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Can Jeremy Corbyn manage Labour’s parliamentary party?

Much has been made of Jeremy Corbyn’s assumed incapacity to hold the Parliamentary Labour Party together in the event of his Labour leadership victory. His views are out of step with Labour MPs, only a tiny number backed Jeremy’s nomination out of genuine conviction, and his hundreds of rebellions against the party whip place him in a weak position when endorsing party discipline. Will chaos necessarily reign?

All this has led Matthew D’Ancona to reflect upon the torrid time Iain Duncan Smith had as Tory leader by way of direct comparison. Unfortunately for Matthew, the comparison doesn’t work. Whereas Jeremy is and IDS were serial rebels, there were entirely different dynamics in play. Whatever you think of Jez’s politics, I’m sure most would agree that his breaking the party whip rests on deep-seated principles. The same might also have been noted about the execrable IDS under John Major. He might have ideas that belong in the Museum for Social Darwinism, but no one doubts the sincerity of his views, and especially that of his long-standing Europhobia that put the Quiet Man on the wrong side of his leader. But that are where the similarities end.

Jeremy is many things, but an organiser/factionaliser he is not. Plots in austere kitchens over value beans on toasts and used tea bags are not his thing. IDS on the other hand was one of Major’s “bastards” who semi-openly engaged in skulduggery to thwart his government. Jeremy was rebellious. IDStreacherous. Therefore using IDS as a base comparator is, well, mistaken. Instead of looking to the past, as Matthew has done, we should try and understand the schisms and dynamics at work in the PLP afresh.

Some folk like Phil Wilson in Sedgefield have talked tough – “Jeremy Corbyn has shown no loyalty to any Labour’s leadership in all his years as a member of parliament, I don’t know why he should expect any loyalty now” – but can we really look forward to few Labour MPs turning up for Prime Minister’s Questions? I don’t think so.

Assuming Jeremy wins, he will have an unassailable democratic mandate enhanced by the ludicrous purge of the selectoral roll. Many MPs have been perturbed by the new numbers signing up not because they’re “hard left“, but because they’re an unknown quantity entirely. In most cases, membership secretaries scrutinising the updated lists are finding few if any familiar names from the local activisty/movement scenes. Being reasonably well-versed with what passes as a hard left “scene” in Stoke, none showed up in my constituency membership. Yet really who knows where these new people are coming from unless we talk to them? Some of our newbies were attracted by the contest to vote for Jeremy, but a larger proportion were not. It was about the general election and doing something about the Tories. One told me he was inspired to join thanks to the shower who’ve taken over Stoke’s City Council. However, regardless of their moves and motives, few are likely to be impressed if their MP – assuming they have a Labour member – starts playing silly buggers in the Commons. It’s one thing to have principled opposition, quite another to pull an IDS. And MPs have to be very careful. Jeremy has ruled out mandatory reselections, but they’re unnecessary anyway. Once the Tories complete their boundary review and fix the shapes and composition of constituencies to their advantage, many Labour MPs will face selection battles in their modified seats. The reward for open skulduggery is likely to be a P45, so they have an incentive to behave – a point not missed by Jez himself.

When it comes down to opportunities to rebel, well, there’s not going to be that many. As the opposition, the whip’s office is not going to command MPs to troupe through the lobbies in support of People’s QE or Nato withdrawal. Already, Jeremy has signalled his intent to have MP working groups dedicated to certain subject areas formulating policy. Some could simply refuse to engage, but that runs the risk of offending the members as per above. When it does come to votes, in the main it will be against legislation. Is anyone really going to rebel over the scrapping of social security provisions when it returns to the house? The attacks on trade unions? More sell offs and privatisations? Of course, the government are looking to make hay by plotting vote traps. That could pose some difficulties, but by sticking a flashing neon sign over their intentions so far in advance they can be planned for and circumvented.

The second point is the impotence of open opposition anyway. This has already taken the form of some leading figures declaring they will not serve in a Jeremy-led shadow cabinet, and talk about establishing ‘Labour for the Common Good‘, which is supposed to be a way of re-elaborating Third Way-ism (remember that?). Or making our values face the future, as a Liz Kendall soundbite might have it. On the latter first, while my ex-boss and Chuka Umunna have a point about their wing of the party lacking intellectual heft (which is surprising, considering their links to think tanks, and the voluminous output of Progress) it’s not going to spark a fire under anyone’s bushel. Partly because already, despite wanting to reach out to the rest of the right, the centre, and the soft left, I understand only Progress-associated MPs have been asked to join. And because if this leadership contest has demonstrated anything, it’s this section of the party is actually very weak.

