By Jake Wilde
One of the reasons why Corbynites use hysterical language when talking about those who occupy the political space between themselves and the Tories is the fear that Stephen Bush eloquently describes in his piece for The Times. This terror of what is often described as a ‘new centrist party’ results in nonsensical articles from the usual suspects of the Labour Leader’s Office What’s App group, correlating the rise of everything bad, from fascism to global warming, to a mythical section of the population that is somehow simultaneously secretly in charge of everything yet that also doesn’t exist.
The Corbynites’ fear though is not that a new centrist party would result in Labour haemorrhaging support overnight. The current leadership of Labour might owe more in ideology and personnel to TUSC than the party of Attlee, Wilson and Blair, but they believe their days of being treated less seriously than the Monster Raving Loony Party are behind them. Rather the fear is that a new party would only have one immediate target – to deny the country the opportunity of being subjected to Corbynism.
This target is achievable for a new party even without a fully formed national organisation being in place. For example, though naturally preferable to do so, it wouldn’t be necessary to appear on the ballot paper in every constituency. Nor would there need to be a significant ground game if an effective and diverse advertising campaign was deployed.
The key though, will be to have an identity. This can be provided in one of two ways. Firstly by having a charismatic and credible leader, someone capable of answering those difficult questions about the party’s purpose. Secondly it will need to create an agenda that distinguishes it from alternatives. At the moment the most obvious point of difference is to take a contrary view on Brexit but this, in the longer term, is likely to be a mistake.
It’s stating the obvious to say that Brexit has created entrenched positions, but the debate will change completely once the UK formally leaves the European Union. This is why I think that the best time for a new party is some time after 29 March 2019, and probably only as we approach the next General Election. Granted, with a weak and unstable government, there’s no guarantee that the next election will be on or near the statutory date of 5 May 2022 but the closer we get to this date, the less a new party will feel like a breakaway and more like one formed organically from the politically homeless. For, as Stephen Bush also points out, “roughly every year, a third of the [Labour] party leaves and is replaced by members who are more closely aligned to the present leadership”. A continuation of this level of churn will help to draw a distinction between the new party and a Labour Party increasingly committed to a dogmatic agenda, soaked through with regressive views.
Furthermore, the more time that elapses between now and an election, the more likely that Labour MPs opposed to Corbynism will be forced out, again making the new party look and feel less like a breakaway. And the less connection the new party has to this toxic incarnation of the Labour Party the better.