Monday, June 27, 2016

Ignoring Its Members Could Condemn Labor to Irrelevancy For a Generation
Dawn Foster

A leadership election would be the final straw for many disillusioned young members. It’s time for Corbyn’s detractors to put up or split

 Party leadership candidate Jeremy Corbyn is mobbed by supporters as he arrives to attend the ballot result for the new Labour leader

Monday 27 June 2016 06.21 EDT

On Friday morning, friends from around the world flooded my email inbox, asking what on earth Britain had done. The decision was inconceivable, and few people, including seemingly the leave campaign, had considered what might happen if the Brexiters won. So with a shock vote unmooring Britain from the European Union, a Tory party bitterly split and facing a leadership battle, it seems sensible to assume the Labour party would focus on attacking the Conservatives when they are at their weakest, and in complete disarray. Instead, in a coup reportedly organised via a WhatsApp group, members of the shadow cabinet have opted to take the heat off the Tories by attempting to unseat Jeremy Corbyn, drip-feeding resignations in a clearly confected plan to increase the drama and pressure after Hilary Benn’s sacking.

Many members of the parliamentary Labour party (PLP) have been openly miserable since Corbyn’s election, decrying members who voted for the former backbencher and making no secret of their wish to unseat him at the earliest opportunity. To many members who backed Corbyn, this weekend’s events look to be nothing more than a protracted strop from people who would rather see Labour fail completely if it meant seeing the back of Corbyn.

Back in 1981, in Hard Road to Renewal, Stuart Hall remarked: “The right of the labour movement, to be honest, has no ideas of any compelling quality, except the instinct for short-term political survival. It would not know an ideological struggle if it stumbled across one in the dark. The only ‘struggle’ it engages in with any trace of conviction is the one against the left.” Thirty-five years on, this quote rings desperately true and shows how little the right of the party care about elections, for all the bluster.

The fear for the resignees is that even if they do manage to force a leadership election, Corbyn will win again: his mandate was staggering, and from members who were in the party for years as well as new members. After his election, many people, myself included, flocked back to a party they’d completely written off. Speaking to friends who joined after the general election, mostly members of no party, but occasional Green and SNP defectors, they said if a leadership election was forced, with no left candidate, they’d leave the party again. For many people, this would be the final straw in their relationship with a party who have destroyed their trust over the Iraq war, tuition fees, identity cards, and opposition to austerity. Revealing their open contempt for party members will have a long-lasting effect that could condemn the Labour party to complete irrelevancy for a generation.

According to YouGov, 31% of Labour and 57% of Tories voted leave: so two-thirds of Labour voters backed the remain campaign. No Corbyn detractor has been able to give me a figure at which the PLP would have been satisfied that Corbyn had succeeded: the knives were out before a single vote was cast. To the media and politicians, being swept up in the drama and scalpings might seem fun: but this power play looks less Shakespearean and more farcical to those outside the Westminster bubble. After the vote, remain voters want to see the Conservatives attacked, and the widespread racist backlash across the country condemned.

The Labour MPs trying to force a leadership election have no plan, no candidate immediately ready to back, and no policy programme in place. They remain stung by the fact they are out of step with the membership, and have sought to overturn the democratic election of Corbyn from day one. In all likelihood, if they manage, Corbyn will stand again, and win again.

Perhaps they’ll succeed, and take us back to the glory days of political leadership that brought us the pink bus, the controls on immigration mug, and the Edstone: but if they do so, they will alienate themselves even further. It’s time for Corbyn’s detractors to make peace with the decision of party members, and put up or split, making their own party and proving they have the electoral pull factor they claim Corbyn lacks.

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