Can the Labour breakaway escape our General Melchett leadership?

By Jonathan Todd

“If nothing else works,” General Melchett (Stephen Fry) insisted in Blackadder Goes Forth, “a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through.”

Donkeys again lead lions. Theresa May won’t face facts about parliamentary arithmetic. Jeremy Corbyn won’t face the facts raised by 7 ex-Labour MPs.

For Melchett “seeing things through” came at tremendous human cost. As business investment plummets and the UK’s international reputation degrades to the shambolically pitiable, May and Corbyn are also callously aloof.

Brexit does nothing to solve the problems of the UK, while creating many new problems. At a minimum, a “good Brexit” would avoid these new problems. More ambitiously, it would somehow address the problems that the UK harboured in June 2016. No such Brexit exists.

We might choose to minimise the scale of economic damage caused by Brexit (by staying in the single market and customs union) but this comes at the price of being rule takers to the EU. Since June 2016, Labour has never confronted this trade-off.

The Irish backstop features in debate in the UK as if the border issue is a potentially temporary challenge, but any future divergence between Northern Ireland and the EU customs union and single market likely necessitates a hard border.

If the UK were, for example, to have lower tariffs than the EU customs union, a Northern Ireland with an open border to the Republic would create a way to avoid tariffs when bringing goods in to the EU. If these goods were to fall below EU regulatory standards, this EU backdoor would undermine the single market, as well as the customs union.

The gains of an “independent trade policy” are illusory. States refusing to roll over agreements that the UK enjoys through EU membership smell our vulnerability. From this position of weakness, delusions of grandeur of Dr Liam Fox proportions are required to think this will generate improved terms. If we try to get an edge of the EU by undercutting it on tariffs, we will end up choosing between a hard border in Ireland or Irish reunification.

It is not just in Northern Ireland that the UK is imperilled. Nicola Sturgeon is as coherent on the problems of Brexit as she has been unpersuasive on the gains of Scotland rupturing the UK. But as Brexit undermines the UK’s economic strength and international standing, finding a pragmatic route to be an independent state within the EU will increasingly seem the best way forward for Scotland. Labour’s failure to offer Scotland a road to thriving within the UK and the EU encourages this.

If a voice as resonant on Brexit as Sturgeon’s, aspiring for leadership of the UK, were to emerge in the Commons, it would quickly drown out our Melchetts, May and Corbyn. The extraordinary thing is that it hasn’t.

Notwithstanding the cunning plans of Boles and Cooper, our parliament of Captain Darlings has provided no alternative national leadership. The Independent Group hope to change this.

As the leader he succeeded was undermined by a failure to lead on the dominant issue of his time (the deficit), Corbyn is diminished by his absence on Brexit. So long as he can convince himself that it is a Tory problem, he appears sanguine about this national calamity. Leaders do not choose the issues that define their eras, but they choose how they respond (or not), which, in turn, defines them.

Rather than opening the Overton Window, as promised, Corbyn has shrunk it. We have become a country less able to confront what is starring us in the face: the intensification of climate breakdown, powerful enemies of liberal democracy (Putin, Trump, Xi, to name but three), the deepening inability of the UK, given our ageing demography and shrinking competitiveness, to afford the way of life that we presume is ours.

We need to find a way to fulfil Corbyn’s promise. To push the boundaries of the politically possible. To address our biggest challenges not just with the passionate intensity that some see in Corbyn but with pathbreaking intelligence that is less usually associated with him.

We need, as the Independent Group hope, to break the stupefying mould of our Melchetts. Maybe Chuka et al can’t, maybe no one can. Maybe, sadly, the decline of the UK, perhaps of western liberalism, is unavoidable. Many times, great civilisations have risen and fallen. Maybe this is our fate too.

Whatever happens, we must all hope to be able to look our grandchildren in the eye and say we did what we could. The Independent Group feel that in leaving Labour they are. Others believe just as intensely that by remaining they are. We might also debate whether the timing of today’s announcement increases or decreases the probability of averting Brexit.

At this fateful juncture, we must all summon a pig-headed determination to look facts in the face, respectfully tell our own truths, and hope that we find a way through.

Jonathan Todd is Deputy Editor of Labour Uncut

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12 Responses to “Can the Labour breakaway escape our General Melchett leadership?”

  1. Anne says:

    This article has a sadness about it – that we have somehow lost our way/direction – that we have poor leadership in providing for us a good way. JC is not a strong enough leader to control those around him – those doing and saying things in his name. It is not helpful to be critical of the now independent MPs but it is important to look at the reasons why they have chosen this route – if this is not done and we continue on this pathway then more MPs will join them – will this be a bad thing? For some maybe not because they are free of party politics to provide a different way, although the downside to this is they have not got the party machine behind them to make a difference.
    JC is looking stressed – he seems unable to control those around him. Until this
    leadship issue is resolved we will continue in this directionless way.

  2. Alf says:

    I’m glad some of the Blairites have gone, but many of the worst ones are still with us. There must be an organised cull ahead of the next election methinks. Short, sharp, and brutal.

  3. Ian says:

    Just carry on the way you are, Alf, and you will find them gone of their own accord.

