The “soft coup” might be on, but it surely ain’t from the right

by Rob Marchant

For weeks now, the party’s left has been whispering about a “soft coup”. Ah, the old Soviet tactic, much beloved of today’s Vladimir Putin: confuse things by accusing your opponents of whatever you are up to yourself. Oh, and make them feel under attack, so they close ranks.

There is a coup going on, but it is clearly not the evil Blairites named by John McDonnell.

As revelations about Jon Lansman’s declared strategy for Momentum as an alternative power base to the party itself became public, it seems Monday night’s PLP meeting was converted into something of a showdown.

Corbyn jeered. Watson cheered. The PLP, depressed and muted for months since Corbyn’s re-election, suddenly found its voice.

And it was that same Tom Watson leading the charge – a loyalist clearly adept at unearthing the truth but in this case apparently with a couple of years’ time-lag.

(We should probably gloss over his part the plot to bring down Tony Blair; or the fact that, in the Falkirk selections debacle – in which his own parliamentary office was directly implicated, along with Unite, let us not forget – he helped lead to the change in the electoral system which let in Corbyn in the first place.)

And the revelation was that – hold the front page! – Momentum is actually organising for the takeover/destruction of the Labour Party (delete as applicable), just like Militant before it, in conjunction with that same Unite union. Where were you in 2015, Tom, when it was obvious to everyone? Or in 2013, when Unite were stitching up selections for the hard left?

It’s true, the Corbynites have marginalised him way from the centre of party power, as they generally do with any MP who is not part of the sect.

But it is now in Watson’s loyalist, but not-exactly-secure hands which the current round of resistance against Corbyn’s calamitous leadership currently sits.

It’s not as though various people haven’t tried.

The original list of those who refused to serve in his first Shadow Cabinet.

Hilary Benn, with his defiant speech on Syria more over Europe, which got him sacked for his trouble.

Last year’s further en masse resignation of the Shadow Cabinet after the Brexit vote.

Owen Smith’s leadership challenge last summer.

Watson has a distinct advantage over all these people: he is protected by his office and has little to lose, least of all his seat, where he actually increased his majority in 2015.

As Harriet Harman ably demonstrated when she decided to stay on as Deputy Leader through the Miliband years, it’s an office with no time limit. The only people who can get actually rid of Watson are party members, and then really only when he wants to go. Thus, he does not depend on the whims of the Leader. Nor is he particularly beholden to the Whips’ Office. Nor does he depend on the patronage of McCluskey, like some trade union backed colleagues of his. In that sense, at least, he is an ideal figure to speak out.

And so Watson can appear on the Today programme, saying something pretty strong, even in these kooky, uncharted political waters of 2017:

“What Jon Lansman has outlined is a plan with Len McCluskey, the leader of Unite, to take control of the Labour Party.

“We have never seen the biggest union organise a political faction within the Labour Party with the tacit approval of the leadership.”

It is certainly good that he is making something of a stand, albeit a year and a half into his office and with the party already on its knees. The only question is whether Watson is the right person to lead the charge.

Now, plotting is something he has shown aptitude for, although it seems unlikely that, in this case, things are that organised. He might even one day be successful in executing a real coup to remove his beloved leader. But his strategic planning and sense of judgement are not exactly legendary, either. One wonders whether, even if this current round resistance were successful, where the party might go and who it might realistically put up to replace Corbyn.

Surely not Watson himself: there is some political talent there, but Kinnock he ain’t. He also attacks from a position of political weakness even compared to Kinnock: the Welshman was himself Leader, had the advantage of a party already fed up with the idiocy of Militant-run councils, and a handy bogeyman in Liverpool’s Derek Hatton. Today’s Labour councils lack the “loony left” tendency to alienate members in the same way, and Corbyn himself is still admired by much of the membership.

In a nutshell, in contrast to 1985, the lunatics have unprecedentedly taken over the asylum. Never before has the leader themselves been from the hard left and no-one really knows where all this will end up.

