The Labour MP’s dilemma: when does this become party before country?

by Rob Marchant

If there were a week for Labour MPs to question their continued acceptance of the party whip, it was surely the last one.

Should we cite the lack of apparent sanction on Chris Williamson MP, who appeared onstage with Jackie Walker, suspended from the party for anti-Semitism along with Tony Greenstein, and then proposed their readmission to the party, to rapturous applause?

Or the stitch-up of the General Secretary choice, effectively handing control of the party machine to Len McCluskey and his acolytes? Triggering the resignation of six key staff-members? While the aforementioned Walker and Greenstein celebrated outside party HQ, barracking the party’s remaining staff and telling them they were coming for the rest of them? And a General Secretary herself, notorious for questioning the neutrality of Baroness Jan Royall to run an anti-Semitism inquiry, on the spurious grounds that she had once visited Israel?

But the real question for Labour MPs is simple: can you genuinely look yourself in the mirror in the morning and say “I want Jeremy Corbyn to be Prime Minister”?

Yes, we know there are millions of supporters to whom we owe a Labour government. Yes, we know you may well think he’ll probably never get there, but that’s not the point. What if he does?

What if someone who has shown, as Corbyn did last week that he cannot support the Prime Minister even in a fundamental matter of national security, like an attack by foreign agents on British citizens on British soil? A feat which is probably a first in postwar Britain?

That he cannot, in short, be trusted in that most fundamental governmental matter of all, the security of the nation?

Now let’s think about the reality of what a Corbyn premiership would mean. Prime Minister Corbyn taking confidential briefings from the security services, after thirty-odd years of trashing them in public? Corbyn chairing COBRA meetings on national security? Corbyn, after a lifetime campaigning for a united Ireland in direct opposition to those same security services, looking to bring Republicans and Loyalists together at a highly delicate time for the peace process? Corbyn in charge of nuclear deployment, dammit? How feasible are any of those?

Or, worse: what about not just attending briefings but sharing information with Seumas Milne, the man who chaired a Moscow Q&A session with Putin and has repeatedly apologised for him in his Guardian columns? Or with the self-proclaimed Communist Andrew Murray, a man clearly delighted with Putin’s efforts to encourage the rehabilitation of Comrade Stalin? And that’s if, of course, these two would even get a security clearance in the first place, something which would seem to be by no means certain.

Perhaps instead you believe that Corbyn, once elected, would be different in power; that he would become a pragmatist and yes, a patriot. But how likely is that, for a man who has not changed his politics in the thirty-five years he has been in Parliament? And one, let it not be forgotten, last week prepared to contradict his own Foreign Affairs, Treasury and Defence spokespeople over the Salisbury poisoning. Yes, even John McDonnell found Corbyn’s position too extreme.

And it was not merely extreme: it was, frankly, ridiculous. Jeremy Corbyn genuinely, without irony or laughter, asked the Prime Minister to send nerve gas samples to the Russian authorities so they could report back on whether it was theirs or not. That is, the conversation he was requesting was essentially this:

PM: Did you do it?

Putin: Oh, the poisoning? No, guv, that wasn’t us. No way. We wuz framed.

PM: Ah, well that’s ok then. Cheers Vlad.

It is not as if Vladimir Putin has a great history of truthfulness and straight talking. And even if he did, there is clearly only ever going to be one answer to Corbyn’s question by any head of state under the circumstances.

So why ask it, unless you are casting around desperately for a reason, any reason, not to directly criticise the Russian government?

MPs are said to be up in arms, which is as it should be: as the BBC put it, “Mr Corbyn’s tone and reaction to those moves have cracked open Labour’s political truce.” As John Woodcock MP put it:

But if Woodcock’s EDM accepting Russian culpability can garner only 36 Labour votes, that is hardly a rebellion. And, at the same time, they still need to have a convincing answer to the above questions; as to why they have not done what a large number of members (and peers, and councillors) have already done and resigned the whip, and/or their membership.

It seems that the position of most MPs, not to mention many remaining moderate members, is “hang on for dear life and see what happens”. We who are still in the party understand. But there must also be a limit.

That is: at what point do we become complicit in the tolerance of anti-Semitism, currently on the increase in the party, if disciplinary cases are anything to go by?

