I see the broken eggs, comrades..
..but where is this omelette you promised us?
Swelled by that old intoxicant, victory, Labour big guns joined MPs and staffers on Tuesday to lift a glass to the party’s new general secretary – Corbyn candidate Jennie Formby. While inside the Two Chairmen pub, John McDonnell, Len McCluskey, James Schneider, Emily Thornberry et al sipped sweet success, and the seeing-off of Formby’s predecessor Iain McNicol, on the street in front of Labour HQ, Momentum, the party’s guerrilla wing, was also celebraring. “McNicol’s gone,” bellowed Jackie Walker and supporters, “now it’s time for the rest of them.”
That shouldn’t take long – a flurry of resignations went in even before the champagne corks were popped on Tuesday night, and there will be more. There will be more resignations, more division, more tension, and more bad blood, before this septic season is over.
In the first three months of 2018 alone there has been enough tension within the party to snap a titanium cable. A quick, nauseating recap: there was Unite vs Momentum, or Formby vs Lansman; there was – and is – the all women shortlist row; there was – and is – the Labour Against the Witchhunt row; there was the row over the Labour Equalities Conference; there was Jeremy Corbyn’s membership of an anti-semitic Facebook group (which, you’ll notice, has all been shrugged off) and a previous message of support for an artist who painted an anti-semitic mural (which has only just emerged, but will be shrugged off); the row over whether Labour has dealt with its own sexual assault allegations; at some point I’m sure George Galloway threatened to sue Jon Lansman and use Corbyn as a witness; Munroe Bergdorf was appointed to Labour’s LGBT advisory board and resigned a week later; Debbie Abrahams resigned in conspicuously trademark Labour circumstances, citing bullying.
How many Labour councillors and council leaders is it that have been bullied into resignation by Momentum now? I’ve lost count. And then there’s the little matter of Labour Brexit policy, still ongoing.
The worst thing of all, is how miserably predictable all this was. What people seem to forget, is that one of the fundamental reasons for ‘centrist’ alarm about a potential Corbyn victory, was the extreme divisiveness it would inevitably cause. The current friction was entirely foreseeable, and foreseen, back in 2015. And that was before Momentum was founded, if you can imagine.
By the time of the leadership election we knew there was a referendum on EU membership coming up. It was one of the factors for choosing our next leader. We chose Jeremy Corbyn, a man who had spent 30 years campaigning to leave the European Union, to lead a party whose membership wanted to stay in.
The defeat of 2010 was hard; but 2015, and that exit poll, was a dark moment. There were lots of tears shed that night. At that lowly point Labour needed extraordinary leadership. What we really, really needed then was someone who would lift morale and unite us. A natural leader. Jeremy Corbyn was a rebel MP whose whole selling point was an (admirable) unwillingness to capitulate on morals; he was a maverick, an individual. He wasn’t smooth, he wasn’t a manager of people, he looked mighty awkward on TV, and he had a tendency to hit the roof when journalists asked him difficult questions. We picked him anyway.
Back then I doubt even the most quixotic of Corbynistas considered him Prime Minister material. When you’re a founding member of Stop the War Coalition, proud advocate of boycotting Israel, pundit on Russian and Iranian state TV, on-the-record Westminster conduit for members of the IRA, Hamas and Hezbolah, then your whole thing is that you’re specifically not running to be Prime Minister, and proud of it, surely?
Fears that a Corbyn victory would be a destabilising, divisive move for all of the above reasons have been proved correct. Labour moderates deeply resent being told otherwise, when it is just so obvious. But they are incensed to be told – by people who only joined the party after the 2015 election – that the current division is their fault for not falling into line, and not the result of a dangerous and reckless decision two and a half years ago.
And how costly that decision has been. Against the weakest, most insipid, disunited Tory government for 20 years, crippled by the biggest political migraine for generations, we are lucky to creep level in the polls. Pick any poll you like from 1994-1997, Labour was 20 sometimes 30 points ahead of the Tories, and never fewer than 10.
The extraordinary rhetorical claim that this is all about ‘opening up the Labour Party’ has in reality meant the purging of the party of moderate voices, the narrowing of plurality in the debate, the revival of London-centricity (we lost Mansfield to the Tories, for god’s sake), the heightening of tensions, and intimidations, and the transfusion of power and influence to an organisation with far less democratic credentials than the party itself.
Team Corbyn will now set about going “for the rest of them”; and it will succeed. At national level, in the PLP, in the Labour Councils. Unpleasant, but necessary tasks, I suppose you might argue – merely means to an end. I see a lot of broken eggs, comrades. But where is this omelette you promised us?
(Just as I put the finishing touches to this, news that Owen Smith has been sacked came through. Have a good weekend comrades!)