However, one thing is crystal clear: if there had hitherto remained any doubt that there is now to be a battle to death for the soul of the Labour Party, it is now gone. The Deputy Leader and the PLP are openly at war with the leader, much of the membership and the leader of the largest affiliated union.

The fight is on.

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

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14 Responses to “The “soft coup” might be on, but it surely ain’t from the right”

  1. Tafia says:

    You’re bit late.

    De-selections of councillors ahead of this years big council elections in Wales is already well underway. 11 being deselected off one Labour-run council alone (all intending to stand as independents against the party – which means they will be expelled as well). Bridgend, Caerphilly, Neath-Port Talbot, Cardiff.

    The revolution isn’t fought in blogs like this or in the Guardian. It’s fought at street level within the local parties and within the Trades Unions – and Momentum is whupping your ass.

  2. Tafia says:

    And as for Swansea’s Labour Parties – jesus what a mess.

  3. John.P Reid says:

    There are quite a few silly Billy’s on labour councils, from Tottenham to Dagenham too Fulham and Hammersmith, including ine just let backing who said the Jews caused 911′ but the council elections of 2018 will be the ones where make no mistake the Greens Ukip me the Tories will have ammunition to win seats off labour in those places.

  4. Ed says:

    About as distorted as Watson’s rantings. But then the old right and ‘New’ labour remnants are bewildered by their progressive relegation in power and influece in tje LP. It goes on! But quite openly. There is no need for conspiracy theories, although, their manufacture is understandable, coming from the smoke filled rooms school of operation.

  5. paul barker says:

    Over the last 8 Months Labour have been losing hundreds of members every day & 1% in the Polls every couple of Months. The battle for Labour was over years ago. If you want to have a role in Progressive Politics then join The LIbdems. Labour infighting is a waste of your time & energy.

  6. Richard MacKinnon says:

    Just when you thought this incredible drama could not get any more bizarre along comes Len.
    My gob has never been smacked so hard. It is the most amazing drama I have ever had the good fortune to witness. If it was a piece of fiction nobody would believe it.
    First of all Jeremy gets himself on the ballot paper because people feel sorrow for him. And then he goes on to win it. That is funny. Can you imagine the conversations there must have been between JC and Dianne and Emily, after the reality had sunk in, ‘christ Jeremy what are you going to do now?’. ‘I don’t know, I’ll ask John’.
    And then Angela and Owen came along and cement Jeremy in post, so now he cant step down even if he wanted to.
    And then, probably the funniest act of all; Brexit. JC a life long EU sceptic is persuaded, reluctantly and at the last minute to climb into the Remain camp only to find out he had been on the right side all along. That kind of timing is comic genius.
    Enter Len stage left, the leader of Unite. The biggest union in the country and pure loaded. Len is tired of the day job. He’s a big man and he sees an opportunity. There is a role for me here Len thinks, in The Labour Tragedy as ‘The Puppet Master’. His lines could have been written by The Bard himself. ‘There are Labour MPs looking for a back to stab’.
    Where can it go from here? Schism? Mass resignations? Doing a Corbyn?
    Sunday mornings have become the highlight of my week. I wonder who is on tomorrow? I would love it if the BBC could get Len on with Brillo, or John on with the posh boy with glasses. Or is it time for JC to take control, calm the troops and stamp his authority with a personal apperance with Andrew on the sofa? Cometh the hour, cometh the man.

  7. steve says:

    “The only question is whether Watson is the right person to lead the charge.”

    As a quirky maverick Watson is clearly the wrong person to lead the charge.

    Dan Jarvis comes to mind but Dan is far too sensible to associate himself with the ‘Lansman and McKluskey are taking over the Labour Party’ hotheads.

    The ideal leader would be John Mann – a courageous campaigner who doesn’t mind sticking it to the Left at every opportunity. John’s anti-EU position may unsettle some and his shouty, permanently angry demeanour has contributed to his rent-a-gob public image but lets be honest, our backs are against the wall and needs must when the Devil drives.