Unlike the old Labour right who are deeply rooted in and whose views and sentiments are expressed by members at all levels of the organisation, Progress is very much an elite project – despite its open membership – that doesn’t promote from the grassroots but feeds off the think tank’er/bag carrier/spad nexus. It produces MPs with little in the way of social roots, and privileges a dialogue among the cognoscenti. Little wonder then it was merely brush aside as an irrelevance as the Labour leadership battle was joined. As such, by walking away from the shadow cabinet they make their own position in the PLP much weaker. As they vacate the scene there are plenty of MPs who would never otherwise have had a chance of a front bench role come forward and will relish it. Two, three years down the line, as politics has moved on and new faces become established, who’s going to have any time for the bearers of the Blairist screed when they’ve marginalised themselves?

If Jeremy does win, it doesn’t have to be popcorn time for Labour’s enemies. He will be in a strong position vis a vis the PLP, and the pressures bearing down upon it are likely to curb most rebellious enthusiasms. At least for a time.

This article first appeared at All that is Solid


  1. Mervyn Hyde says:

    For those thinking they will undermine Jeremy should ask themselves what their members will think and the possibility of them coming into to conflict with the party rules of bringing the party into disrepute.

    There is a massive difference between careerists politicians undermining the leadership and a man of known principle standing against a war that was shady at the time and proved right after the event.

    1. john P Reid says:

      excluding Iraq,how do you define principle,if a right of the party back bencher voted against a policy He/she disagreed with the leadership ,that could have been principle,the closed shop, abstaining on selling council homes, gay marriage was a free vote,it was pointed out that a person may have felt straight or gay marriage was oppressive and wanted neither so they may have abstained there, or voting against nationalsing british steel in the 70’s,
      as for what the members want if Corbyn just wins and its by the 33 voters or those who’ve joined in the last 12 weeks, then if a MP saw most of his/her members had voted for one of the other 3,then voting against he whip would have been what the members wanted

    2. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      Cooper, Burnham, Balls, Eagle, (Miller, Laws……) middle class, middle brow, middle income, (they could almost all of them be matched against a very similar and narrow economic and social profile, which in another period less tainted by over 10 years of Blair and rotten new Labor would not necessarily have been an entirely bad thing; it is after all where we a country recruit most of our academics, political leaders and business people from, ) but as bent as a nine bob note, operating as simply as political Mafia these unpleasant and dishonest people are Blair’s real legacy and have become a cancer quietly eating away at body of our society.

  2. john P Reid says:

    regardin g modified seats, if say Ben Bradshaw voted against the whip,9assuming he doesn tbecoem deputy) and was threatened deselction do you think hi slocal party woulod pick a left winger,or considering it was a Tory seat in 97, wouldn’t it be a case if Bradshaw went labour could lose the seat

    same as 1983 Pau boatend then of the GLc ousted a right winger,contested the seat lost it,that right winger moved to another constituency which he won.

    there’s also the fear that if a back bencher appered to agree with unpopular corbyn polcies they may lose their seat,but if they opposed unpopular corbyn polcies they may keep it,
    remember it was the Anti EU lot loke Benn who had bigger swings against them in 79, or tories like Bill cash who had bigger swings agisnt them .in 97.

    this of course excludes the fact that if Corbyns leader,anyone with a majority of less than 10,000 won’t have a safe labour seat,

  3. David Boothroyd says:

    “Whatever you think of Jez’s politics, I’m sure most would agree that his breaking the party whip rests on deep-seated principles.” – Well, up to a point, Lord Copper.

    Anyhow, it is interesting to learn that when Jeremy Corbyn rebelled under Neil Kinnock, John Smith, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, he was acting on deep-seated principles, but when any Labour MP rebels under a putative Corbyn leadership they will be doing so in order to deliberately undermine him.

    And by ‘interesting’ I mean ‘untrue’. See if you can challenge this assertion: Jeremy Corbyn would have been perfectly happy to undermine all of those leaders and replace them with someone from the Campaign Group; he just did not have the support within the PLP to do so.

  4. David Ellis says:

    First thing Corbyn must do is end the gatekeeping role of the PLP. No longer must they be allowed to decide who can and cannot stand for leadership. The only reason the party looks likely to get the leader it wants now is because the boneheaded out of touch right wingers gave Corbyn the necessary nominations because they wanted the left to be once again humiliated in public to prove that their right wing trajectory was the correct one. Epic fail.

    No bring the PLP to heal. One member one vote and that includes MPs and nominations to come from the membership as a whole.

