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A guide to the comradely divisions in Labour’s parliamentary party

Is the Labour Party divided? Of course it is. But divided doesn’t necessarily mean at each others’ throats, at least not all of the time. As divisions have been the theme of the week, it’s time to quickly cast one’s eye over the Parliamentary Labour Party and discern what groups are emerging among this most august of bodies:

The 4.5%ers; The Corbyn Sceptics; The Go-With-The-Flows; & The Corbynistas

1. The 4.5%ers

These aren’t everyone who backed the blessed Liz, but rather the headbangers that outright refuse to reconcile themselves to the new regime. Caution was thrown to the wind long ago as all that matters is the removal of Jeremy and all his works. The chief offender, of course, is our friend Simon Danczuk. While, wisely, other 4.5%ers put clear water between him and them, his behaviour exemplifies everything this tendency stands for. An over-inflated sense of self-importance, a conceit that he uniquely knows what Labour people want, a deeply impoverished political imagination, and absolutely no interest in seeing the party do well. He fires off his well remunerated Mail on Sunday column each week with broadsides aimed at the new leadership and, by extension, the majority of members who voted for him, and he’s uninterested in fighting the factional fight. This is his opportunity to make a name and, more importantly, some cash. After all, he’s going to have a hefty bill to foot once the Child Support Agency catch up with him.

While not as plainly self-serving as Danczuk, the rest of the 4.5%ers seem utterly lost. They have no strategy for taking back the party, so they’re reduced to ill-judged remarks and cack-handed interventions that almost appear designed to alienate potential supporters. Remember, these are the people styling themselves as the election-winning specialists – and they can’t even get building support – the most basic of factional ABC’s – right.

2. The Corbyn Sceptics

Probably the largest section of the PLP, the sceptics believe Labour doesn’t have a hope winning with the present leadership. Unlike their 4.5% compadres, with whom they may share many political positions and basic outlooks, they have the strategic sense to realise that if the party is going to be won back over, the game ahead is long. There is no strategy as such, yet, but one is beginning to emerge. Liam Byrne’s speech was the first proper, thought out intervention in this area. He articulated a critique of Corbynomics while stipulating an alternative that was not neoliberal (indeed, its death was proclaimed), nor as left as Jeremy’s plans, but nonetheless a coherent and much more preferable alternative to the thin gruel served up by Dave and Osborne. And this is the right tack to take. When your politics have been routed, the road back means winning the intellectual battle and forging a vision. I would expect similar pitches from a variety of figures in the coming months as the proliferation of groupings like Red Shift and Labour Together set out their manifestos.

Yet at the same time, this collection of MPs are not happy with the antics of the 4.5%. Whatever they do is bound to reflect on them. Because it was Blairites – in the main – who defied the whip over Osborne’s budget surplus stunt, the rest get tarred with the same brush, even though the bulk of them remained loyal. This group know that they need to charm the members and win the battle of ideas. Open opposition and outright destabilisation is but a recipe for a future ‘stab in the back’ myth, should Jeremy be seen not to deliver election victories. And we know from history how powerful that kind of story can be. Careful, careful, is the Sceptics’ watchword.

3. The Go-With-The-Flows

There is some travel between this group and the sceptics. They might be critical of Jeremy and, likewise, believe he’s not going to win an election, but are cogniscent of the fact that he is the memberships’ choice (since swelled by tens of thousands of Corbyn supporters) he deserves a fair crack of the whip. Andy Burnham, Angela Eagle, Tom Watson, and Hilary Benn, despite their public disagreements with Jeremy, are probably the leading figures of this tendency within the PLP. They will continue to state their own positions, but are highly unlikely to lead a rebellion or organise opposition. If you like, these are “proper party people” who, whatever you might think of them, believe the party comes first and will acquit their duties accordingly.

The relationship between this group and Corbynism is quite complex. Sceptical, yes, but they recognise that the huge influx of new members presents an opportunity for the party to renew itself. While some of this wave will dissipate in time, particularly those for whom politics is a keyboard as opposed to a physical pursuit, they believe experience will moderate their views – and this is more likely if the PLP has a constructive as opposed to antagonistic relationship with the new arrivals.

