It is indeed Labour’s greatest crisis. This man should know

by Rob Marchant

On Saturday, Labour’s Deputy Leader during the terrible 1980s, published a piece entitled “Labour’s greatest crisis. Time to fight back”. It is not a bad summary of Labour’s current troubles.

The trigger for the article was the Militant-style takeover of the Haringey party this week, providing uncomfortable echoes for those of a certain age of what happened in Liverpool and many London boroughs in the 1980s.

It is fair to judge that Hattersley, like his old colleague Kinnock – although, as he writes in his autobiography, “we were never soul-mates”, one traditional right, one soft-left – might have erred a little in their eagerness to embrace the Miliband years. Perhaps because both of them instinctively reacted against the New Labour years as evidence that the pendulum of Labour policy had swung too far towards the Tories for either to bear, they did not seem to see the creeping rise of the far left he facilitated as a real threat, more as a natural correction back to a world they understood.

They surely do now. And, as someone at the top table during the rise of Militant, it is instructive to read the former Deputy Leader’s practical comparisons of Militant and Momentum. That is, Hattersley – and no Blairite he – should surely know.

  1. In the 1980s, moderate MPs fought back. The central pillar of Hattersley’s argument is that, during those years, there was an organised resistance to Militant among the PLP. It was there on Corbyn’s election, but seems to have all but evaporated two years later.
  2. Militant “commanded less support and was active in fewer constituencies”. In the activist base at large, that is certainly true; Momentum now has a national penetration where Militant’s was in pockets, such as the London and Liverpool parties.
  3. Militant had no trade union backing. Momentum has the backing of Britain’s largest union, Unite, with the second and third, GMB and Unison, being actively organised within to achieve the same support. Within the union movement, only a few, smaller and traditionally right-wing unions such as Usdaw and Community, are resisting.

We might add to this perhaps the most obvious point: Militant did not have a leader sympathetic to them – indeed, in the end, what is Momentum, other than a fan club for Labour’s leader? – nor a Leader’s Office happy to work the voting arithmetic in the NEC towards that organisation’s goals.

The good John Rentoul at the Independent, on the other hand, is more optimistic: while he acknowledges Corybn’s current strength, he argues that it will die with the leader’s tenure. Without Corbyn himself, there will not be the strength of purpose which currently exists. Rentoul also concludes that the deselections in the current Parliament will be modest.

While this may well be true, it is difficult to see that a Labour led by Angela Rayner or Emily Thornberry would be any more successful electorally. Labour is quite probably still out of power for, if not a generation, another ten years at least after 2022, assuming Corbyn stands that year. That would be 22 years, the longest period of absence from government for Labour since it first formed one in the 1930s. The other possibility is a Corbyn win in 2022, presumably meaning that Labour will be all but destroyed by its inability to implement its unicorn promises. Whatever, the landscape is still pretty awful for Labour.

In the end, there look to be three possible outcomes.

One: few deselections of moderates, but will Labour still not be out of power for a generation anyway, or thereabouts? Look at all the other factors: support of unions for far-left leadership; a leader who may ultimately be replaced by someone slightly less radical, but still unable to deliver any sensible policies; leadership control of the NEC and Shadow Cabinet; and so on.

Two: lots of deselections, and Labour out of power for a generation, exactly as Hattersley fears. In that event, it is difficult to see from where a critical mass of moderate MPs or councillors might appear to swing the party’s centre of gravity back towards political sanity. It would surely be touch and go.

Which leaves us with a third possibility: that Labour is simply finished as a dominant force in UK politics, as happened to the Liberal Party in the 1920s. It is easy to believe that our century-old Labour/Tory two-party system will last for ever, but the Liberals probably thought the same, before Labour overtook them.

It is easy, while it is holding its own against a chaotic Tory party in the polls, for Corbynites to gloss over Labour’s current, parlous state, but Liz Kendall’s quote from the 2015 leadership election still stands: “Labour has no God-given right to exist”. The Liberals really thought they would be there for ever, too.

We live in times of great change: we can only hope that Labour’s current, wretched state is merely a cyclical nadir, and not a death-spiral.

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


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25 Responses to “It is indeed Labour’s greatest crisis. This man should know”

  1. LB says:

    Tories can always turn off the tap of union funding.

    Then what?

    Momentum? Lots of illegal spending, start jailing the top, banning them from political office and campaigning as part of the punishment.

