Even leaving aside the omens about impending asteroid collisions, The Labour Party is facing a serious problem. By The Labour Party, I am of course referring to New Labour of Tony Blair. From the point of view of those people, rats are in desperate need of lifeboats to escape from their sinking ship. But the Corbynite Phoenix that’s rising from the ashes sees thing quite differently. A few fleas are being scratched, and the irritation hasn’t gone quite yet. But from the point of view of the living organism busy being born, this is no more than a stage we’re going through. Nothing terminal. Optimism is the where it’s at.
Blairites in the Labour Party are going to be deselected, and they know it. Some of them hope the damage can be limited, and they’re willing to sacrifice a few of their daftest, most outrageously provocative MPs: Simon Danczuk, John Mann, Tristram Hunt, to name but three. But Jeremy Corbyn has opened a Pandora’s Box. Even if he wanted to close down this democratic hurricane (and he doesn’t), he wouldn’t be able to. That’s why Maria Eagle’s contempt for her leader’s 60% democratic mandate was such an own-goal from the point of view of all his right-wing critics. How could they be so stupid?
How dare those who couldn’t win a fifth of the vote disenfranchise the majority who enthusiastically voted for a principled unilateralist, an extremely popular leader with three times as many votes as their respective candidates received. Maria Eagle and her apologists have been caught expressing contempt for the basic norms of democracy. They have been, to be charitable, childish. And what they have done has not gone unnoticed by the party rank and file. It smacks of disloyalty. It is impossible to believe this was anything other than a calculated bid to publicly damage the leader of their party, knowing full well that the inevitable consequence would be the propping up David Cameron’s 24% dictatorship.
As I’ve already pointed out, Jeremy Corbyn couldn’t rein in the democratic tsunami that’s been unleashed as he’d face a left-wing challenge if he tried who would feel betrayed by him if he did this. That pressure actually strengthens his hands. The party has been shaken to its core. Nobody knows for sure how the pieces will settle. The left is no more united than the right. Neither Jeremy Corbyn’s small group of MPs nor those ‘entryists’ who have already joined/rejoined to organize factions or those others who are still debating tactics have any long-term strategy for what to do next. We need to get a few things straight. We need a debate and we may as well conduct it in the open.
Closed groups are a thing of the past. If Nicola Sturgeon – Scotland’s First Minister and a member of the Privy Council – knows Theresa May has her, and all of Scotland’s MSPs ‘legally’ under surveillance, and all 600 of the MPs, secretly – and probably illegally – under surveillance by MI5, GCHQ, Special Branch etc, then what chance do any of the rest of us have to conduct secret meetings? We’re living in an age of Big Brother, comrades: Edward Snowden doesn’t enter his computer password with a bag over his head for the good of his health. It’s not a piece of ostentatious showmanship. He knows what’s going on. So must the rest of us.
- The left should not call for expelling the Blairites, except in the most extreme circumstances, such as leaking to the Murdoch press, briefing against colleagues, plotting with Generals or MI5 to arrest Jeremy Corbyn for treason etc. The Blairites are desperate for a handful of ‘martyrs’ as an excuse for 90% of Labour’s MPs to decamp, purging Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet. If he loses too many, then Tom Watson won’t be willing to lend any support.
- Tom Watson is key. He has to be kept on board. That means not trying to impose any changes that have not been carried through after an exhaustive democratic debate, and that will require a lot of patience, give and take.
- Caucusing won’t work so long as Theresa May and Alan Johnson work with Special Branch to infiltrate left-wing groups, a la Bob Lambert et al. We may as well make virtually everything open in order to stop fooling ourselves that we can let our hair down, resorting to politically incorrect jokes that can look bad taken out of context. If we don’t want something to be made public, we may as well not say it or do it.
- Allow right-wingers a chance of redeeming themselves. No retrospective punishment for those who seem willing to abide by democratic votes from here on in. That will be painful, but it’s something we have to do.
- Those who continue to flout democracy are fair game, but should not be subject to summary justice. They need to have rights to fight their case if we think they’ve done something that deserves them to be deselected. They’ve lost their right to be MPs if we can prove that to a majority of those who want a say on such decisions. Deselection is a fact of life for all traitors. Simply saying this on my blog will be picked up by Blairites and their pals in the Tory press and broadcast media. They’ll portray this as an example of ‘intimidation’, which will in turn become an excuse to launch a witch hunt, demanding those who ‘Like’ this on Facebook are disciplined and expelled. Jeremy Corbyn will be threatened by most of his MPs, but he will appeal to his activists to play fair. This is an ongoing process. Some of us will be unfairly disciplined, but others will organize for justice and deselections are inevitable.
- As Blairites know they’re losing their MP careers, they’ll try to destroy Labour on the way out. They refuse to call by-elections, but will set up fake parties and try to replace Jeremy Corbyn’s party as the official opposition. At the moment, they have enough MPs to do that. The left has to fight them to stop this happening. Again, Tom Watson is key. Until two days ago, I would have said that Angela Eagle is too. But her behavior on Trident suggests she’s been lined up to be the next leader of Her Majesty’s opposition. But her attempted coup seems to have backfired. After a brief bid to come together, the Blairites cancelled media outings. They ran away. One of their key leaders, Alan Johnson, said a few hours ago that the attack on Jeremy Corbyn by them was ill-judged. Reading between the lines, he clearly wants to dump Jeremy Corbyn within months but he thinks he needs time. That has damaged Angela Eagle, Maria Eagle, and Hilary Benn and, to some extent, Andy Burnham as well. Resignations from the Shadow Cabinet could happen any day, and Corbyn could face the loss of almost everyone. That’s not in his interest at the moment. He needs time to put together a set of junior minister ready to step in. Diane Abbott could get an early promotion. Hopefully some of others will be happy to do their duty, even if they have to learn on the job, very quickly. This could be messy. But members would blame those who sabotaged JC, and not their leader.
At the end of the day, all Angela Eagle can do now is split and form a new party without trade union support, any of the new activists, with fatal bitterness from voters under first-past-the-post. All she’d win from that sorry mess is a hundred odd (distinctly odd) Members of Parliament of no fixed ability, those who are for the most part hopeless, humourless, and responsible for losing votes hand over fist. Not a great idea for a politician with some talent. And Angela Eagle is not that. She is not the only one who may want to rethink. Olive branches for those willing to take them. For as long as they are willing to work with the rest of us to rebuild Labour from the ashes, into a broad church of the left.