By Jake Wilde
I normally agree with Oliver Kamm’s views on pretty much everything and I have every sympathy with the argument he outlines in his article for CapX: “Corbyn leaves Labour voters with no good options”. It goes something like this – Corbyn is doing, and will continue to do, a terrible job of holding the Conservatives to account over Brexit; It’s important that the House of Commons contains some MPs capable of doing this and we should support these individuals; It’s a shame that some of them are Labour MPs but Brexit is more important than anything else. This is, as Oliver points out, the argument put forward by Tony Blair, “that voters should pick candidates from whichever party is prepared to hold the government to account over Brexit.”
The problem I have with this approach insofar as it relates to the Labour Party of 2017 is the same problem that I have with selective industrial action in the trade union movement. Selective action is the theory that bringing certain key sectors of workers out on strike will have a sufficient impact upon the dispute to render unnecessary the need for all workers to take strike action. So instead of everyone losing pay only those taking selective action do, possibly supported by contributions from those not taking strike action. The thinking is that those who wouldn’t otherwise vote for strike action would support this, as they are not the ones going on strike.
This theory is a crock.
For one the entire purpose of being in a union is to demonstrate that you are resolved to act as one. As soon as you start to give individuals an opt-out then it’s over. Once you have one group of workers doing everyone else’s dirty work for them you’re no longer presenting a united front. You’ve also handily identified to the employer which group of workers to either victimise or buy off, depending on their whim.
I contend that the same is true for the relationship between those of us on the centre left and the Labour Party. However much we may wish it there are not two Labour Parties. There is one, and it is led and controlled by the Corbynista faction. A vote for any Labour Party candidate on June 8 is a vote for that particular and peculiar incarnation of the Labour Party.
If you try to argue that a vote for individuals such as Oliver Kamm’s MP Meg Hillier, or other equally worthy people, should not count in the same way as a vote for Corbyn himself then you are deluding yourself. Indeed, as Oliver himself concedes, it’s only acceptable to vote for Labour under these circumstances if you are certain that Corbyn will “suffer crushing humiliation”. Yet of course every vote for Labour, whatever the circumstances behind its casting, is one vote further away from that crushing humiliation.
There is no opt-out in a party system. If you do not support the party for which a candidate is standing – and Oliver outlines eloquently as always why Labour should not be supported at this election – then you should not vote for them. For all the admirable personal qualities of individual candidates the vote you cast will be counted as a vote in favour of Corbyn’s Labour Party.
Oliver Kamm’s article was an attempt to give advice to people on the “moderate Left”, regular Labour voters who find themselves in a dilemma, and he acknowledges that none of the options are good ones. But by endorsing the principle of the opt-out it will leave an unclear but certainly overstated picture of the true level of support for Corbyn. How will we know how big the “moderate Left”, and thus the opposition to Corbyn, is if some vote Labour, some vote for other parties and some don’t vote at all?
This election is an opportunity to seize back control of the momentum on the left. It is an unexpectedly early chance to demonstrate to the far left the paucity of their popular support. That people do not “like Jeremy Corbyn but…”. That people will not vote for TUSC just because it has changed its name to something more familiar. That support for terrorism, despotism and illiberalism cannot just be shouted down with a megaphone. That nobody else beyond their end of the horseshoe wants what they offer, this blend of hate, envy and empty rhetoric. That we can see they have more in common with the far right than with the vast majority of those of us committed to liberal democracy, free speech and regulated markets.
This is the time to push back, united. To bring to an end the last two years where the voice of the centre left has been drowned out by the banshee screams of the far left. This can’t be achieved by taking selective action. It can only be achieved by being united in defeating Corbyn’s Labour Party at the ballot box and then, on 9 June, to rebuild from the ground up.
It is difficult. I know that. There are a considerable number of Labour MPs who deserve support. But my argument is that the time when they need that support is not now, but when they, as leaders of the centre left, start the rebuilding process. They do not need to be MPs to do that. We are already in the post-Corbyn era. This election, just as 2020 would have been, is lost to the Conservatives. But there can be a victory from it, and it can now come sooner than we originally thought. The people we admire, those currently in Parliament and those not, they can help to create the genuine opposition, grounded in the true principles of the Labour movement that Oliver Kamm rightly identifies that this country needs.