    Look at Scotland. Still wiped out. Losing in Wales.

    What if the Tories tell everyone their share of the state debts? Imagine getting a bill from HMRC for £430,000, with interest.

  2. John Wall says:

    Perhaps the piece should have been entitled “The Strange Death of Corbynista Labour”:-)?

    I agree that the government has problems but as I write this it seems likely that the Irish border issue could be close to solved – although Theresa May clearly thought that on Monday! If, and let’s not count (chlorine washed!) chickens prematurely, the talks soon move onto trade then the light at the end of the tunnel might start getting closer. I’m unsure whether the recent Survation poll was correct or an outlier – but even if the lead is 8% +/-3% it’s somewhat less than a prospective government should be ahead of a government with troubles. Blair reckoned Labour should be 15-20% ahead and Osborne reckoned 15%.

    If the Brexit road gets less rocky and the squabbling reduces the government should start doing better in the polls.

    Looking at Labour – and I’m not any sort of lefty – I still don’t see anything more than “one more heave” and certainly nothing to attract Conservative voters. I’ve said it before, as have others, but I think he’s got about as far as he can. There have been some dissenting views on the left pointing out that things like the abolition of tuition fees would be of most benefit to the better off, but the 2017 manifesto is becoming holy writ handed down on tablets of stone.

    The danger of Momentum and their “manifesto” is that they’re making Labour into a narrow rather than a broad church. Blair – and I’m not any sort of fan! – was probably Labour’s most electorally successful leader but he was an economically liberal social democrat and a long way away from Corbyn, as can be seen by how many times Corbyn voted against him. In terms of “values” I find it difficult to believe that Momentum would support Blair and it’s uncertain whether he’d fit into the Labour Party that is now emerging. There are now people in Labour who are, effectively, Communists and would have been chased out by Attlee.

    To many the proposed programme is undeliverable – particularly with a national debt of 1.7 trillion – and still rising. There is too much promised to too many and little attempt to manage expectations, just keep putting out leaflets promising to eliminate historic student debt.

    As has been noted, what happens when the “dear leader” moves on? By then Labour will be, to all intents and purposes, a Communist Party.

  3. Richard MacKinnon says:

    Rob Marchant could not be more wrong. “in the end, what is Momentum, other than a fan club for Labour’s leader? “.
    Momentum is a front. It is the Trojan Horse, and The Labour Party is the city of Troy.
    Corbyn is a default leader. No one, as in not a single person, Lansman and Corbyn included saw it ( Corbyn as leader) coming. Both are riding a crazy rip tide of populism. Two old political con men that have flirted around the edges of the left wing of The Party all their lives. Never in a million years did they ever think they would be in this position.
    They have no plan, correction, they had no plan. OK, Corbyn (and his faithful henchman, John McDonnell) have come up with a facsimile. They find it easy to reheat countless pieces of ‘we are for the people, we are the democratic socialists, we will redistribute, we will be fair, socially responsible , we are nice guys with a conscience, we will borrow to invest, look into my eyes’. It keeps the chattering media confused and satisfies the masses of the London guilt ridden middle classes . Thats no problem, they have been doing it all their lives, it is not a real plan but its enough to keep up the charade. But what is Lansman’s reasons to keep on keeping on?
    Momentum, the movement, is Lansman’s guaranteed gilt edge sure way to wreck The Labour Party from the inside. That is the question Labour people should be asking themselves, including the author of this piece.
    Momentum is there for a reason and it is not to get Jeremy Corbyn elected as Prime Minister. Fan club? Please dont insult me.

  4. A rather strange article when Labour is polling at above 40%. I wonder if this is Rob’s wishlist of Labour being in trouble when the opposite is true. Rob, weren’t you telling us you were off to join a new party just recently? Bon voyage if you are still going.

  5. Dave Roberts says:

    A good assessment of the situation which cuts through the Momentum hyperbole to reality. After seven years of Tory austerity Labour still couldn’t win a general election. The Tories ran an absolutely abysmal campaign and still won.

    There is no way that they will call a general election and the DUP will do some deal over the border, they certainly don’t want to be the ones to put into power the man who backed the IRA all of his political career and won’t be.

    Brexit, hard or soft, will go ahead and by the time of the next general election it will all be forgotten. It depends on the economy, if things are still ok in that direction the Tories will get through.