And, given the risk that a man with – by any reasonable measure – extreme views on foreign affairs could really end up as PM, at what point do we all become guilty of putting party before country?

As the residents of perhaps the world’s most unstable times in decades, we might ponder on that a little.

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

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27 Responses to “The Labour MP’s dilemma: when does this become party before country?”

  1. John Wall says:

    “Jeremy Corbyn is the leader of the Labour Party and he’s not going anywhere. There is no campaigning for Labour that is not also campaigning for him. Every voter canvassed, every leaflet shoved through a letter box, every yappy dog evaded on a dreary Saturday morning is another hand at Corbyn’s back, another comradely nudge towards Number 10. Deep down, most moderates know this and spend much of their time developing excuses not to do the right thing. Stay for the ‘democracy review’. Stay for the mandatory re-selection debate. Stay for the next conference. Stay for your pal. Stay for SureStart and the minimum wage. Stay because the Tories are utter shits. Stay because the Corbynistas are utter shits. Stay for your granddad who went down the pit and loved Nye Bevan. Stay because there’s nowhere else to go.

    Stay, but own it. At some point, as you busily help to put the most dangerous and extreme man ever to lead your party in charge of the country, you cease being a moderate and become an enabler whose heart’s not fully in it. If you find yourself in this position, if you still question whether The Corbynite Takeover Of The Labour Party Is Now Complete, there are eight words you must now contend with: ‘Jennie Formby, General Secretary of the Labour Party’.”

  2. Vern says:

    Having had more than just a passing interest in politics since the 80’s I readily admit to have never heard of Jeremy Corbyn until a couple of years ago. He became popular because he offered some hope instead of more austerity against the Tories botched election. My own view is that Barry Gardiners work helped with Corbyns popularity. Initially, Corbyn looked like he might have “principles” but this was fleeting and was soon replaced by lies and nastiness. The company he keeps are shit at politics and making policy and only know how to oppose and shout down things the Tories propose (or anyone else for that matter ). And he constantly harks back to a 70’s ideology fuelled by a lust to Nationalise everything and for everyone to work for the State. Those days are long gone and anyone with an ounce of common sense knows this.
    I will say it again – there is a very good reason this cretin was kept back of house for 35 years and he should never have seen the light of day if the truth be told. The Labour Party is being destroyed from within and it’s down to the MP’s and members to remove him, McDonell, Milne and the cranks at Momentum too. He has become something of a cult figure for people who are now too ashamed to admit that they fucked up by supporting him.
    And it’s always country first, because thats where the people are who MP’s are supposed to be representing!

  3. Eamonn says:

    Good article. Now that the hard left takeover is complete the only reason for moderate MPs to remain in the party is quite simply to keep collecting their salary. They can make themselves feel better by imagining a post Corbyn future in which the moderates are once again ascendant though quite frankly they’ll be retired or more likely long since deselected before that’s even a vague possibility. The PLP is now essentially the parliamentary wing of Unite and Momentum whether they like it or not. Any MP who sticks around is accepting that and effectively colluding with the hard left worldview.

  4. Mike Homfray says:

    So is this a last hurrah before your long awaited resignation?

  5. paul barker says:

    This looks like more bluster & hot air. Ive lost count of the number of articles & speeches by moderate/centrist Labour figures, threatening to do something if some line is crossed. The line is crossed & we get more excuses for doing nothing.
    Is their any evidence that anything has changed ?

  6. Richard MacKinnon says:

    What I dont understand is, why are you still a member? You have not been sectioned. You can sign yourself out any time you want.
    I think it is that time.
    Watch the show from outside the tent. It is a an unbelievable story and very funny.
    Act 1
    The leader resigns, so a contest is held to appoint a new leader. Three people put their names forward and all reckon they have a fair chance of winning, but they realise they are too similar to each other and so to make the contest look fairer they bend to the rules to allow another candidate to stand. A manniquin candidate with no hope of winning. They look around for a someone suitable. He/she must be against all the other three believe in. More so, and this is the diificult bit, they need to find someone that would be prepared to stand and endure all the humilation the election campaign would throw at them. Is there such a fool out there? Yes there is. Not only does he say all the right things, he looks the part. He is perfect for the role.
    That is a brilliant plot. Act 2 is just as good. I cannot wait to see how it ends.
    When you watch from the outside Rob it really is the best comedy on the telly. You should seriously think about trying it.

