NATO, or produced quotes from his militant past.

Bottom line: Corbyn has only had one year and look at the polls. Three more years and Labour will have become a standing joke.

What does all this mean for activists? The immediate imperative is clear: we need to give good reasons to the significant number who’ve been saying “I’m voting for Owen Smith then I’m going” not to tear up their membership cards. This is vital, if we are to keep – and improve on – the 60-40 split of pros to antis.

The second positive thing is that Corbyn really doesn’t have an NEC majority any more. This, with a bit of luck, will largely limit mandatory reselection of MPs. And as long as mandatory deselections don’t happen, the impulse to split will be much reduced.

The PLP will still retain quite a lot of power: they could, after all, threaten to push for the Short money and Leader of the Opposition status in Parliament with a PLP leader who is not Corbyn, as Uncut has previously written.

Even if this threat were not carried out, it could be used as a bargaining chip to get a degree of autonomy in policy. Unions could well shift position as well, as they see the reality of an election approaching debacle (and as their members potentially become unhappy that their subs are being siphoned into Momentum, a political organisation which few of them support).

But there is still a big risk of a split. The biggest is what you might call the nausea effect: that decent MPs simply cannot look themselves in the mirror and say things they do not believe in. Or that they decline to be part of a party where the leader, plus Shadow Defence and Foreign Secretaries, are actively working against party policy on Defence. Or which declines to help protect civilians in Syria. Or where Jewish activists are heckled on the conference floor.

This pervading queasiness clearly risks encouraging MPs to want to split off, and also has already demonstrably made some moderate activists leave. If Labour wants to survive, it is going to have to convince both MPs and activists to retain strong stomachs.

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


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16 Responses to “Avoiding a Labour split is possible but it will take strong stomachs”

  1. Tafia says:

    Jewish activists are heckled on the conference floor.

    Heckling activists solely because they are jewish is wrong. Heckling activists because they are pro-Israeli – jewish or not, is not.

    Stop trying to make one thing mean the other. It makes you look cheap and amateurish.

  2. Mark Livingston says:

    I think Corbyn should ban Progress and its billionaire donors from the party. They aren’t proper socialists and they put ordinary people off joining Labour. A lot of people in our CLP see them as right-wing entryists who took over the party in the 90s.

  3. Eddie Clarke says:

    Wouldn’t it be nice if Our Dear Leader thought, oh, my goodness, nearly 200,000 members have reservations about my capacity to lead their Party. This is a problem I can’t ignore. Perhaps I should try to engage with them, perhaps I could give them some space, perhaps I could recognise some of their concerns. No, I am no good at that, I’ll just make a speech to my mates saying I am prepared to do that. That should keep them going. They are all Blairite Red Tories anyway.

  4. Derek Emery says:

    I’ve never known anybody have the slightest interest in any Jewish question, one way or another. There’s a large gap between voters and Labour party members. Voters are not going to move their stance to become interested – why should they?
    In effect Labour is talking to itself.

  5. The last two paragraphs are potentially the most significant. In the 30 years I’ve been in business I’ve never found it to be a problem that I’m publicly a Labour activist. Sometimes people ask me if it is and I explain it’s actually the opposite. I’ve won new clients who are active members of the Conservative party because we admire and respect each others commitment to public service and democracy.

    However, that changed this week. I’ve twice been tackled about my Labour Party membership by people asking me how I can be a member. Telling me I should be ashamed to be a member of a party whose leader and shadow chancellor are friends with terrorists in the IRA, tolerate anti-antisemitism and will refuse to defend the UK from its enemies.

    It’s possible to apologies for them and say you are one of those who are trying to stop him. That there are 170 Labour MPs and thousands of councillors who are all decent, hard-working, patriotic people.

    But that only elicits the response that if they were really decent and cared enough about these things then they should refuse to represent the Labour Party where such people are in charge. It’s hard to say they shouldn’t other than a too complex explanation of why new parties won’t work.

  6. Ed says:

    Your analysis of the result omits the 130000 prevented from voting (even though some signed up as registered supporters, having to pay yet another £25) and those suspended often on quite ludicrous ”grounds’. The mandate will be larger, if you can find a right winger to risk it,, next time.

  7. David Walker says:

    “On the positive side, while it was a marginally better result for Corbyn, it was not a statistically significant difference. It is essentially the same result as last year, implying that there is not necessarily a growing level of support for him within the party.”

    The party didn’t allow any new members to vote. How could the number who voted for Corbyn go up?

    Even with Labour activists ordered to attend, Smith could barely muster a couple of hundred to attend when he made a speech. It’s been the same with all moderate Labour figures for years. There is no public appetite for any of them. A comeback concert by Bros or Hue And Cry would create more interest and have more relevancy.

    The party is Corbyn’s and Mcdonnell’s now. They can do what they like with it. The PLP are utterly powerless.

    Neither seem bothered by the next election. I think both feel there are more appealing routes to power than the democratic process. They want to get enough supporters to achieve power through some sort of coup I guess and probably not a bloodless one.

    Maybe that’s the left’s best option? It’s worked elsewhere. Most dictators, at one point, were just populists who seemed like a breath of fresh air. Hitler’s a perfect example and there are many others.

  8. Martin says:

    @David Walker: a year ago I would have dismissed such talk as paranoid nonsense, now I’m not so sure.

