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Don’t blow up the Labour Party

support your own teamThe Labour Party in opposition needs to present itself as an alternative government, but just as importantly the role of the main opposition party in a parliamentary democracy is to seek to influence the decisions of government, and shape the political debate.

Given the potentially economically catastrophic vote to leave the EU last Thursday, an outcome that most Labour Party members, and most Labour voters opposed; and which was opposed by the overwhelming majority of affiliated trade unions; then it is essential that the Labour Party quickly develops a policy of how to deal with the fall out.

It should have been obvious that the task for the Labour Party was to keep the media focus on the lies and false promises from the leading Brexit campaigners; and it should have been obvious that the task for the Labour Party was to exploit the division in the Conservative Party and the paralysis of the lame-duck Cameron administration. It should also have been obvious that it was necessary to keep the party unified behind those tasks.

The meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party on Monday 27 June should have been an opportunity to develop a strategy to deal with the Brexit crisis, and to speak up for the interests of the millions of those that the Labour Party exists to represent whose economic prospects are now less secure.

Instead, we saw an exercise of self-indulgent narcissism, with the Westminster bubble concerns of professional politicians trumping the very real fear and anxiety that ordinary people are feeling.

As GMB General Secretary, Tim Roache, said in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote:

We’re in uncharted waters. The government needs to act straight away to secure jobs and keep the economy moving – too many working people are still carrying the can for the last economic crash, they can ill afford another one.

What happens next cannot be the preserve of a government elected with 37% of the vote or potentially a Prime Minister who was never elected at all. The British people have spoken, many of them frustrated with business as usual, choosing to leave the EU because of the impacts of the flexible labour market and the pursuit of free trade above all else.

Our place in the world cannot be one based on a Tory Party free-for-all, free market philosophy. A race to the bottom which prioritises the removal of trade barriers and the flexible labour market above all else will fail working people and the very voters who made their decision yesterday.

The Prime Minister must act now, on a cross party basis, to heal and represent the whole county. Not just the rifts in his Party. That means an urgent plan to protect jobs and a guarantee that no workplace rights will face the axe.

Tim is undoubtedly right to say that an urgent plan is needed to protect jobs, resolve uncertainty over workplace rights. It is an entirely reasonable expectation from the trade unions that the parliamentary party should also have understood that those were the urgent priorities.

I think it is no secret that many in the trade unions are not uncritical supporters of Corbyn. There is a very real question mark over whether Corbyn’s undoubted appeal to a politically engaged minority can translate into the mass electoral appeal that can win a general election. Both Jeremy Corbyn and Emily Thornberry have failed to engage substantively with the question of how tens of thousands of skilled, well paid and organized jobs in manufacturing and shipbuilding could be protected were the Trident successor programme to be cancelled, as they desire. But clearly even for those who may be more critical friends of Corbyn, now was the time for the party to unite behind him.

The disdain with which rebels in the Parliamentary Labour Party disregarded the statement from General Secretaries of 12 of the 14 affiliated trade unions, indicates turning their backs on the ethos and traditions of the Party. The General Secretaries, speaking in the interests of some 3 million working people, said:

The Prime Minister’s resignation has triggered a Tory leadership crisis. At the very time we need politicians to come together for the common good, the Tory party is plunging into a period of argument and infighting. In the absence of a government that puts the people first Labour must unite as a source of national stability and unity.

It should focus on speaking up for jobs and workers’ rights under threat, and on challenging any attempt to use the referendum result to introduce a more right-wing Tory government by the backdoor.

The last thing Labour needs is a manufactured leadership row of its own in the midst of this crisis and we call upon all Labour MPs not to engage in any such indulgence.

Let us be clear, whatever failing there may have been with Labour’s campaign to stay in the EU, the party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership saw most Labour voters backing remain – a figure between 63% and 70% depending upon the polling. The inchoate expression of alienation against the political class that led to so many voting Leave, against what objectively are their own best interests, did not grip working class communities in just the last 9 months of Corbyn’s stewardship of the party.

The wounds go deeper, and further back. The bond of trust between the Labour Party and much of the electorate was broken by the deceit that led the UK to participate in a criminally irresponsible war in Iraq. The economic policies that led to a million manufacturing jobs lost since 1997 undermined Labour’s credibility to speak for many communities in the English regions.

The triangulation and spin meant that Labour’s message was increasingly attuned to swing voters in marginal constituencies. This was particularly damaging over the issue of immigration, where de facto the last Labour government encouraged migrants due to the economic benefits, while simultaneously some figures in the Labour party indulged in dog-whistle collusion in anti-migrant sentiment. The failure by Blair and Brown to deal with the UK’s growing housing crisis, and their unwillingness to ensure that Employment Law was strong enough to prevent unscrupulous bosses abusing migrants to push down wages in entry level jobs, meant that many working class people have real-life, negative experiences associated with migration. There are many areas where increased population has not seen the necessary. corresponding increase in housing, schooling and health capacity

These are just some of the reasons why Labour lost the elections of 2010, and 2015. Long before Jeremy Corbyn even thought he might one day be leader of the party.

The Labour Party now has a challenging landscape to confront. The type of message and the type of party that plays well in Scotland or Wales is different from the North of England, which is again different from London, and different from the pockets of Labour support in the rest of the South of England, and the other nations of the UK.