  7. John P Reid says:

    Mike homfray why do you think that, if it wa secretly reveled Corbyn secretly voted Brexit, would you still worship him?

    Vern well said

    John Wall, I was just too young to remember the 80’a but the GLC campaign in 81 for AndrewMackintosh and the 82′ council elections, just before the Falklands war, when the 3 main parties were l level pegging on 30% each

    Saw hostility on the door step ,but people realizing that t stay in the Labour Party and get moderate local or London Councillors was more important that ousting the leader t get the party elected,
    now the 30 years I’ve canvassed for labour I’ve always wanted a labour government, 2015 could see that the coali ion had been a sucsess,and that ed miliband wasn’t someone I could imagine the public wanting as PM, and 2017 labour got theprotest vote and Theresa May threw away her landslide lead, and it was a case of canvassing for labours survival,

    The council elections are happening and outside labours inner London safe zone, labour has to cling on or they’ll be read we can never win back

    As for the article.. ok a lot of I made sense ,especially the first tw paragraphs, but if albour do lose the next election, the Corbynistas won’t accept blame they’ll blame articles like this

  8. Jay says:

    More information on Corbyn the anti-Semite –

    If Corbyn doesn’t see anything anti-Semitic in a mural of Jewish caricatures playing Monopoly on the backs of black slaves is it any wonder that he has never seen ANY anti-Semitism within the Labour party! And it’s not just Corbyn, his fellow-travellers are now installed in the top posts. How can Labour recover from this position?

  9. Gregoo says:

    To Wall, Vern & Eammon, show us the way forward then , your meaningless sideline swiping is truly pathetic …Corbyn & McDonnell have saved the party from the abyss NL were taking it..

  10. peter carabine says:

    In the end despite the dreadful state of our public services relative to western Europe and our greater inequality relative to western Europe Corbyn will still lose . The Corbyn Cult can howl all they want about an unfair UK in the end Corbyn has to win the swing seats , the middle aged, the older voters, the centre voters/middle England but he will not. Unlike Tony Blair he does not lead or inspire all voter groups and the South and Midlands which he needs will reject the hard Leftist unpatriotic toxic leader. Voters carry many thoughts in their minds but in the end they will not want him as the PM of the UK and they will come out in their millions to block that hard Left takeover of Great Britain.

  11. Vern says:

    Gregoo, If you believe Corbyn and McDonell have saved the party then there really is no hope for you. Labour were successful when they occupied the middle ground and this is the only way they will aquire the votes needed to win an election.
    Corbyn will be a cult figure for old fashioned socialists who were too embarrassed to admit they made a huge error of judgement in voting for him.
    Labour’s future is post Brexit. Brexit is safer in the hands of Tories because it requires business acumen and that is the Tories area. Post Brexit will require empathy to return and to focus on the people of our great country again. This is Labour’s area of expertise and with any luck Burnham will be a ready made leader having successfully grown a reputation in Manchester.
    In the meantime though Labour need to limit the damage being done by Corbyn and the lurch to the left which will be unattractive to those in the centre ground.

  12. millsy says:

    Core Labour principles are public ownership, public services, high wages, the absolute right to join a trade union. I don’t see anything from the ‘moderates’ that support that. Labour shouldn support the handing over of state schools to churches and corporations, and they shouldn’t support privatisation of water reticulation.

  13. Anne says:

    I am disappointed by all of this and maybe I have had my head in the sand. Corbyn was not my choice leader – I voted for Andy Burnham, but when Corbyn was successful in the second leadership challenge against Owen Smith then I thought I should support him – I have had many discussions with family and friends who have pointed out his failings.
    We have perhaps the worst Tory government in living memory and I am disappointed we are still struggling to make ground against them.
    I am also struggling with Brexit. I voted remain and I have tried to accept the result but deep down I still do not believe this is in the best interests of our country, and, bye the way, who came to our support against Russia but the EU. We need to be part of the EU for security, trade, jobs and to prevent a hard boarded on the island of Ireland. I do not believe that Owen Smith should have been sacked because of his views on a second referendum – this view is supported by many in the Labour Party.
    This disappoints me because I don’t think that Corbyn is recognising the so called broad church within the party – anyone who disagrees with him he is just getting rid of them – this is not a listening approach but one of control. This style of leadership is being supported momentum and The unite union.
    If there is a split in the party then Corbyn can only have himself to blame- he has not listened to all members within the party – I warned Momentum over a year ago not to blow it now, but did they listen.