4. The Corbynistas

The smallest group of all, of course. Yet their weakness is backed by their huge majority among the membership and, so far, my summer prediction that this reality would act as a disciplining mechanism on the PLP has borne out. Whether this will be the case should Labour be afflicted by poor election results and dogged by dismal polling remains to be seen. That said, it’s hard to imagine Jeremy stepping down any time between now and 2020. After all, it’s not every day the Labour left capture the party’s leadership.

23 Comments

  1. John Penney says:

    Good summary of the , overlapping and shifting (in the case of the non-Corbynista majority), groupings in the PLP. However I take issue with your claim that the likes of Byrne are anywhere near developing some sort of non-Corbyn but also non Blairite , slightly Left adjusted “policy and theory bundle”, with which to take on the lets be honest , provocative but actually only mildly socialist/Left Keynsianism vision and emerging programme of the newly emerged new “Corbynist” left .

    I actually see no signs of this being achieved by Byrne and co at all – just some typically slippery dishonest rhetoric about “recognising that neoliberalism and Blairism is dead” but then immediately resurrecting all the same old euphemistic prettifications for continuing policies of privatisation, marketization, gross individualism, shrinking the state, an end to welfare as a universal right, etc, etc , which can easily be seen to underlie this purely tactical verbal retreat from all the usual neoliberal agenda stuff that Liz Kendal spewed out so robotically, during the Labour Leadership contest – to pretty universal distain from us the Labour Party voters.

    The simple truth is that the Labour Right are so wrapped long term , irrevocably, into ideological and personal benefit relationships with Big Business that they simply haven’t the personal political space to do an effective bit of pseudo radical policy outflanking of our radical (if only mildly so) Left agenda.

    The right can never win the ideological struggle inside the party now, certainly not in an era of ever greater austerity and privation and global capitalist crisis – unless we on the radical Left all leave again , and this seems unlikely whilst Jeremy is leader.

    A significant proportion of the PLP’s real political home is at best the Lib Dems, at worst the Tory Party. This being so the growing confrontation with the majority of the PLP and the newly Left-shifted Labour Party membership cannot linger for too long in an endless battle of manoeuver and small scale skirmishes – with constant support for the right from the entire mass media for the right of course.

    For this reason the Left of the Party quickly needs to prepare for the battles ahead – and Momentum needs to pick up the pace and be seen by us on the Left as a core organisational instrument for winning the struggle within the branches and constituencies , not some rather diverse externally focussed broad campaigning movement which simply duplicates the valuable role already filled by the People’s Assembly movement.

  2. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    The problem is that left have been so completely excluded and eradicated from the Labor party that other than a few aberrations and oversights like Corby, (and as you say in practice hardly the radical socialist that he’s so often caricatured as being,) there are no serious or credible socialists available as serious candidates for office.

    I’m far from pleased to see that our local Labor party have nominated yet another appalling apolitical ambulance chaser and well know local Tory in the shape Jim McMahon as their chosen successor for the late Micheal Meacher MP.

    But realistically he’ll almost certainly be elected anyway as with the equally appalling Simon Danczuk in the adjacent constituency of Rochdale and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do about it, but equally realistically who was there?

    That sadly, is the reality of Corby revolution and I like many other people are rapidly losing all interest.

    1. John Penney says:

      Come on now J.P. Craig Weston ! Get a grip. The neoliberal Blairites have had 30 years to infiltrate the Labour Party at all levels, particularly the PLP and local councils. And anyway the Labour party has never been any sort of radical socialist party- it was , even in its reforming post 1945 heyday, a mildly reforming social democratic party , deeply wedded , through the huge influence of the always deeply conservative trades union bureaucracy, to the maintenance of the overall social and economic status quo.

      Yet today, against all expectations, a party which over the last 30 years of neoliberal triumph and working class retreat, had become little different in ideology from the US Democrats in its overwhelming adherence to neoliberalism, and total domination by self serving career politicians, has experienced within itself the manifestation of the much wider explosion of socialist political resurgence which across Europe has produced the creation of entirely new Left political formations, from Die Linke, to Podemos and Syriza. Amazingly, the return of radical Left politics has happened here within the close equivalent of Greece’s corrupt “clientelist” PASOK party !

