By Jake Wilde
I have previously asserted two things. Firstly that the election of a particular individual as leader of the Labour Party was irrelevant as the party had been usurped before the ballots were counted and arguably, though unprovable, before last summer’s contest even started. My second assertion was that the May 2016 results mean that the party is now beyond rescue because they were sufficiently tepid to allow the Corbynistas to entrench their position. That view has since been reflected by a poll showing Corbyn would win a leadership contest even more emphatically despite, or maybe because, of those May results.
In this piece I argue that the time has come to accept that the world view of the Corbynista and the world view of the ordinary Labour member/supporter/voter is so fundamentally different that they are incompatible and they can no longer co-exist within the same party. In short, that the principle of the “broad church” is dead.
The Labour Party has always had enemies on its left. It always should have enemies on its left, because the Labour Party is, and always has been, committed, unequivocally, to parliamentary democracy, the rule of law and regulated capitalism. It never has been a revolutionary party, an anti-West party, or a Marxist party. In that sense a number of those who call themselves Corbynistas should never have been Labour Party members at all, let alone those who have joined since Corbyn became leader.
Opinion polls show that the Labour Party no longer recognises that it has moved beyond the boundary between the values the mass of the population expects it, as a party of the left but also of government, to hold and the values that mass would find unacceptably extreme. The UK population have consistently treated the parties of the far left as they deserve to be treated, both in the contempt in which they hold them and the votes they cast for them. But we know that, if the Corbynistas had free rein to decide, then the Labour Party would adopt policies close, if not identical, to the policies those parties have espoused. They may yet do precisely that.
The only hope that the Labour Party would have of retaining any deposits at the 2020 General Election if it were to stand on such a manifesto would be through inherent loyalty to the brand.
This is also the reason why people find it difficult to accept my assertion that the Labour Party is now lost forever to the far left. They are loyal to their party and have faith that it can be saved. There are pockets of resistance, occasional triumphs for the moderates, and regular episodes of disgrace and shame for Corbynistas. Yet there is no evidence that any of that, or consistent poor showing in the polls, both opinion and real life, has weakened the Corbynistas’ stranglehold on the party. If anything the death grip is even tighter.
At the start of last summer’s leadership contest it was possible to argue that the four candidates represented four distinct strands of thought within the spectrum of the party. Andy Burnham for the “soft left”, often the default position adopted by trade unions, Yvette Cooper for the technocratic Brownites, Liz Kendall for the Blairites and Jeremy Corbyn for the self-appointed moral guardians of the flame of socialism. During the course of the campaign, and certainly by the end of it, there were only two camps – the Corbynistas and everyone else. That position has hardened over the last twelve months and while the anti-Corbynistas have not united around a clear platform of what they are for they certainly have a clear opinion of what they are against.
One of the defining characteristics of anti-Corbynistas is the belief that the key to replacing the Conservative Party as the party of government is to convince current Tory voters to change their vote. That this group of people must be reached out to, listened to and persuaded, rather than vilified and shunned. Those who think in this way will have to accept that, so long as the Labour Party remains under the control of the Corbynistas, then this reaching out is not going to happen and thus the Conservatives will remain in power.
At some point the emotional attachment to the name and history of “the Labour Party” must give way to the understanding that work must start on the real task. That isn’t winning the internal battle of a tiny fraction of the electorate but of offering the public at large a credible alternative to endless decades of Tory rule. Leaving the entity that has the name “the Labour Party” but no longer pursues the values that entity was founded upon is not a betrayal. Staying and prolonging Tory rule is the betrayal.
Once outside of the dried up husk of what will then be a fringe far left rabble of electoral no-hopers the anti-Corbynistas will need to defend themselves from the risk of it happening all over again. In the organisation they set up to take the fight to the Conservative Party a wall must be built – a clear statement of what is and what is not acceptable within a party of the centre left.
It is at this point that a genuine debate, in an environment of mutual respect, can take place. Those different strands of thought that always used to exist but have now been forced to coalesce in the face of Corbynism can offer ideas and concepts towards building consensus around that statement. As a Eustonite I have a particular set of views but I do not expect those to be shared in full by others in the anti-Corbynista ranks. However I have no doubt that is that there will be a coherence between our views in a way that does not exist in the binary world of the Labour Party in 2016. The debate itself will be an uplifting experience that will draw the public in and engage them on the issues that matter to them, not a game of far left bingo.
The language used in internal debate in today’s Labour Party is of winning and losing, of victory and defeat. The far left do not believe in consensus. Removing the far left from the equation will allow the centre left the space to broaden debate, thinking and, ultimately, electoral appeal. For too long the centre left has been held to ransom by the far left, compelled to keep the embarrassing uncle around out of a sense of familial loyalty. The events of the past twelve months should be enough to convince everyone that such loyalty is misplaced and will never be reciprocated.
Let the far left shout, scream and march itself back into obscurity. It is time to escape the death grip of Zombie Labour, build The Wall and become a party of government once more.