    Second thing he must do is kick out every New Labour clone from his shadow cabinet. New Labour are so despised by the British public that every time they open their mouths on TV they will cost Labour thousands of votes and of course they will be working against the Corbyn leadership in any case.

    Third thing to do is open a debate on programme, policy and vision that all the new members and supporters can participate in.

    1. Robert says:

      That is not going to happen is it Corbyn is not an idiot and he knows if he start a war by kicking out the Blair-rites he will have one, and Corby will be gone within months.

      he has to of course use the left what’s left of it with the right Reeves may well be good at something else other then welfare, then again she may what labour needs at welfare I’ve no idea where labour will be heading I’m to old in the tooth to be fooled into thinking we know where labour will be heading.

      But I do know this is you make a war with the careerist in labour which is many and most you will lose, they do not like losing position and power.

      The drones will stay and they will mostly hold power and then it will be up to the leader to give direction to those people for example welfare may well go for a long time following the Tories view, and then slowly change direction and Corbyn changes people into different positions.

      But how many left MP’s do labour have 14 at the last count.

  5. Bazza says:

    I hope Jeremy wins and if he wins well then he will have a large movement behind him.
    But that is only the beginning.
    Then let us all from our life experiences help to construct policies of mass appeal to start the fight back now, and to win in 2020.
    It could be exciting times.

    1. Robert says:

      I’ve voted for him because to be honest the other three drones are well except Kendall, long time Blair-rites who then went to Brown and then followed Miliband they are pretty easy to see career politicians . Kendall is just thinking she will win by following the Blair model, she decided the way to go was to follow Blair the right wingers would follow her she is still suffering political nappy rash, only being in labour for just over five years done hardly anything and she knows what is wrong.

      Labour is in trouble the Tories are back and labour pretending to be to the right is fine but the problem is the Tories they do the rightward swing better.

      Blair won three elections but the Tories were in total turmoil they are not now, it’s labour who are in the mess. Tories lost Thatcher did not have a leader in waiting and went in search of one, now Blair has gone and labour are looking for another Blair but the left do not want one so we are here.

      In the mean time the Tories have won two, look to be heading even at this time for another in 2020 what a bloody mess.

      1. Jim says:

        I dont think Cooper was ever a Blairite, she was known to follow brown during Blairs years, and during Eds time as he was A brownite too she was at home,

      2. Jim says:

        I thought you couldn’t vote via your Union because your a member of Plaid?

  6. Bazza says:

    Just some food for thought and good to hear Jeremy Corbyn on the BBC News say that he would be willing to compromise re leaving NATO.
    Perhaps what is missing is something global to replace NATO with – some argue NATO is really about protecting global capitalism and Western Big Business.
    Perhaps we need a World Peace Council/Forum/Treaty and to get every country in the World to join, then instead of spending trillions of weapons to kill human beings we could spend the money on global human need.
    Perhaps for example as funding better health services and health & safety at work health we could fund a Global UN Cooperative Trust to provide free solar panels to he World’s poor countries, to harness the free energy of he sun, meet their energy needs, address climate change and aid millions of poor people who struggle from a lack of access to electricity.
    The World needs more Peace Mongers like JC.

  7. David Ellis says:

    Things that New Labour stood for and did that Jeremy Corbyn will have to apologise for if he wants to win enough of the Green, Tory, UKIP, SNP, Plaid and abastainer votes to win the 2020 General Election:

    1. The illegal Iraq War;
    2. PFI and the internal NHS market;
    3. No more boom and bust;
    4. Endogenous Growth Theory which placed the economy in hoc to the banks;
    5. The bank bail out:
    6. Outsourcing of public services and sale of public assets;
    7. Corruption;
    8. Lip service paid to environmentalism;
    9. Unfettered mass economic immigration.

    Things he will have to pledge:

    1. The end of the bank bailout and a new People’s Bank with a monopoly of credit that can lend at base rate to small business and facilitate social investment in accordance with a democratic plan;
    2. A regime of full-employment by which school and college leavers and unemployed workers who cannot find their own job are bought into the local workforce to share in the productive work with each paid the minimum of a trades union living wage;
    3. Reversal of all anti-trade union laws and support for all working class struggle and support for the formation of working class defence forces to protect pickets, demonstrations, meetings, minority communities, etc against fascist and state attack;
    4. The socialisation of the means of production and exchange and the replacement of fat cat executives imposed by political patronage, the Old School Tie Network and corporate shareholders with leaders and managers elected by the workforce;
    5. the replacement of the Westminster Union with a voluntary federation of sovereign nations;
    6. Support for an OUT vote in the EU Referendum and a pledge that another Europe is possible in which each member state operates a regime of full-employment and an EU-wide Living Wage and which has a non-imperialist relationship with the Middle East and Africa based on co-development not exploitation.