  6. John P Reid says:

    OK I agree with the basic premise
    But I’ve yet to believe momentum is militant
    Militant, intimidated people
    Militant had their own constituency meetings designed with putting their open motions, that was against the party rules, as such,they faced expulsion, inknow of one example where a momentum group put on Facebook,of a non existent branch that didn’t exist,passing a motion,and region got involved,
    Militant on Liverpool city council had thee idea of borrowing without ever repaying
    So Corbyn wants to borrow and yet it won’t be his generation who pays it,it’ll be future ones, or they’ll borrow other people’s money to spend on areas where they can win safe seats
    But that’s not the same as the refusing to pay back debt, Liverpool did in the 80’s

  7. Alf says:

    Hilarious! Mad Hattersley is so out of touch that he published his views on the day Labour were declared to be 8% ahead in the polls. Some crisis.

  8. Anon says:

    But Rob….

    Any political party needs a soul, and Labour no longer has one; Labour reduced its creators to second-class, colonial aboriginal status – it created an underclass of benefit dependents, who were supported by an influx of cheap labour.

    To keep this group onside Labour must just keep shovelling money toward them – money earned by others. Where was the aspiration for those people that didn’t wish to enter the Stepford-children university re-framing?

    And do we wish to return to the ‘progressive intervention’ years of invading countries, creating more refugee misery?

    If Labour wish to rid themselves of Momentum, they had better set about REPRESENTING those people who have been disenfranchised: not parachuting in their UN/NGO apparatchiks – of which the be-sainted Jo Cox was one. Representation, not progressive agenda-driven.

    I have never in my life known a time where politicians – and people like you, Rob – were so diametrically different in views to the people of the UK.

    I wouldn’t touch Corbyn with a barge pole, but neither do I wish to return to the Blair New Labour monstrosity – Rentoul? FFS!

  9. John P Reid says:

    Alf, Danny Speight,
    About were 16% ahead in the polls when militant were finally expelled and 26% ahead in the polls, during the poll tax, we have a disaster of a Tory government and are in,y just ahead in the polls, so saying the fact we’re not behind in the polls, isn’t a reason to worry momentum,are taking over CLPs deselecting candidates and then can lose us those seats, isn’t ,mad it’s a real worry, it happened when we list seats to the SDP in the 80’s

  10. John P Reid says:

    John Wall what problem with the Irish border
    All the two governments have to say is its illegal to go from one country to another to buy goods with the intention of selling them on,and although they can stop EU people going to Southern Ireland and crossing the border to work cash in Hand in Noerthern Ireland, they have to prove who they are to go too the mainland, and they can’t work, legally in the UK,
    It’s not perfect but it’ll work, I can’t see how the DUP can complain,

    Richard Mackinnon,ok, but what if you’re wrong? Demographically the marginals are becoming more pro labour in,inner London and the Tories collapsing, momentum/Corbynistas won’t, buy into the fact they’re unalectable, at least the 83 and 1987 defeats convinced labour that they couldn’t win being hard left wingers

  11. Anne says:

    I do not share Rob’s pessimism regarding the future of the Labour Party. It is in Momentum’s interests, which is to have Corbyn as PM, to work with all members of the Labour Party. We can only achieve this if we work together. I will say this again – divided parties do not win elections. We have the worst Tory party in living memory- just look at the chaos of their handling of Brexit negotiations. The country is divided in every sense of the word – the poor from the rich, the young from the old, the leavers from remainders. We require policies which work for everyone – not just for the few.
    Bye the way – Keir Starmer is still my man – excellent on Brexit negotiations.