  14. Eamonn says:

    @Gregoo – not sure if your definition of saving the party from the abyss is the same as mine, unless by saving you mean rewinding to old school and long since discredited economic policies that will sink the post Brexit economy and for the first time in Labour Party history having a leadership who are widely perceived to be turning a blind eye to antisemitism within the ranks. All that and the dubious morality of the Corbynista take on foreign policy which conveniently overlooks the sheer hypocrisy of alleged left wingers siding with one party authoritarian states and misogynistic theocracies as long as they are seen to be suitably anti American, while all the while harping on endlessly about the Great Leader being on the right side of history. If that’s salvation I’ll stick with as you put it sideline swiping.

  15. DM says:

    Corbyn cannot actually pass any laws without the backing of Labour MPs, so the moderates have a very strong, even if not complete ability to restrain him, should he become Prime Minister. Leaving instead does increase the chance of heading of the danger of him being PM, but it also increases the chances of him being a PM unconstrained by PLP moderates. And it also increases the chance that if he goes, a far-left leader will replace him, thus increasing the chance of a far-left MP in the medium term in that respect. Given all this, it’s far from clear that leaving in order to damage Corbyn politically is the best course for the Corbyn skeptic moderate. (And of course, there are things the moderates agree with him on and disagree with the Tories on, presumably: that’s why the centre-left is positioned *between* the centre-right and the far left on the political spectrum. So there are goals that moderates have which will be helped by a Corbyn government relative to a Tory one, as well as vice versa.)

  16. Henrik says:

    Ultimately, all this faffing around is going to be irrelevant if the offering to the electorate doesn’t strike a chord. If the Comrades’ calculation is that a hard-line anti-Semitic, anti-business, anti-capitalist, pro-Russia, militant Islam and Irish Republican violence, homophobic and anti-woman line is the winner and will tap boundless enthusiasm with the electorate and they’re proved right, well, then, happy days.

    My sense isn’t that Momentum and the Comrades are particularly interested in winning elections outside the Party; the focus is on gaining control of the party and imposing that discipline which Jeremy is so justly famous for accepting so cheerfully as a back bencher – and moulding the vanguard party, perhaps with a view to 2025 and later for blinding electoral success.

  17. John P Reid says:

    Millsy, no they were never labour values, the police and army have never had the right to join a union and public ownership was never a labour value even the Attlee government wasn’t communist people could ask councils to build them a home and buy it and there was private homes at that time

  18. Tony says:

    I very much doubt Russian involvement.

    If they had wanted to kill him then they could have done so when he was their prisoner.

    He was then the subject of a spy swap. I have never heard of anyone the subject of such a swap being killed. And, again, if they had wanted to kill him, why wait a further 8 years? It does not make sense.

    As for the nerve agent, Theresa May has never said it was made in Russia, only developed in Russia.

    If a bomb uses dynamite would we automatically blame Sweden?

    Theresa May should have waited for the police to conduct their investigation. Is that too much to ask?

    Why are you so quick to believe Theresa May?:

    As for Corbyn’s ‘extreme views’, what about this:

    Do you support Theresa May’s willingness to start a nuclear war?

  19. Vern says:

    Tony! Stop dreaming up scenarios. There is a real world outside your front door and it’s not the basis of a James Bond movie. The reason why we believe Theresa May on this one is because it’s do with our countries security and she has the experts in her control that provide the advice. She is also trying to protect my backside and your backside too but I’m sure reading the Daily Mirror will be just as effective..

  20. John Wall says:

    @Tony – I suggest you read this and note:

    “Nerve agents can also be absorbed through the skin, requiring that those likely to be subjected to such agents wear a full body suit in addition to a respirator.”