    Corbyn isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed, but McDonnell is no fool. He knows that the path they’re leading Labour down leads to probable humiliation at the next General Election. He displays such unconcern about this that you have to wonder…

    My naïve young self really wants to work with them to rebuild the New Jerusalem (if that isn’t a bit too pro-Israel for the Dear Leader), my cynical older self says “That’s for the birds, you’re just making yourself into a Useful Idiot.”

    I’m genuinely torn.

  9. john preid says:

    if several councillors who didn’t back Corbyn lose their seats due to him, same as councillors lost their seats due to blair in 2006(although they may have own them in 1998,due to him)then Corbyn should take responsibility

  10. Tony says:

    ” Imagine a head-to-head with Theresa May where …” Corbyn challenges her on Trident replacement by pointing out that most of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet opposed the original decision to purchase Trident!

    http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2011/dec/30/thatcher-cabinet-opposed-trident-purchase

  11. Mike Homfray says:

    Still here, Rob? You can cry wolf once too often – if you want your centre party, then go and start it, but it isn’t going to be Labour.

  12. Peter Kenny says:

    David Walker – you’re talking drivel, man!

    Also you should know that under Godwin’s Law your comment is void anyway.

    Coup? The Labour Party?

    Apart from it being politically impossible – the number of ‘revolutionaries’ in the Party is tiny and you sure can’t have a revolution or coup without people who think it’s a good idea it’s also pragmatically impossible – the state has an army, a secret service, police etc and the LP has what?

    People running street stalls and delivering leaflets.

    Of course you’d also actually have to have such a deep political and social crisis that we’d be winning the election by a landslide anyway.

    When I read stuff like this I really worry about some people’s ability to imagine that the world is full of others who see things differently from them when their response is to suggest those people are mentally ill or actually secretly engaged in some other agenda.

    Perhaps we’re all lizards from Alpha Centauri? That would explain it all.

    Where is rationality and political debate in this over heated nonsense?

    We are democratic socialists. Got it? It’s not a hard concept.

    I think we can win an election

    John McDonnel thinks we can win an election.

    You think we’re wrong. It’s happened. You could be wrong, it’s been known I imagine.

    Whatever he’s not Lenin! Or a Lizard!

  13. Simon says:

    With the confirmation of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader and with the rebellious MPs finally seeing that the only way to remain in their little bubble is to reconnect with Jeremy Corbyn and reunite the band, as Tom Watson so succinctly put it, I ask what now?

    Jeremy won’t win everything, and that is a good thing in any democracy. It is going to be a slow process of refining policy, debating points, reconnecting the PLP to the members and people need to realise that, and not be put off by setbacks along the road. To build a strong party that will stand the buffeting that is politics we need to put down strong foundations. From CLP to conference to NEC to PLP, we need to build. Build trust, build relationships and build the faith of the general electorate in Labour again.

    We need to be the party of the many not the few. We need to be the party that everyone turns to for fresh ideas. We need to be the party that says, we look to the ideas of the past that worked, and modify them for the present realities of life, so that we can drive forward to a brighter future. For us, for our children, for our world.

    We need to stand strong and proud, and say we will build a strong economy and support business, but that must be done on the back of hard work, not on the backs of hard workers. We need to stand and say that profits need to be shared throughout our society and not kept for the few.

    It cannot be right that people live in mansions whilst others sleep in doorways.

    It cannot be right that people eat in restaurants where meals cost hundreds whilst families rely on food banks to feed their children.

    So as Labour we need to reunite and rebuild. But make no mistake this must be a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour with social justice and equality at it’s core. A Labour Party renewed. A Labour Party reconnected with it’s roots as a democratic SOCIALIST party. A Labour Party revived by it’s members who must campaign for what they believe in. Justice for all. Equality for all. A fair chance for all.

  14. Leslie48 says:

    Simon you are delusional. Tony Blair and Gordon gave us minimum wage, tax and child tax credits, reduced poverty, more child care , better schooling, EMAs , SureStart, massive university expansion, pension credits, fuel allowance, reduced VAT on heating, new hospitals, quicker treatment targets, better public service pay and conditions, no strikes, no riots, reduced crime, social chapter, more rights for women, part timers , and partners, devolution, peace in Ireland, government in Scotland and Wales, higher Economic growth, less unemploymente disadvantaged, less inflation, a nation at ease with itself and international in outlook. And the lowest rated leader in history , Corbyn will just deliver defeat , nothing , nothing for nobody, just hot air, placards and keep Tory government there until 2025. Tories for another 9 years. I am leaving Labour as its gone bonkers.

  15. Forlornehope says:

    Just seen the latest Guardian/ICM poll. What a disaster for the Tories.

  16. john reid says:

    there’s a difference between being pro Israeli, or pro the Current Israel government, or pro the Idea of Israel as a state, , Labour’s a democratic socialist party, I know of Expelled labour member still attending street stalls with Labour rosettes on, putting photo;s of themselves on Facebook saying anti semetic stuff, i reported it to region, they don’t seem to be doing anything, maybe it’ll take time ,if they don’t do a thing, then that’s it, it won’t be a case of a split, just the labour party dying, the boundary changes even without the threat of deselections will se a 1931 style result

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