  12. Richard MacKinnon says:

    John P Reid,
    You say “momentum/Corbynistas won’t, buy into the fact they’re unalectable,…….” and you are correct. The Momentum foot soldiers, the new recruits, the Corbynistas, believe in The Messiah.
    But people of independent mind, wiser older heads know what is going on. We know what Momentum is already doing to Labour at branch and constituency level. The deselection of labour local councillors is ongoing. These councillors have been part of their communities for years. Its a take over of the party machine at local level. A civil war that most of Labour long serving activitists will walk away from rather than fight. Branch meetings are now intimidating to many older members. The Momentum cadre look upon them with disgust. The Momentum ideology is that they are the enemy within, and they need to be removed. There is of course a queue of Momentum zealots maneuvering to replace them.
    Next year after the local council elections hard line Momentum councillors will be in place. The media will have a field day with them. Their response to simple questions is to get aggressive. Deselection of sitting MPs is also on the Momentums agenda for next year. That will be a media bloodbath.
    John, that is not the point I want to make. As I say, we know all this, so does Corbyn and Lansman. The question that I put to you and others on this site is why? What is Lansman’s real objective here? He is fully aware what Momentum PLC is doing to The British Labour Party. Why does he want to hollow it out and make it unelectable? Why is he so determined to ensure a Labour government will never be reelected?
    And that leads to the next obvious question. Why would Corbyn let it happen?
    Corbyn knows too just what a cancer Momentum is on the body of The Party.
    I dont have an answer. I am genuinely perplexed at the present activities, behind the scenes in The Labour Party.

  13. John Cunningham says:

    Who listens to Roy Hattersley anymore? On the issue of deselection – this is a constituency matter and if the constituency sticks to the Party’s procedures and rules then no one has any grounds for complaint. You may or may not disagree with the choice made but that is a different matter.

  14. john P Reid says:

    Anon cough!!!, well I wouldn’t put it in those words

    but take Labour thinking it had the Black vote (there’s no such thing, then saying to BAME people), we’ve got rid of the abolition of double jeopardy, because of Stephen Lawrence, )( I know many BAME people opposed to the abolition of double jeopardy) not all Sahmi Chakrabarti at liberty (the group were opposed to abolishing double jeopardy,even if Doreen Lawrence is a patron) but ..

    now labour are so desperate for a certain religious vote that they’re criticising any criticism of people using that religion to get away with sexism ,sexual assault and homophobia screaming racism, even though it’s in the name of religion not race these people are perpetrating those crimes

  15. paul barker says:

    The article actually fails to mention one crucial way in which Labours position is worse than the 80s. Militant were simply incapable of working with other Far Left groups, not even other Trots. Momentum by contrast involves Old Style Stalinists & Hipster Trots working together. I dont say they are happy about it but they can see they must work together to win & they are winning.
    The one thing going for Labour at the moment is the weakness of The Liberal Democrats & that isnt going to last forever. Corbyn actually needs a partial Libdem recovery to win a majority, defeating Tories in those places that even Blair couldnt reach but will it stop there ?
    If May survives we have more than 4 Years to the next General Election, a lot can happen in that time.

  16. John Wall says:

    @Paul Barker – I’d suggest that a recovery by the LDs would actually benefit the Conservatives.

    Margaret Thatcher’s 1983 and 1987 majorities were, at least partly, delivered by the opposition being split.

    The Corbyn “project” was predicated on several pillars; a, so-called, progressive (actually regressive) alliance (mopping up anti-Conservative votes) and getting non-voters out to vote. It actually achieved both of those; bribed by promises on tuition fees the young voted Labour and the combined percentage share achieved by the two main parties was at a 40+ year high.

    A lot has been made, by the left, of the fact that Labour increased its vote by 10%. But let’s also remember that, despite a ****y campaign that seemed to be designed to alienate its core voters, the Conservatives increased their vote by 5%. This was a classic two-party squeeze.

    Yes, there was a young/old divide, but there was also a transfer from the minor parties, all of which lost votes. The LDs increased their MPs in 2017, but this was on a reduced percentage share.

    What the figures show is that for every vote from a minor party that went to the Conservatives two went to Labour – that must mean that a resurgence by minor parties would hurt Labour more than the Conservatives.

  17. John P Reid says:

    Paul barker
    Outside ilford north and hornchurch and Upminster thr Near CLPs where I live are Romford Walthamstow, thurrock, Dagenham and barking

    The first and last being Run by Blairites
    Dagenham, more Peter shore /Callaghan, EU Skeptic, old labour interested in Working class men,so other groups don’t get a look in, that’s not a bad thing ,so Aline with Corbyn for EU skepticism, rather than , obsessions with the Middle East, that momentum, would be interested in

    Thurrock don’t go for Cliques
    Walthamstow and Romford over took by momentum
    And Hornchurch and upminster 45% Blairite 40% Momentum, 15% Blue labour/Jon Cryer EU Skepticism, soft left

    Yes some Councillors who’ve put in a lot of work in Hackney weren’t reselected who fought the last 3 council elections in tough circumstances 2006′ Blair un popular, 2010 same day as Gordon Browns General election. 2014 same day as the EU election which labour came third,

