It is now very likely that Tom Watson’s plan to introduce shadow cabinet elections will succeed. It is seen as a way to balance the scales between the PLP (Parliamentary Labour Party) and Labour Party members. One would naturally assume, as with most plans, that there will be a clear faction that is given an advantage by the idea. On the contrary, under this system the party in general will be crippled.
Let us first take the so-called 'moderate' faction of the Party. The ideal outcome from their perspective is that Corbyn loses control of the shadow cabinet. This would allow them to force Corbyn into compromising his principles and could even nearly eliminate his influence over policy. Should this be achieved, the moderates will have been able to regain control of the party without having to complete the nearly impossible task of winning over the membership.
However, this is incredibly myopic. If a leader does not have a choice of who he is working with at a cabinet level, the effectiveness of the Party in government could be reduced. Corbyn will not be the leader of the Labour Party forever, and in the future even an effective leader may struggle to unite their cabinet. This is because there can be a clash of personalities that affect the ability of the cabinet to function. The Conservatives to their credit would not allow this possibility to occur. For example, to put it into context, it would be the bethe equivalent of May being forced to work with Michal Gove as her Chancellor. The moderates may be unhappy now, but even one of their own would struggle to achieve the ultimate goal of unity.
Let us now take the so called ‘hard left’ faction of the Party. The good news for them is that even if the cabinet becomes stacked against Corbyn, it would secure his positon as leader of the Party. This is because shadow cabinet members could no longer question his mandate without nullifying their own. With this security in place and the prospect of more left wing leaders to follow, the faction could, through selection processes, increase the amount of ‘hard left’ MPs in proportion to the ‘moderates’. This essentially means they would gradually take control of the entire party.
However, this too is insignificant when compared to the fundamental downside, namely that if things continue as they are, Labour will be destroyed in general elections, as infighting would lead the public to turn their backs on Labour. The significance then of controlling the party would be non-existent. Indeed, if the Liberal Democrats were to move slightly to the left, Labour’s middle-class vote would be reduced, and UKIP would likely continue to gain in Labour’s working class core.
The Labour Party therefore needs to look beyond its ephemeral internal conflict. A leader arguably must have control of the cabinet in order to be able to keep the party focused on the overall aims, the most important of which is to be an effective political force.
Labour should instead achieve unity through common ground. Elements of this are already visible, such as the united opposition against Grammar Schools. Labour has a choice, entrench the internal conflict, through shadow cabinet elections, or unite and be an effective opposition.
More articles by this commentator