  4. John P Reid says:

    Jonathan, a good Brexit to sort out the trouble, you imply that there wasn’t troubles before Brexit that caused peoole to vote leave
    Such as th lack of social housing wuth immigration, that saw, people seperated from thwir families when moved our of council homes to the coast, causing working clsss flight,or class cleansing, then the mass increase of change to a area with demographics that saw the locals un familiar with cultures unknown to themselves that they couldn’t handle, and didn’t get along with
    That criticism of which was met with cries of racism

    Don’t get the melchet comparison unless you think, the splitters aren’t part of the establishment, yes they may have lost themselves their seats , what’s western liberalism got to do with socialism, many religions that are fostered on us don’t like western liberalism, it certainly didn’t help the working class , and the working clsss owes liberalism nothing,

    Alf , Peter Kyle in hove could see his set go to a pro EU green if he was ousted
    Jess Philips could win as an independent, others like Gloria de piero could see her seat go Tory if deselected

  5. John P Reid says:

    Alf, if you think Gavin Shukar or Anne Coffey are blairites, then you’re delusional, and mike gapes was fighting Trotskyites when Blair was one

  6. Tafia says:

    The best thing is it’s not constant across the country. Yvette Cooper for example is under increasing pressure from Labour Leave in her constituency who are openly telling her to bugger off or be de-selected anyway.

    Labour has a choice – back Remain and lose the north, midlands, parts of the south east and parts of Wales, or back Leave and lose the urban/metropolitan areas.

    Choice is yours. Decide which one you want to keep and which one you want to walk away from. But you aren’t keeping both. (and Corbyn – daft as he is, has always known it would come to this hence the fence sitting)

  7. Henrik says:

    @Alf – that’ll be jolly satisfying for the hard core of true believers, of course. Whether it’ll entrance the electorate is a different question, of course. My guess is it won’t, but then the Hard Left seems to have no urge to govern, preferring to exist in a sort of pre-Revolutionary Leninist phase of endlessly splitting the party and eating its young.

  8. buttley says:

    If they, (the (Indepentent Group) had any kind of faith in their electoral ability, they would call immediate by-elections, in every constituency, in which they reside.

    But, fearful of an electorate, they know, by whom they are despised. they just do not have the metal to face.

    The expression most often used in Her Majesty’s prisons, would be shithouse or slag.

    Both are arguably apropriate in this context.

  9. Anne says:

    Alf is a pseudonym – he/she makes the same fictitious comments on every article – best to ignore any comments he/she makes – they are not real – some joker – easy to make up stuff that means absolutely nothing – err now let me see… is that so called fake news.

  10. sheila white says:

    I came on this site hoping to talk to a few intelligent people but find I am still boringly reading off the Sun and Daily Mail headlines.
    Labour is not broken. Jeremy Corbyn is the most popular leader the party has ever had and if we are all classed as looney lefties then so be it and about time.
    The middle road Labour party under previous leaders did nothing to try and transform this country into one where a little fairness prevailed. We are now finding that a massive amount of the populace is starting to believe there is a way for this to happen and it is under the guidance of Jeremy Corbyn

  11. Tafia says:

    Anne, have you no idea or concept of what is going on in your own party? Are you blind or something?

    Alf is quite obviously a Momentum supporter/member. They control over 100 constituency Labour Parties now (and increasing monthly) along with the NEC and other regional/national level party apparatus as well as some of the Trades Unions.

    And they’ve managed that because people like you are to cowardly, to weak and to confused to even mount a defence let alone a counter-attack.

    The cull of Labour MPs has already started. Scores are facing de-selection, some of the 9 that have quit have left precisely because they know they are done for.

    Labour is in the process of becoming an idealogocally pure, leftist (not left wing), neo-petit bourgoiseie party largely centred on London, the south east, and the English urban areas obsessed with the public sector. A ‘metropolitan’ party if you will. The Tories will undergo their transformation eventually as Farage’s new ‘The Brexit Party’ forces them further to the ppopulist right. There is no centre anymore as the breakaway MPs will find out probably sooner rather than later – the public doesn’t want that pointless guff anymore.

    The days of the bland ‘third way’ grey politics and triangulations of Major, Blair and Cameron are over. Politics is about to become a system of stark and very different choices – populist left or populist right.

    And that’s not unique to UK – it’s going on all over western Europe. P#The bulk of people – the workers, have had enough of middle class politiciians and middle class middle ground garbage. It has got us nowhere and it is being rightfully put to the sword.

    Politics belongs to the masses not the establishment, and they are reclaiming it.

  12. JoHn P reid says:

    Sheila, labour did nothing to try to transform to one where fairness..

    depends how you define “try” having a far left manifesto ,you know is gonna lose could be trying harder, than having a moderate manifesto and winning

    tafia, and there’s other constituencies that are centre left old labour ,of the Peter shore, Barbara Castle wing, that run CLPs who probably just hate Blairites more than they hate momentum ,and they’re pro Corbyn in Principle

    in London there’s zone3 and 4 on the tube which is 10 miles as the crow flies form Centre London, there are Tory and Labour MPs in those areas, ,even with demographic changes, some of those seats in Lewisham and kent will go Tory

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