      By pretty much a fluke (through hubris the PLP Right failed to act as the “gatekeepers” to keep a Left candidate out of the Labour Leadership campaign – so arrogant were they of their mass media backed ideological domination) Jeremy Corbyn has been elected leader through this unprecedented Left rebirth within Labour – yet Jeremy has only a handful of real socialist allies in the entire PLP – and the rest of the PLP are determined to destroy this “Left insurgency” by all means necessary.

      Yet here you, and too many others on the Left are, wingeing on that only literally a couple of months after his extraordinary leadership victory, the deeply entrenched neoliberal careerist right haven’t already been trounced – and Labour transformed into a thoroughgoing socialist party !
      For heavens sake all you serial pessimists – it’s going to take incredible effort by all of us on the Left – supporting Jeremy and his tiny team, by particularly getting away from our keyboards and into the constituency parties to fight toe to toe with the entrenched right for the soul of this party.

      Declaring that you are fed up and “rapidly losing interest” because all the structures of the party for some time yet will be selecting right wing candidates and the PLP hasn’t overnight become the political fighting arm of the working class is simply unrealistic and rather pathetic. Get in there and join with the rest of the newly resurgent Labour Left and let’s fight to make Labour the fighting socialist political arm of our class. Wingeing away on the ultraleft (as that constant troller David Ellis also does here all too often, just aint going to do it.

      1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

        Exactly the same old tired and patronizing clap trap that we’ve all heard a million times before; once again it’s, if we’ll all just wait and remain patient and support what still remains essentially the same rotten Labour party that drove millions of us away ( and “trust me on this,”) then somewhere there’s a better world and a better labour party waiting in the wings just around the corner, if we only keep faith with the utterly faithless bunch of losers, (I actually much prefer Andrew Fisher’s recent description of them,) that comprise the PLP

        Does anyone over the age of about 12 still even listen to that kind of drivel anymore, (let alone take it remotely seriously,) we’ve all watched Corbyn closely since we elected him and all he really seems to have done, in final the analysis, is to lend a faint and increasingly unconvincing patina of spurious credibility to an otherwise unelectable and in every sense, (morally, emotionally and ideologically,) all but defunct British Labour party.

        Corbyn was supposed to be; put up or shut up and from where I and most people I know are looking on, it’s turning out to business as usual and not in a good way.

        I and the people like me, elected Corbyn as an alternative to having to vote for these people and now you’re telling me to do just that anyway.

        Good luck.

        1. John Penney says:

          Dearie me, such self destructuive anger ! If the Labour Party, even the Labour Party with Jeremy as Leader, and a reinvigorated radical Left slowly getting into gear after the completely unexpected “Corbyn Surge” and electoral victory , is a complete waste of time, J.P. Craig-Weston – why are you wasting your time endlessly slagging it off here on post after post ?

          By your pointless sniping you are simply acting as a disruptive internet troll, no different to a Tory troll. I suggest you go away and join some ultraleft grouping like the 30 strong “CPGB” grouplet or Militant’s successor Party, SPEW, or the SWP. Too late to join the Workers Power grouplet though – they’ve disbanded nominally and popped up en mass (all 25 of them) in the Labour Party as Red Flag !

          1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

            Everything that’s wrong with the British Labour party in 2 paragraphs; from someone so far up their own rectum that they probably haven’t seen daylight since Harold McMillan was PM.

            Once again as far you’re concerned the real enemy is people, (and there are lot of us, not just the 160,000 extra mural supporters who voted for Corbyn,) such as myself and not the Tories.

            You can’t even win an argument so how the hell do you expect to win an election?

            Accusing people of, “negativity,” and particularly so when there’s so much here to be negative about is one of the most tired and trite middle management tactics to deny argument or discussion, something that typically you clearly have little or no real interest in anyway.

            What you haven’t explained though is why you think I or anyone else for that matter should vote Labour other than because you say so?

        2. Richard Tiffin says:

          Like you I am of the view that Corbyn is a reformist, so what makes you believe he will behave other than a reformist?

          Follow the logic of your position and ask yourself what you can expect a reformist to have achieved in little more than two months, what you would have expected him to do?