  8. David Ellis says:

    Foreign Policy:

    Corbyn needs to support Ukraine’s self-determination and unity by opposing Russian imperialism’s annexations and its backing of pro-Russian fascist militias in the East.

    He should ditch all support for the bogus two-state peace process and demand a unified, secular, democratic Palestine instead.

    He should support the Syrian National Democratic Revolution against Assad and ISIS, properly funded UN refugee camps in neighbouring states and a socialist revolution against the Iranian theocracy.

    End of imperialist policy in Africa which has given rise to a new African Clearances.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      Reading your comments above I can only assume that you think we’re still commanding an empire and the kind of global influence that went with it; when in fact we’re now a small and relatively unimportant island in the North Atlantic again, so why and particularly after Iraq and Afghanistan and Libya should anyone now regard us as being anything but puppets of the US?

      Personally I’d start with trying to make our bent and sticky fingered MPs a lot more accountable and perhaps somewhat more honest, before we start to sort out word.

      1. David Ellis says:

        I am merely pointing out what the principled position is not for Britain but the world.

  9. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    Reading the comment’s above I can already feel my heart sinking, (and I do not have particularly high expectations from a Corbyn victory, but he’s the only candidate who could make ever vote Labor again,) but it’s mostly seer fantasy.

    Not am I much of fan of this public apology crap, “I;m terribly sorry and I can’t apologizes enough for the fact that we lied to parliament and bombed Iraq back to stone age, killing thousands of innocent people and facilitating the rise of ISIS, hardly seem adequate or appropriate.

    1. Robert says:

      Then you need to realize, when I use to speak to Corbyn during the 1980’s with Benn and the others left wingers is that he is nobodies fool, he is very easy chap to talk to unless you think he is a fool you better be ready to get it in the neck, he is I think a very good leader in waiting maybe a bit to late really but better then other three on offer

      He knows this country cannot be changed in a minute or an hour but years he also knows that he will be in opposition not power, massive difference in opposition your task is to win power and you cannot do that by simple being an idiot.

      I doubt to be honest much will change the people at the helm of the shadow party will stay much the same, some small difference perhaps and then he will take advice and will look at what to oppose, what you will get with Corbyn is a party of Opposition which we have not had since losing in 2010. For the past six years all we have had is a labour party unable to come to terms with losing we have been looking back at what’s gone wrong why did we lose not looking forward to see how we can win.

      Look at this leadership election the Tories have a free hand to do as they like they could sell the NHS to America, labour did not care they are to busy arguing over left or right, sod the NHS we are busy with our careers.

    2. Mervyn Hyde says:


      We all come from different backgrounds and indeed have varied perspectives, what unites us is the belief in common purpose for the common good.

      Jeremy understands that, there are people that I have argued with for over forty years to convince them that socialism is the only answer, and to my amazement, they now come to me for political advice and support Jeremy, they hate the Tories with a vengeance and disregard the Libdems as shallow ineffective puppets.

      We all have a part to play in staying focussed on getting Jeremy elected, I believe that Ed Miliband was just another Neo-Liberal careerist, when I posed a question on health to him, he gave a stock answer and immediately moved away from that (which was Blue Labour’s Achilles heal as they needed to obfuscate to hide their real intentions) he did not really want to engage unlike Jeremy who stopped to speak to us even after a hustings meeting on the way home.

      That is the difference, we need to engage with people, I do my best through 38 Degrees and positive money, once people realise there is really an alternative, they want to listen.

      1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        “the belief in common purpose ?”

        An unfortunate turn of phrase; if unintentional, if not, well you either agree with Common Purpose or you don’t, in my own case, not.

  10. WHS says:

    “Jeremy is many things, but an organiser/factionaliser he is not. Plots in austere kitchens over value beans on toasts and used tea bags are not his thing. IDS on the other hand was one of Major’s “bastards” who semi-openly engaged in skulduggery to thwart his government. Jeremy was rebellious. IDS treacherous.”

    You do realise this is only a function of time? Tony Benn’s diaries record all the huddled meetings through the early 80s, and Jon Lansman was there too – just as much skulduggery as IDS in the 90s. All that has happened is, well, Tony Benn has died, Audrey Wise ditto, Dawn Primarolo became a dame, “Deputy Chairman of Ways & Means” and a pillar of the establishment, Chris Mullin became a minister. I’m sure Jeremy would plot if there was only anyone to plot with.

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