Sunday, 22 September 2019

The last forty-eight hours just showed how Labour can save itself

Related imageIn one of the maddest developments in an already certifiable world of Labour politics, we have, within the last twenty-four hours, had the following: the party’s leadership threatened to immediately abolish the role of Deputy Leader (i.e. strip Tom Watson of his party office), only to pull back at the last minute from doing so.

And, during that time, we have learned some important things we didn’t know yesterday. More of that later.

The trigger to Corbyn’s reverse ferret? Simply that almost all commentators, party officials and politicans, past and present, had stated the bleedin’ obvious: that, with the country facing the meltdown of a hard Brexit and a possible general election in the next few weeks, a massive bun-fight in the party on the eve of its conference was probably not a great idea.

We will probably never know the extent to which this was Corbyn’s idea and how much his cronies, but Jon Lansman’s attempt to railroad his motion through the NEC has backfired: Watson will now be emboldened and knows that the PLP will back him.

This one incident finally caused real threats of party splits in a way we have not seen in the whole of the last four years. Resigned MPs who had not plotted in a long time were suddenly talking about how a rival power centre could be set up and initiate a challenge to Corbyn or even a new party.

In short: the party veered pretty close to genuinely hitting the self-destruct button this morning. The fact that it did not showed that there is still some power in Labour’s moderates, should they choose to exercise it.

In some ways, it is a shame that Watson’s defenestration did not come to fruition. The temptation now is to go back to how things were and forget this ever happened. That said, though, the mask has slipped: along with the not-very-successful deselection campaign in train, members can now see that this is a desperately brittle, insecure leadership, which demands absolute loyalty, or political death.

In fact, as someone observed this morning – and unsurprisingly for a kitchen Cabinet largely staffed by Stalinists – the whole thing was straight out of the Soviet playbook. Kindly Uncle Joe comes to save a rival about to be destroyed (only to try and finish him off later). It could even have been entirely staged from start to finish. Who knows?

However, the public can see that these are not normal events and damage has been done. At this point, it seems inconceivable that Corbyn could win a majority from here, or even lead a unity coalition (Jo Swinson, for one, will not serve under him).

As a further negative for Corbyn, another thing that all this has highlighted is a point little focused on to date: that the day the Dear Leader finally goes, which may not be very far away, the Corbynite top team are terrified that Acting Leader Watson could actually use that time to right the Labour ship and dispense with their services. Forever.

In other words, if now (at least, after October) is not the time for a leadership ballot, it seems likely that it never will be. If Labour MPs cannot grasp the moment that history has handed them, when will they; what are they waiting for? Corbyn to finally resign at a convenient moment of his choosing?

No, there is one way through this and that is for Watson to challenge for the leadership, whether or not Corbyn resigns after a snap general election. That is, while he has the momentum (sorry) to do that. The Honourable Member for West Bromwich East is the only person who remotely has an appeal across the party, especially among longer-standing members. He appeals to soft left as well as old right, if not the Corbynite hard-core.

One last thing these events have highlighted is this: Watson has never challenged Corbyn because it would mean resigning his office; it would have been an all-or-nothing gamble.

But perhaps it is now time for that: if he waits, it is now painfully clear they will emasculate him and his office sooner or later, if not abolish it completely. Perhaps he should even defiantly taunt them to finish him off, if they dare; the optics of that show a position of strength and not weakness.

Much more dangerous, then, for Watson to be outside the tent with the backing of the PLP and nothing to lose, that is the way back for Labour.

Give ’em more of what they are scared of. That is the way back.

This post first published at Labour Uncut 

1 comment:

  1. A policy suggestion to publicise: give EU residents full voting rights now, before any further national votes. We need to play to win against the far right. The Brexiter block is completely radicalised and beyond reason or logic. Several million extra voters opposed to the far-right takeover would make a lasting change to the electoral calculus.


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