          He isn’t going to behave like Lenin and come out to split the Mencheviks from the Bolsheviks, to separate the revolutionaries from the social democrats now is he? He is more likely to behave like every other reformist I have ever read about and attempt to unite, attempt to have the rest of the party see the correctness of his program, to see the morality of his position and the error of theirs.

          He isn’t about to challenge the fundamentals of capitalism in the blink of an eye is he? He is more likely to propose piecemeal nationalisation and Keynesianism, much like he has.

          In fact, with the creation of Momentum as a force and organisation Corbyn has done more than I would have expected of a reformist. He has recognised the near bankruptcy of some CLP’s and the struggle young and inexperienced activists would have in the rest and created a parallel organisation, which, if all in Momentum are LP members, can at a later stage be used as a battering ram against the left. Whether this was an idealistic reformist error or a conscious strategy I have no idea, but it’s there.

          So hold on with the invective.mhe is behaving as might be expected, and he is doing so against difficult odds as those with power, status and the access to the media are played off against the silent but strong majority in the membership.

          We both might want more, but if you are honestly of the left, bide your time. This is not the time for those who really do want a leftist government to undermine him else we are little better than Tories or the PLP. It could be that soon Corbyn needs us to come to his rescue united, at which point I think demands will be made.

          1. Richard Tiffin says:

            Battering ram against the right, not left…doh

          2. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

            The problem with being told by the largely pretty rotten Labour establishment to, “bide our time,” is that was exactly what we did with Blair, who was always going to finally deliver the much needed reforms any moment now, whilst quietly doing the exact opposite, continuing to quietly sell off the NHS etc….

            There also the issue of trust and there’s not a lot of that left round here.

    2. gerry says:

      Jeremy P – a couple of weeks after JC was elected leader you were writing him off. I told you then, and repeat now – give him a little more time, and have a little faith! Yes he has made huge mistakes in his first couple of months ( appointing sectarians like Milne and Fisher, ditching his anti EU poliics, continuing with New Labour’s disastrous open door immigration policies, appointing so many hasbeens in his shadow cabinet, ceding Labour foreign policy to the wretched Putinite Stop the War) but he has started to put the anti- neoliberal economic argument well, and put clear water between us and the Tory/UKIP/Lib Dem Thatcherite consensus. We now have a clear choice in mainstream UK politics – on the economy. If he would focus like a laser on that, and also stick to his original anti EU politics, we could seriously get a hearing from working class voters in the UK. So have some faith – and anyway, what alternative do we have? Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham? Give me strength!

  3. John P Reid says:

    It would be helpful to point out the 4.5% who didn’t vote for Kendall and why, some like Field got Corbyn on the ballot paper,and some stood for deputy themselves, Flint, Bradshaw,Creasy

    Some maybe preferred Kendall’s policies thought she was too inept, or tactically backed one of the other two,as away of trying to stop Jez

  4. Mukkinese says:

    Good assessment of the situation.

    Unfortunately the 4.5% are making a lot of noise and appear to be actively helping the Tories. Last week we had the government on the ropes and these fools then completely kibosh that opportunity by lining up to attack Corbyn.

    I despair of Labour sometimes, I really do.

    The sooner Danczuk’s constituents tell him to tone it down, or go, the better. He and a few others, who should know better, are doing real damage to Labour’s chances. This will not end well for the 4.5%.

    All those Corbyn supporters will not accept any cries of “I told you so” and will blame this “sour grapes” faction for any future failures of the party to win seats… and who is to say they will be wrong to do so?

  5. Richard Tiffin says:

    Once again I find myself in disagreement with Phil.

    As I recall Phil supported Cooper in the leadership election (please correct me if I’m wrong) and unsurprisingly I think that the views that appear here and in other articles are a reflection of his political position. This position leads Phil to an attempt to suggest not to worry, the PLP can be left alone simply because he trusts them, as he trusts Cooper, at least I hope this to be the case as I ask myself the question, why is he so keen that the PLP gets left well alone? Whatever Phil’s reasoning or reasons, I believe that the consequence of this attempt above and others will be to disarm the left readers of his articles, whatever his agenda.

    To my criticism of the article above.