  8. Alf says:

    Deputy leadership contest. Now. Tory-lite Tom must go.

  9. Anne says:

    Tom Watson is deputy leader – this is an elected position and does carry some responsibilities. Tom should now set up an independent investigation team to look into the legitimacy of Momentum to infiltrate the Labour Party. I have no problem with Momentun as a party/organisation but it should be separate to the Labour Party – fielding their own candidates – not under the banner of the Labour Party. I am a member of the Labour Party not a member of Momentum.
    Len McCuskey now appears to be backtracking – maybe because he now has a challenge to his own position – he has been involving himself far too much in Labour Party politics and this must be at the expense of his duties to his unite members. I was a member of Unite for many years – many of my colleagues did not even vote Labour.

  10. Tafia says:

    legitimacy of Momentum to infiltrate the Labour Party.
    Momentum has no more infiltrated Labour than the Fabians, Jewish Labour or Tribune. It is not a politicl party, it is a pressure group and that is all.

    If you want to ban Momentum for influencing the party from within then you have to ban all organised groups from doing likewise or you will face very long and very very expensive legal actions (not to mention having no option at that stage than to obey Court rulings).

    Len McCuskey now appears to be backtracking
    Does he bollocks. He is home and dry with a massive majority.

    he has been involving himself far too much in Labour Party politics
    The Labour Party is the political wing of the Trades Union movement. Nothing more and nothing less. It is nothing – absolutely nothing without the unions and the minute it thinks otherwise then it can do without unin money and the Co-Op underwriting it’s debts.

    At the end of the day ot’s a democratic socialist party and if you aen’t a socialist then you are the enemy.

  11. John. Reid says:

    I blog someone can challenge Tom, if they want, thy need to get enough ?MPs to endorse them

  12. Stan says:

    I wish there was a soft coup coming from the left! In just the latest scandal its worth reading these comments by Jeremy Corbyn’s brother on Islam

  13. RIchard MacKinnon is wrong to say that Corbyn was nominated because MPs ‘felt sorry for him’. The rules were designed to keep the hard left off, and the reason he got on was an anti Burnham plot by MPs who did not think COrbyn could possibly win, but having him on the ballot paper would take enough member votes to allow their candidate to win. You can work out who was organizing this piece of machination.

    Then we he won in 2015 Ann Coffey and Margaret Hodge triggered a second leadership election when the membership had not changed their minds, making sure COrbyn would win again and removing the chance of a mid term leadership election in mid 2017.

    The problems of the Labour Party currently reside in the PLP and those MPs, not on the hard left, who produced these two mistakes. Corbyn did not have enough support in either election, but in 2016 having made the mistake of having a second leadership contest the fools opposing him tried to keep him off the ballot paper. How many mistakes can one group of MPs Make?

    Trevor Fisher

  14. john P Reid says:

    confused trevor that the 18 or Nominees for Corbyn who didn’t want him to win
    included, Frank field Margaret Beckett, Tom Watson ,Gareth Thomas, John Cruddas, David Lammy, Sadiq khan
    think even one of the old CLPD put him on who still backed Burnham as did Beckett,
    Neil Coyne and Jo Cox

    Cruddas and Thomas ,LAmmy and Khan as they stood for mayor didn’t publally endorse anyone

    I could look up the 8 or so others who regretted doing it, but can’t think anyone who thought it would let Yvette or Liz win, after STV means that unless the last round was Yvette versus Jeremy and she got Andy second prefs, then how could it be tactical to get rid of Andy although

    had it been only Labour Memebers who couold vote and Jez getting 49.5% on the first round and assuming that the Dozen or so people who voted Liz first and Jez second didn’t mean that Jeremy had won with Liz second preferences

    then I reckon that the remaining 6% of Liz votes would have gone nearly 4 to 2 to Yvette rather than andy

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