    I find the Mimentum lot, same as those in Lewisham, as being ines keen but will be burnt out in 3 years time, those who’ve been there years,have put a lot of work in under awkward circumstances as such they need more support from region, and have their own followings, yet, have ran councils in difficult circumstances,and would cintune to despite not having the party structure to help with work behind the scenes

    My point was, on things like legalizing sex workers, anonymity for rape accused and the aeU, the blue labiurnones had more in commin with (not the London) momentum,but the outskirts momentum ,people who due to their days remembering labour in the 70’s are EU skeptic,

    Richard McKinnon,if the momentum, liberals win seats in inner London ,they’ll be sup useless they’ll be out of politics with in 4 years,

  18. Tafia says:

    now labour are so desperate for a certain religious vote

    This lady has been selected as a council candidate. She is a law student so she isn’t thick (or the education system is dumbed-down more than people realise).

    She doesn’t believe ISIS exists and even ‘liked’ an article which suggested the west tdid 9/11 in order to justify a war on islam.

    She is a dork and will now be publicly ridiculed – which is what she deserves. The sad thing is she wil probably get her seat.

    Labour can expect story after story after story like this from now on as the media systematically destroys Labour under Corby (who is only a stooge anyway – the real power is McDonnell)

    https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/5102226/labour-safia-anoor-isis-facebook-westminster-attack-birmingham/

  19. John p Reid says:

    John wall
    I know one ex libdem left the party in 2010 joined labour and is now rejoining the libdems despite Vince cable being a orange booker rather than Tim Farron being a critic of the coalition, it’s not Jeremy’s Luke warm campaign in the referendum, he doesn’t like the fact momentum dislike him because he use to be a libdem. Despite they were against Iraq

    Fact is he’s not the only one who’ll switch from labour to libdems despite the fact.post brexit
    . The libdems are likely to go in to coalition with the Tories if they were the largest of minority parties after the 2022 election

  20. Vern says:

    Richard MacKinnon – I don’t think Corbyn would refer to Momentum as a cancer. Momentum is his and McDonells effort to exert control over people who are unbelievably gullible. Its easier to do this with younger people but current and previous governments only have theirselves to blame. Let down, disenfranchised and cheesed off with austerity. In their eyes Momentum provide Hope and it’s not difficult to see why.
    I think they will destroy the Labour party as we know it but Momentum Labour will win the next GE at this rate. My worry is what additional damage will this lead to in a post Brexit UK led by anti capitalism / anti aspiration people.

  21. Richard MacKinnon says:

    Vern,
    I know Corbyn would not refer to Momentum as a cancer, but that is what it is. I dont think as you say that Momentum is “his (Corbyn) and McDonells effort to exert control…………..”. It is the opposite. Momentum is contolling Corbyn. Momentum is destroying the base structure of the LP at branch and constituency level. It is an unelected organisation within a political party that sees Labour Party branch and constituency office bearers and elected representatives as the enemy.
    Momentum is open about its intentions.
    Momentum has active members that are not members of the Labour Party.
    It is not a nice description, but that is what cancer does; it lives, it grows, by feeding off the host body until it eventually kills it.
    That is idisputable. The question is, why?

  22. steve says:

    Rob only knows the world as he wants it to be – not as it is.

    There is a world of difference between Militant and Momentum yet Rob will refuse to acknowledge this.

    In truth, it is the Blairites who believed they had a God-given right to be in power forever. But the electorate decided otherwise and now Rob and his chums have been left disorientated. In their bitterness they refuse to conduct the careful analysis that is required of all serious commentators. Instead, they soil themselves by cleaving to the least worthwhile option: peddling twaddle.

  23. Ydoethur says:

    The first Labour government was formed in 1924. None were formed in the 1930s and at one point the party was down to just 52 seats.

  24. John P Reid says:

    https://mobile.twitter.com/maxshanly/status/937166306461265920

    I take it back momentum is condemning Angela Rayner saying kinnock was wrong to expel militant
    at least moderates know momentum is like militant now

  25. John Wall says:

    @Vern – you’re right, the wealth has first to be generated and then there’s a bun fight about how to spend it. The Corbynistas, Momentum, etc see wealth, profit, etc as inherently bad so I don’t see how they’ve got any hope of funding even a small part of their programme.

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