    I have already taken issue with Phil for using Byrne to illustrate a shift in the perspectives of the right of the party in an apparent attempt to suggest to the left that the right of the party can now be trusted. No longer Blairites, all is good. No need to repeat what Penney said above but I previously said something very similar, it’s all gloss and rhetoric.

    Clearly this hasn’t deterred Phil from believing, or at least arguing that there has been some kind of transformation of Byrne and the grouping he represents (sceptics Phil called them), though I am convinced, as are Penney and others, Phil is wrong. Entrepreneurial socialism, what in heavens name is that? Interesting that Phil is persisting in telling us that like Saul, Byrne has been a converted on the road, not to Damascus perhaps, but to the party leadership.

    We are then told that the ‘4.5%ers’ are different to the Corby sceptics, but by his own admission the two groups share most perspectives. It’s a matter of tone it would appear, perhaps simply a reflection that they are the ‘foolish faction’, perhaps that’s a more apt name.

    Next, even the name Phil gave the “largest” group, Corby sceptics, lulls us into a false sense of security. This suggests that they are far from enemies of the left, they merely need to be persuaded, you know, they are just sceptical. Please, don’t insult our intelligence. The noise coming from the PLP is far from sceptical and I think is resonant of Blairs position in the now infamous ‘heartless’ speech. Blair wouldn’t want a left wing government because it is wrong on principle. Far from sceptics I would argue that a large chunk of the PLP take Blair’s position, they are ideologically opposed to the left and by hook or by crook they will ensure there is no left wing government. This is one of the reasons so many of them refused to serve on the shadow cabinet, why so much briefing is taking place in the press and every opportunity to undermine Corbyn is used.

    Then the ‘go with the flow’ grouping. They are somehow still sceptics according to Phil, but feel that the membership made a decision so they need to work with it.

    Think about that. The implicit suggestion is that the ‘sceptics’ cannot simply work with the memberships decision. But we were also told the sceptics in turn are against the 4.5%ers’, not because they disagree (Phil writes that they share perspectives), but because any coup attempt against Corbyn, if and when it comes, will feed the ‘stab in the back myth’.

    A myth is it Phil? A myth before the blade lands between the shoulder blades? Phil’s dismissal aside I think he unconsciously revealed something here. The ‘sceptics’ are against the ‘4.5%ers’ not on principle, but because it will make the job of bringing Corbyn down so much more difficult. If the loudmouths keep on blabbering rather than creeping around and assassinating Corbyn quietly then the membership will catch on. Can’t have that can we Phil? Heaven forbid they might demand Corbyn be allowed to rerun and then the right really will be in trouble, deselections being the order of the day.

    In short this I nothing short of an apology or a disguise for the reprehensible behaviour of the PLP. But I am still undecided Phil, are you a hopeless reformist romantic waiting for the enemies of the left to see the error of their ways or a knave working for the ABCers by disarming the left?

    To be honest your answer is irrelevant, what matters is not the intent but the effect. The effect of the position above is that it’s all good at the ranch, leave the PLP alone. Don’t do that people. Don’t trust them as far as you can throw them. We on the left never threw the first punch but we have a once in a generation opportunity to change the party and perhaps the country. Don’t be a punchbag, be pugnacious.

  6. Verity says:

    On this site Bryan Gould has often criticised the simplistic one dimensional view of the Left – Right divisions. He argued that a coherent analyses of fully formed positions was of more political value.

    The present model is another variation of the same simplistic idea, i.e to create artificial groups out of what is a mix of views, levels of courage and personality preferences. What all the non Corbyn supporters have in common is a worry as to what is the best thing to do before Corbyn’s departure. This model is typical of a technique used by non analytic journalists to create interest amongst its non – committed readership when the journalists have no formed political analyses to offer. In my view the Left should stay clear of diversionary activities at a time when there is so much political work to be done in policy and campaigning for change.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      “Prayer of an Anonymous Abbess:

      Lord, thou knowest better than myself that I am growing older and will soon be old. Keep me from becoming too talkative, and especially from the unfortunate habit of thinking that I must say something on every subject and at every opportunity.

      Release me from the idea that I must straighten out other peoples’ affairs. With my immense treasure of experience and wisdom, it seems a pity not to let everybody partake of it. But thou knowest, Lord, that in the end I will need a few friends.

