Jeremy Corbyn’s enemies are having a field day because Dennis Skinner defied a three line whip. The left needs to discuss this. What are the arguments we need to address? What are the options we are presented with by friends and foes alike?
- Dennis Skinner needs to be treated exactly the same as Frank Field, John Mann and the other rebel MPs who voted with the Tories?
- Dennis Skinner voted with his conscience, just as Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott have in the past, and every MP must be free to do that without the withdrawal of the whip or censure from their respective CLP?
- Dennis Skinner was right: Labour should try to facilitate Brexit as rapidly as possible because their MPs won a mandate to do precisely that in their general election manifesto.
- Dennis Skinner screwed up, but because we like him we’ll look the other way and not try to get him to face up to the consequences of what we agree is quite a serious mistake.
- Dennis Skinner screwed up. But because we like him we will give him a free pass while calling for disciplining the other MPs who defied a three line whip, not caring that we’ll get accused of double standards.
- Dennis Skinner screwed up, but precisely because he is our valued friend, we will debate with him, with respect, attempting to persuade him, because that’s what your friends do while never forgetting that they are your friends.
Of the six above options, I recommend number 6.
Dennis Skinner has to be persuaded he did make a mistake. Blairites are seriously divided over Brexit, and this division infects the Shadow Cabinet, explaining in significant part the flip flopping by the Labour leadership. Dennis Skinner has nothing in common with either wing of the Blairites, notwithstanding how he voted yesterday. The anti-Brexit Blairites want Dennis Skinner treated like the other ‘rebel’ MPs because they hope to divide the left; if Corbyn withdraws the whip from John Mann and Frank Field either he is lumbered with bitter infighting that proves electorally unpopular or, alternatively – infinitely better from their point of view – they force him to abandon all hope of party discipline within the PLP. No Corbyn supporter can tolerate either of these options. Unfortunately, because of Dennis’s miscalculation, the Labour’s leader has to make a hasty tactical retreat that benefits both wings of Blairism. Because Dennis didn’t intend that, we forgive him: motives do matter after all.
Dennis Skinner has earned the respect of every socialist voter. He is a genuine working class hero in Parliament. He is among the most admirable of Labour MPs in the history of that party. One mistake doesn’t change that. Jeremy Corbyn’s enemies can try to turn us against Dennis as much as they like: it isn’t going to work.
Even if we never ever persuade Dennis that he voted the wrong way, while we’ll feel sad, we’ll never abandon him. We don’t always persuade our friends. Sometimes the best we can do is agree to differ. If that’s the best we ever get, I can live with that.
As for Frank Field, John Mann etc – including abstentionists like Caroline Flint – their behaviour is par for the course. If Dennis hadn’t voted as he did, they’d lose the whip, and rightly so. These people never tire of exposing themselves as Tory Trojan Horses. They intend to split the anti-Tory vote at the next general election to help the Tories under first-past-the-post, parroting reactionary UKIP-style xenophobia. They’ll try to damage Jeremy Corbyn in parliament again, as will many – possibly most – of the anti-Brexit Blairite MPs. There will be other opportunities to discipline MPs determined to help the Tories. Their days are numbered.