The Labour Party is currently in a state of disarray, bordering on civil war. The leadership election was long, bruising, exciting, divisive, and historic. There were highs and lows for all camps, but there was a clear and conclusive winner. Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader by the largest democratic mandate in Labour Party history. One would think, then, that the Parliamentary Labour Party would be faithful to the party membership, and back their chosen leading representative. Thus far however, this hasn’t been the case whatsoever. From melodramatic resignations, to mouthing-off in the right-wing rags and to blowing an insignificant mini-reshuffle miles out of proportion, Labour MPs have stifled the new leadership from day one. To the Tories, it’s provided over 100 days of Christmas. To the Murdoch press, it’s provided stories that have written themselves. To the wider public, it’s appeared bitter, immature, and the political embodiment of sour grapes.
One has to ask, what do the likes of Michael Dugher and co. think they’re achieving? They’re successfully making Labour look like a disorganised group of egotistical individuals rather than a united and electable party. This is not only dangerous for the future of the Labour Party and irs electoral ambitions but, in the short-term at least, it’s a major threat to a pivotal check and balance on government power. It is also an unwelcome indictment of modern British politics. If internal party democracy can be so brashly undermined, what hope is there for national democracy? It is time for Labour MPs to start acting in the interests of the members who installed them in the first place. This will not only give Labour a fighting chance in the coming elections, but will also ensure voters still have a genuine choice of potential and credible governing parties when they step into the polling booths.
‘Ill-informed’, ‘infantilising the terrorists’, ‘intolerant’, ‘vindictive and stupid’, ‘vengeful’. Believe it or not, these are terms that have been used by Labour MPs in very public attacks on the mild-mannered Mr Corbyn in recent weeks. This is the same Mr Corbyn who refused ever to engage in personal attacks throughout his campaign and offered shadow cabinet posts to his defeated rivals, despite vicious criticism directed his way during the leadership campaign. This is the same Mr Corbyn who wouldn’t even retaliate in kind when the Prime Minister described him as a ‘terrorist sympathiser’, a vicious insult sure to spark retribution from the best of us. This is the same Mr Corbyn who is calling for a kinder politics, and who is changing the ‘Punch & Judy’ style of PMQs to reflect a more respectful and representative form of debate. Since Jeremy Corbyn has been elected we have seen personal and frankly insulting attacks on his character from Labour MPs week after week. Enough, is enough.
The reshuffle that Corbyn oversaw cannot be overlooked in terms of its ludicrous media portrayal and the willingness of countless Labour MPs to jump on the bandwagon and take a swipe at the new leader. If the party was currently led by Blair, Brown, or even Miliband, the recent reshuffle would have been dubbed as little more than an un-newsworthy mid-term mini-reshuffle. Apparently, though, in the hands of a ‘left-wing firebrand’, such an insignificant reorganisation of the shadow cabinet equated to some kind of Marxist purge or act of revenge. While one might even expect such language from the Murdoch press, it was more than disheartening to hear it from Labour parliamentarians. One must ask where such outrage was when Ed Miliband expelled Diane Abbott from his frontbench for disloyalty, and why conspiratorial theories only come to the fore when an outspoken socialist holds the reins of power.
The ever-decreasing voter turnout from one election to the next tells us that the general public are growing fatigued with similarly groomed middle-of-the-road politicians and well-oiled electoral machines. Perhaps the public are yearning for something different, someone willing to push boundaries, challenge public opinion and be radical enough to stand on principle rather than what might look good on an election ad. After losing two consecutive elections then, it’s surprising that the Parliamentary Labour Party may not be willing to give a chance to a leadership figure who fits such a description. Of course, tribalism plays a major role here. The Progress wing of the Labour party was humiliated in the recent leadership contest – their candidate receiving only 4.5% of the vote – and will still be feeling raw to say the least. However, this does not justify such blatant disloyalty towards the duly elected leader.
The aim of Labour’s right wing is no secret. They hope to oust Corbyn as soon as humanly possible and replace him with a Progress-backed or centrist candidate. It’s worth noting that this isn’t for the wrong reasons. One would like to think that every Labour MP is desperate to see the Tories removed from power in 2020, and those plotting to remove Corbyn – generally – only wish to do so in order to have a leader they believe will lead them to that stated goal. However, there are major flaws in this ill-thought game plan. For one; backstabbing the leader with the largest democratic mandate in Labour Party history has disastrous implications for the membership, as well as the legitimacy of the party in general. A great surge in party membership was triggered by Jeremy standing for the vacant leadership role, and this surge has continued since his ascent to power. Putting a halt to his tenure would surely see a fall in membership, which would in turn see a reduction in activists to fight the ground battle against the Tories in 2020 – one of the few arenas where the Conservatives were utterly outgunned in 2015.
Furthermore, ousting such a decisively elected leader sends a dangerous message to the wider electorate. Questions will surely be asked. I can see the Murdoch headlines now. If the Labour Party cannot be trusted to follow through on the results of its own internal democratic process, how can it be trusted to follow through on manifesto pledges? If Labour can’t even settle on a decision about its leader, how can it settle on decisions about matters of national importance such as security and immigration? Make no mistake, I’m sure The Sun headlines would be snappier, but they would follow such a vein. One only has to observe the recent history of the Australian Labor Party to understand how an electorate is willing to punish a party more interested in internal backstabbing and politicking than tackling national issues.
It is undeniably clear that the actions of countless members of the PLP are proving detrimental to Labour’s electoral chances, not to mention its credibility as Her Majesty’s Opposition. Can you name an average voter who would prefer a party hell-bent on internal self-destruction to one with a clear vision for the future of Britain? I highly doubt it. Nonetheless, this is the predicament we currently find ourselves in. The governing party has a clear and coherent plan for the UK’s trajectory, while the Opposition would rather tear itself apart. Wherever your political allegiances lie, this isn’t healthy for British democracy or pluralism.
Labour MPs, it is time for you to accept the facts. A democratic process took place. A winner was chosen – with an undeniable mandate. If you don’t back the leader your members have fairly selected, you are staring electoral wilderness dead in the face. The Lib Dems have recently shown that no established political party is safe from imminent oblivion. Turning on Jeremy Corbyn will paint the Labour Party as treacherous, dishonourable, and nothing short of a laughing stock. None of which are desirable governmental traits. If the PLP doesn’t show some maturity and get behind the party’s elected leader, the future looks distinctly bleak for Labour.