      Keep me from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

      Grant me the patience to listen to the complaints of others; help me to endure them with charity. But seal my lips on my own aches and pains — they increase with the increasing years and my inclination to recount them is also increasing.

      I will not ask thee for improved memory, only for a little more humility and less self-assurance when my own memory doesn’t agree with that of others. Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be wrong.

      Keep me reasonably gentle. I do not have the ambition to become a saint — it is so hard to live with some of them — but a harsh old person is one of the devil’s masterpieces.

      Make me sympathetic without being sentimental, helpful but not bossy. Let me discover merits where I had not expected them, and talents in people whom I had not thought to possess any. And, Lord, give me the grace to tell them so.

      Amen”
      ― Margot Benary-Isbert

  7. Rosie Brocklehurst says:

    Unfortunately Paris happened and Corbyn who I voted for, rejoined Labour for so that Labour would move to the left, did not step up to the plate. He has now lost the goodwill of many who voted for him. Politics and leadership requires compromise sometimes and er, leadership. Sorry but it is true. He’ll be gone before next May.

    1. John Penney says:

      Perhaps you could enlighten us as to what precise policy or proposals Jeremy needed to have put forward after the Paris atrocity to meet your approval, Rosie . Claimed Left voter for Corbyn ( of course you were Rosie).

      I’m afraid your completely contentless condemnation simply parrots the constant line of the Blairite PLP and the entire capitalist press. Did you want him to demand carpet bombing of Syria immediately ? not much point when at present Islamic State can just nip across the border into its friendly sponsor, Turkey, to escape .

      And as for your ludicrous “he’ll be gone before next May” nonsense – only in the crazed dreams of the Right , Rosie. Your unhelpful posts is simply trolling , not meaningful debate .

  8. ChrisD says:

    Trouble is the 4.5%-ers have the full weight of the right wing press & establishment behind them. See the crap today about Corbyn’s interview with Laura Kuenssberg where he answered the questions in a thoughtful adult way. Read the spin from the 4.5% and you’d think he had endorsed ISIS.

    1. Rosie Brocklehurst says:

      No, tactically it was a huge error made by Jeremy. I support him. Voted for him, been passionately posting on websites to support him further. But really! Perception is everything in the aftermath of Paris. Turning to another subject- the Bankers report today -a whitewash of Chilcot proportions (as Chilcot is being and will be when it happens). Not only is the report too late to prosecute any of the 10 under the law apparently, but none of them work in City banking anyway so saying they can’t work there is without point. Moreover one of them is about to make £millions from heading up some sort of gambling concern (other than a bank). I can’t hep but think rather wickedly, that the best thing that Corbyn could do to restore his credibility amongst supporters as well as others, is to shoot one of them.

      1. John Penney says:

        So your mature political proposal for Jeremy to pursue to gain your approval is for him to shoot someone, eh Rosie. Presumably your solution to the IS problem is for Jeremy to demand a full nuclear strike on key Is held cities in Syria and Iraq ?

        I think we can safely ignore your political wisdom then.

        1. John P Reid says:

          Shooting someone in self defence,is sensible if it saves others(the publics) lives

  9. David Pavett says:

    Liam Byrne’s speech was the first proper, thought out intervention in this area. He articulated a critique of Corbynomics while stipulating an alternative that was not neoliberal (indeed, its death was proclaimed)…

    I am taken aback by Jon’s assumption that political interventions like Liam Byrne’s can be judged by their own self-description. Liam Byrne says that he is against neo-liberalism and that it is, anyway, dead. So that’s that then. Or is it?

    Perhaps what is needed here is rather more examination of just what neo-liberal policies Byrne wants to ditch. Furthermore there is a need to penetrate behind neo-liberalism’s own anti-state rhetoric to what it actually stands for. This is well illustrated, for example, by its support for big government in the form of inter-state agreements such as TTIP.

    You should not judge political packages by what it says on the tin.

  10. Ray says:

    Corbyn needs to get tough with some of these right wing MPS. You can’t have people slagging off their leader and membership on a daily basis – examples should be made as soon as possible by expelling a couple. They would never get re-elected then and the others would shut up.

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