Not only are those Labour MPs indulging in the circus of destabilizing Corbyn letting down people in the constituencies they were elected to serve, and failing to act to promote stability which is their duty in the national interest; they are utterly deluded that there is any alternative leader waiting in the wings that has the stature or appeal to solve Labour’s problems. They are deluded if they think that a Labour leader who had been more enthusiastic about the EU would have been better able to reach out to skeptical and disengaged voters.

They are also deluded if they think that their exercise of fiddling while Rome burns is the way to appeal to voters of any stripe. They are risking blowing the Labour Party up into civil war at exactly the time when the people that the Labour Party was established to represent more than ever need the Party to be strong and united.

An expanded version of this article appears on Socialist Unity

9 Comments

  1. jeffrey davies says:

    hmmm its the greed of the blairites leaving jc in power will see them being deselected if hes left in they now their times up with this man but greedie mps want want and want while the peasants get nowt from the greedie party if left to the blairites jeff3

  2. Ricky says:

    Finally the party can heal from 30 years of declining representative quality and support.

    Jeremy Corbyn unites the true labour following, and these MPs that are so out of touch have now made themselves even less in tune with ordinary people now risk being abandoned – and its all their own doing.

    The damage has festered for years, now its all coming out, dont let the media divide us, JC4PM

  3. David Pavett says:

    Andy Newman says many times that the MPs should not have done what they have done. What he doesn’t do is to ask what it is best to do now that they have done it. Should we behave as if it had not happened? None of us wanted to be in this post-Brexit, post-confidence-vote situation but through none of our choosing that is where we are.

    1. Richard Tiffin says:

      We should not behave as if it has not happened in my view, not at all.

      Assuming there will be a leadership election and assuming Corbyn wins (two large assumptions I appreciate because it is not in the interest of the plotters to run in an election they are likely to lose and anything might happen in the campaign if and when it comes) then the opportunity to renew the party is now there.

      For months the argument for unity has cut across any demands for mandatory reselection or deselections, but now that Corbyn’s opponents have attempted their coup any call for unity is ridiculous.

      The PLP have made it clear that they have no intention of working with Corbyn and in the likely event that Corbyn wins, then what?

      Clearly, he cannot walk back into parliament and carry on as if nothing has happened and his opponents will not work with him if he tried in any case. The only option would be a new team of MP’s in the PLP who will work with Corbyn and that means the removal of incumbents.

      Clearly, many (perhaps all) MP’s involved in the attempt to make Corbyn resign will see the writing on the wall. This may mean they set up a new group inside Parliament, or even a new (Lord Sainsbury funded?) party. This would reveal that current events have nothing at all to do with his alleged ‘lack of leadership qualities’ and everything to do with ideology, though thats a side issue here.

      Then for the future.

      In the next general election a Corbyn led Labour Party will win back the seats from the traitors in safe seats. In other seats the vote will be divided if the incumbents stand and this will allow other parties to win. In a few the incumbents will win. This will mean that Labour will not win the General Election, but with the loss of Scotland that is likely to have been the case even if there was perfect harmony in the PLP.

      Then on past the next general election. First I will state that this argument presupposes a world in a vacuum with no economic or political crisis, highly unlikely I know, but arguments like this have to be made with certain assumptions.

      The SDP divided the Labour vote in the 1980’s and so had an influence on keeping us out of power for some time, but this time is different.

      Back then Kinnock’s ‘left’ in opposition to the SDP was accompanied by a PLP battling with the membership which divided the Party. If we are forced to sweep away MP’s that won’t be a problem.

      What is more, policies in a left Labour Party with a left leader and left MP’s will have a far greater appeal than the insignificant ‘Neo SDP’ rump will have, no matter how much propaganda is used, and it will be used. Couple that to a huge injection of energy by members campaigning for stuff they believe in, policies that will help the people the Labour Party was invented to help and I honestly believe we can win.

      To conclude, we certainly should not do nothing, we need to get into our branches and CLP and deal with these traitorous bastards.

  4. Andy Newman says:

    David Pavett: What he doesn’t do is to ask what it is best to do now that they have done it.

    As I see it, the decisive issue will be the deliberations of the trade unions, should an actual leadership challenge emerge.

    The decisions of the trade unions will of necessity involve private meetings, of the persons competent under each trade union’s own rule book to make the relevant decisions.

    It is not my place to suggest to other trade unionists, in unions other than my own how they should act; and within my own union I will express myself in the appropriate committees, and respect the confidentiality of those proceedings.

    I think I am quite explicit enough which way I am inclined

  5. Karl Stewart says:

    Excellent article Andy, spot on.

  6. Karl Stewart says:

    So, neither Watson nor Eagle are standing against Corbyn. It seems it’s mainly Laura Kuensberg who’s keeping this thing going

  7. Eleanor Firman says:

    First, I believe nothing solid can or will be built on the back of the attempted coup by Ben, Eagle et al because it’s connection to Blair’s advisors, Portland will taint it as corrupt as well as despicable and vicious. What concerns me is the new group ‘Saving Labour’ which apparently the Chair of the Party, John Cryer appears to be facilitating this. I hope Left Futures will clarify its position in relation to this group as soon as possible.

    1. John Penney says:

      I don’t think there is any doubt about orientation of the pro-coup “Saving Labour” group, Eleanor. It’s website makes it quite crystal clear it is merely a mobilising conduit to sign up people to support the “ditch Corbyn” putsch. I think we can safely take as read that Left Futures views it with contempt surely ?

      The Labour right have obviously decided to “Save Labour” in the same way that the murderous US General Westmoreland tried to “save” Vietnam.

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