Monday, 27 March 2017

The “soft coup” might be on, but it surely ain’t from the right

For weeks now, the party’s left has been whispering about a “soft coup”. Ah, the old Soviet tactic, much beloved of today’s Vladimir Putin: confuse things by accusing your opponents of whatever you are up to yourself. Oh, and make them feel under attack, so they close ranks.

There is a coup going on, but it is clearly not the evil Blairites named by John McDonnell.

As revelations about Jon Lansman’s declared strategy for Momentum as an alternative power base to the party itself became public, it seems Monday night’s PLP meeting was converted into something of a showdown.

Corbyn jeered. Watson cheered. The PLP, depressed and muted for months since Corbyn’s re-election, suddenly found its voice.

And it was that same Tom Watson leading the charge – a loyalist clearly adept at unearthing the truth but in this case apparently with a couple of years’ time-lag.

(We should probably gloss over his part the plot to bring down Tony Blair; or the fact that, in the Falkirk selections debacle – in which his own parliamentary office was directly implicated, along with Unite, let us not forget – he helped lead to the change in the electoral system which let in Corbyn in the first place.)

And the revelation was that – hold the front page! – Momentum is actually organising for the takeover/destruction of the Labour Party (delete as applicable), just like Militant before it, in conjunction with that same Unite union. Where were you in 2015, Tom, when it was obvious to everyone? Or in 2013, when Unite were stitching up selections for the hard left?

It’s true, the Corbynites have marginalised him way from the centre of party power, as they generally do with any MP who is not part of the sect.

But it is now in Watson’s loyalist, but not-exactly-secure hands which the current round of resistance against Corbyn’s calamitous leadership currently sits.

It’s not as though various people haven’t tried.

The original list of those who refused to serve in his first Shadow Cabinet.

Hilary Benn, with his defiant speech on Syria more over Europe, which got him sacked for his trouble.

Last year’s further en masse resignation of the Shadow Cabinet after the Brexit vote.

Owen Smith’s leadership challenge last summer.

Watson has a distinct advantage over all these people: he is protected by his office and has little to lose, least of all his seat, where he actually increased his majority in 2015.

As Harriet Harman ably demonstrated when she decided to stay on as Deputy Leader through the Miliband years, it’s an office with no time limit. The only people who can get actually rid of Watson are party members, and then really only when he wants to go. Thus, he does not depend on the whims of the Leader. Nor is he particularly beholden to the Whips’ Office. Nor does he depend on the patronage of McCluskey, like some trade union backed colleagues of his. In that sense, at least, he is an ideal figure to speak out.

And so Watson can appear on the Today programme, saying something pretty strong, even in these kooky, uncharted political waters of 2017:
“What Jon Lansman has outlined is a plan with Len McCluskey, the leader of Unite, to take control of the Labour Party. “We have never seen the biggest union organise a political faction within the Labour Party with the tacit approval of the leadership.”
It is certainly good that he is making something of a stand, albeit a year and a half into his office and with the party already on its knees. The only question is whether Watson is the right person to lead the charge.

Now, plotting is something he has shown aptitude for, although it seems unlikely that, in this case, things are that organised. He might even one day be successful in executing a real coup to remove his beloved leader. But his strategic planning and sense of judgement are not exactly legendary, either. One wonders whether, even if this current round resistance were successful, where the party might go and who it might realistically put up to replace Corbyn.

Surely not Watson himself: there is some political talent there, but Kinnock he ain’t. He also attacks from a position of political weakness even compared to Kinnock: the Welshman was himself Leader, had the advantage of a party already fed up with the idiocy of Militant-run councils, and a handy bogeyman in Liverpool’s Derek Hatton. Today’s Labour councils lack the “loony left” tendency to alienate members in the same way, and Corbyn himself is still admired by much of the membership.

In a nutshell, in contrast to 1985, the lunatics have unprecedentedly taken over the asylum. Never before has the leader themselves been from the hard left and no-one really knows where all this will end up.

However, one thing is crystal clear: if there had hitherto remained any doubt that there is now to be a battle to death for the soul of the Labour Party, it is now gone. The Deputy Leader and the PLP are openly at war with the leader, much of the membership and the leader of the largest affiliated union.

The fight is on.

This post first published at Labour Uncut

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