Time for the PLP to regroup: once more, with feeling

by Rob Marchant

While the formation of a government remains a rank impossibility for a Corbyn leadership, there is now no question about his grip on the party. Indeed, with the removal of Jonathan Ashworth from the NEC, seemingly in exchange for remaining in the shadow cabinet, Corbyn supporters now also rule the NEC. The circle is complete and the rulebook is no longer safe.

Self-evidently, Corbyn’s opponents in the PLP – that is, nearly all of it – have not been able to really make any movement while the leadership election and the reshuffle have been going on, they now can. Their valiant attempt to involve themselves in the selection of the shadow cabinet has, predictably, been paid only lip-service by the leadership. Corbyn will choose, full stop.

And, with a few notable exceptions, what a shambles of a Shadow Cabinet it has become. Unambiguous unilateralists at foreign affairs and defence, something virtually guaranteed to provide a general election defeat on its own. Another shadow cabinet minister who has apparently managed to fritter away a compensation fund for sick miners on his salary and expenses. And someone at home affairs, in charge of the delicate area of race relations, among other things, known for her quote “white people love playing divide and rule”.

On the other hand, given that the “chicken run” of Labour MPs back to the shadow cabinet, feared by moderates, has patently failed to happen (John Healey, Nick Brown and Jonathan Ashworth being the only important moderate names to come back), it leaves the PLP in a relatively strong position with regard to negotiating. It is still unprecedented for a party leader to lack the support of approximately four-fifths of his MPs, and that is important. This is not 1981 and the “gang” comprises a great deal more than four, so Foot-era comparisons are really redundant.

For example, if Corbyn decides that he is going to carry out his threat of deselections, MPs will have very little to lose in withdrawing their cooperation altogether, or even mounting an alternative grouping in Parliament to the rump Corbynite PLP.

It will also be interesting to see how old hand Nick Brown MP copes with being chief whip, as party policy begins to be revised towards the fanciful left and MPs despair of appearing on TV and having to defend it. The party has limped through its first parliament largely fudging its policy positions under Miliband, but that is clearly not sustainable over four more years. How the PLP acts with regards to votes and whipping will be a crucial point in the internal power struggle that will evolve over that period.

But act it must. The 172 MPs (or whatever the new number is, post-reshuffle) must stick together and there must be a strategy. The PLP cannot continue as a bunch of atomised “sole traders”; in that way they can be picked off easily by the leadership. As a number of commentators have observed, in many ways Corbyn has been very lucky with his enemies. The big beasts of the Blair/Brown era are now all but extinct, and possible future figureheads are both relatively inexperienced and in short supply. And perhaps it is MPs being discreet and biding their time, but there has not appeared to be a particularly organised campaign of resistance, either, to date.

As a result of all this, PLP victories over the leadership such as Hilary Benn’s barnstorming speech on Syria, or the success of moderates last autumn in chairing its Departmental Committees, have been sporadic at best. But now the die is cast and there will be no let-up until 2020. There is no new news to wait for.

Now, there are signs that this is really starting to happen: there is already talk of a “shadow shadow cabinet”, setting moderate policy positions and whipping to them. If this comes about and is a success, it could provide a real focus point for a moderate relaunch and an alternative power centre.

That said, to be blunt, to date the PLP has been organising its challenge to Corbyn with all the effectiveness of turkeys preparing for Christmas. If the party is to have a chance of surviving, that now needs to change.

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

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6 Responses to “Time for the PLP to regroup: once more, with feeling”

  1. Mark Livingston says:

    Labour is a socialist party again. Bouffants are out. Tory-lite Labour MPs should join the proper Tories.

  2. efcdons says:

    “While the formation of a government remains a rank impossibility for a Corbyn leadership,”

    When you start out with a premise that is clearly false it’s hard to take the rest seriously. By virtue of the FPTP system it’s either Labour or Cons and that means any Labour or Conservative leader always has a chance of becoming PM. You have no idea what the next 3 years hold. Brexit is happening and unprecedented. You have can’t know what might occur and how the electorate may respond.

    But there is one thing that is true. Having the PLP focusing on introducing “moderate” policies (and as an aside, how you can have the gall to call yourself moderate when I saw you on twitter criticizing Obama’s Iran deal like you were a Republican Congressman is astounding) rather than fighting the tories and supporting the elected leader of the Labour Party will make it much harder for Corbyn lead Labour to take advantage of Tory screw ups and win an election.

    But you have made it pretty clear you would rather Tory governments as long as Corbyn is Labour leader.

  3. peter carabine says:

    So this it. Corbynism encroaches, expands and triumphs. Meanwhile a GE looks more and more likely as May faces opposition from backbenchers, from UK business, from the globe and from the SNP and other parties ( Nicola Sturgeon in comparison to JC really able to attack a xenophobic Hard Right /Hard Brexit Tory govt) Corbyn has had so many chances this last week as the world dumps the pound, concerns gather UK no longer a EU foothold and just maybe Brexit voters are beginning to get it – a harder, poorer and colder future is now only months away as their wages will shrink. Corbyn unable to ever grab the moment.

    A GE now would irrespective of this dire appalling background with massive right wing media support and an unpopular Labour leader in England, Wales and Scotland would put Labour back in opposition with far fewer seats and a much larger right wing Tory majority. Corbyn Labour cannot help the UK at this ‘conjunction’ even a clever Neo-Marxist knows that.

    So a Centre-Left force / alliance is the only option as a anti-Brexit agent with 16 million and more voters., pro-Europe, pragmatically pro-Business, progressive and social democratic based. But no one is there to lift this vision , just a insignificant Liberal Democratic group ( strongy pro Europe), the SNP which will win Scotland again and a group of moderate Labour MPs coweriing from the Corbynites. UK democracy collapsing between two poles of extremism and a Labour Party unable to carry the flag of social democracy because it is now a toy for the hard Left. If only we had a gang of four there would be something to lift our spirits.

  4. paul barker says:

    “I will do such things, what they are I know not, but ……”
    More bluster & hot air from Labour “Centrists”. If Labour MPs are serious about fighting Corbyn & The Tories than they should join The Libdems.

  5. Tafia says:

    Peter Carabinb, for you to believe that hard Brexit is Right is laugle and infantie. Just have a little think – one thord of Labour voters voted of those aren’t bothered by a hard Brexit – in fact its waht they expoect. They want Freedom of Movement tstop, no matter what the cost. Spo carry on labelling the likes of John Mann as hard Right.

    Likewise around a quarter to a third of Plaid Cymru’s voters, about 10% of the SNPs voters and virtually all of the DUP (who some morons in Labour continually sunto some sort of alliance with.).

    I am warning you now – people thaxit will revolt against any government or partry they perceive as endangering it. know loads and loads of Labour members and Pliad Cymru members who voted Brexi and if they thought that was under threat would lend UKIP their vote for the next General Election – and I bet the same is true all over the contry.

  6. Mike Homfray says:

    For some reason I am not seeing any of the comments?

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