    This is the sort of thing that you move around v-e-r-y carefully. It’s not something that amateurs play with.

  21. millsy says:

    @ John P Reid – not too sure what the police and the army have to do with what I said. And last time I looked, the Atlee government embraced public ownership of electricity, water, railways, etc. Nothing gto do with communism, just standard practice in the West. Even in your beloved USA, a large percentage of power generation, retail and distrbution is still publicly owned. But I guess you support Trump in his efforts to privatize it. If you think that having a bunch of glorified kindergartens are the pinnacle of public sector interventionism, then the bar has been set very low indeed.

  22. Anon says:

    It is so obvious that UK politics has entered a new paradigm.

    With the closing down of the traditional large industries there was bound to be a decline in union membership and support for Labour.

    I’m no fan of the new religion – the JC cult evades me completely – but he does seem to have a set of beliefs (however warped) more than I can say for others whom Rob would list as ideal in his place.

    As far as I’m concerned, Labour are finished; their main support betrayed and replaced, and the party compromised by, one, a return to 70’s state ownership and unilateralism, and two, the New Labour abomination – and everything that entailed (God, I’ve summoned up a middle middle way)

    The one policy that would have guaranteed Labour’s continuation would have been a policy of supporting, educating and training our own people out of poverty – but both wings of the party are for the environmentally unsustainable and community damaging policy of growth and mass immigration.

    But, what do both wings care – as long as the ‘lawyer class’ can pursue their careers and keep the plebs happy on the soma of benefits whilst nurturing the votes of the incoming hordes – a section of whom represent all that Labour claims to be against.

    This “lawyer class” – pro-EU and for the ‘progressive’, ‘post democratic’ New World Order that they yearn for – really do need to form a new political party, and give the UK working class a chance to find some ground to fight on. Rob’s heroes have exploited and leeched off the working class for long enough; it would be the decent thing to do – but then, when has decency had anything to do with politics.

    I’m also a little confused by Rob’s moral compass – concerned about these being the “most unstable times in decades”, he seems to omit the part his gallant New Labour heroes played in this instability.

    I suppose, for all his faults, that Corbyn won’t be whipping up any wars.

  23. paul barker says:

    Terms like Hard & Soft Left obscure the reality of the changes in Labour, we are not looking at a continuous spectrum of belief but a sharp division between people & organisations from The Leninist tradition & everyone else. Leninists dont accept defeat, if the current Leadership lose popular support in The Party they will find other means to stay in control. Corbyn is obviously time-limited as Leader but he will be replaced by someone from the same tradition.
    We are already seeing people from the Labour “Right” & “Soft Left” drifting away & being squeezed out, marginalised. MPs can be replaced over time. The old Labour Party (1900-2015) is gone & wont be coming back. Anyone who stays in Labour to fight Momentum is actually helping them in the long run.

  24. John P Reid says:

    Millsy The reason the Attlee govt had to nationalize stuff was it was destroyed after the war, the USA aren’t my beloved anything.
    Re , the police you said labours values were to be in a union, I just pointed out labour never let the police or army have a union

  25. Vern says:

    Well, another week passes by and surely even the most hardened Corbyn fans are throwing away the silly Corbyn t-shirts. The pen and mug Christmas gift sets are on their way to the charity shops. And people are inventing ever more ludicrous apologies as to why they voted him in and allowed theirselves to e hoodwinked by a kinder and fairer type of politics. He has put the party back at least another decade with the antics of last week and we need to have a credible opposition for the good of all of us! Trouble is, I think there is way more to come on this too. Deletes their own social media unlesd

  26. Vern says:

    Deleting your own social media suggests there are many more skeletons and understandably the press will be all over it…again! And the party and it’s voters once again embarrassed. I wake up wondering what cock up could possibly come next. He needs to be forced out, Momentum consigned to room 101 and Owen Jones allowed to complete his teenage years!
    Very cross with it all – rant over!
    And breathe.

  27. Mike Homfray says:

    And who is going to throw him out, Vern? The members who voted for him, twice?
    Don’t think so!
    Given that you largely agree with the Tories, thats who you should vote for.

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