When Labour voted for Jeremy Corbyn I knew it was a suicidal move, it was the decision of a party unsure of its values and desperate to rediscover them at any cost. Instead of investigating why we lost as a movement, we looked to the past in the hope that everything old can be made new again. The rise of Podemos and Syriza gave hope that the old fashioned left wasn’t really gone for good, but needed to be awoken from a deep slumber. Labour’s response after deconstructing Mervyn King’s famous proclamation that ‘anyone taking power in 2010 would be ousted for a generation’ was to stampede towards the last socialist light that was left i.e. Jeremy Corbyn.
However after a turbulent two months of Corbyn leading the Labour party is in disarray; fifteen points behind in the polls (our worst in opposition since 1983) and his personal approval rating makes Ed Miliband look more popular than Winston Churchill. Labour is going through chronic mismanagement on a number of levels; everyday there seems to be a news story occurring about the party, whether that is Ken Livingstone insulting the mentally ill after he has been made co chair of the defence review or Jeremy Corbyn creating a stance on foreign policy without bothering to brief the shadow foreign secretary. Seumas Milne may be fantastic at writing how ethnic cleansers shouldn’t be tried at the ICC, but keeping together a party which is tearing itself apart at the seams isn’t his forte. This is the key problem which has so recently infected the Labour movement.
The Labour party have now entered civil war; on one side is the PLP, a minority of Labour members and ordinary Labour voters, on the other lies the vast majority of Labour members, a small block of MP’s and a large section of left wing groups. The Labour party has always been a ‘big tent’ movement with the left of centre and far left have coexisted relatively peacefully. However this belief is now being shaken to its very foundations; whether that is Blairite MP’s plotting a coup against a new leader, or momentum sending emails to MP’s telling them to listen to their constituency Party and Len Mccluskey threatening those who don’t as playing with fire. You get the feeling while Jeremy Corbyn talks about a kinder newer politics no-one believes it, not even himself, and especially not a large section of the Corbynites who live on twitter to hurl abuse.
This is a fight for the Labour Party’s soul and neither side will give in easily. While Jeremy’s position best reflects the members, the rebellious MP’s best reflect the ordinary Labour voter and the general population. They also represent the best chance of Labour performing its core duty as the opposition which is holding the government to account and being capable of forming a new government after the next election. Corbyn is now demanding loyalty claiming a mandate; when he was in the position of a backbench MP he never wavered from his principles now he wants MP’s to drop their principles and give their loyalty to a leader who is now looking like a walking hypocrisy.
The Oldham West by-election will be an important marker for Corbyn, normally it is the safest of safe seats but many have felt it will come under pressure after the buffoonery that has beset the party following the Paris attacks. If Labour falls or the majority is dramatically reduced there will be one more hole in the Corbyn ship which is sinking ever more quickly. What is clear is that Labour is in a civil war, one way or another Labour needs to decide what party it wants to be.
Do we want to be a left wing party which demands fervent worship of radical ideals which many members including myself do not hold? Or do we want to be a party which fulfills the basic duties of an opposition and transition into government? What is clear is that the atmosphere is becoming febrile and not just on the twittersphere where being hostile is a permanent state of existence. This cannot continue, either we have to learn to live together even as noisy neighbours or the inevitable split will come about.