Sunday, 5 May 2019

Labour: the damage done

Jeremy Corbyn leads the British Labour Party. (Photo/JTA-Getty Images-Thierry Monasse)This piece was written before the local elections, where there was certainly some kind of electoral verdict on Corbyn's leadership. Whether this will finally lead to action to remove him remains to be seen.

While it is usual for the political commentariat to be largely focused on the present – especially with Brexit dominating headlines in recent years – sometimes it is useful for us all to take a look at the past, and the future.

Fast-forward to 2022, the projected next general election: Jeremy Corbyn, safe in his position as leader, has been leader of the Labour Party for seven years.

With regard to tenure, that will put him as the seventh longest-serving leader in the party’s century-long history. MacDonald, Attlee, Gaitskell, Wilson, Kinnock, Blair and Corbyn. That is the peer group: all party leaders for more than one term.

While some might reasonably quibble about MacDonald, the first six are undoubtedly heavyweight, historical names. And party leaders with that kind of tenure are, clearly, the ones with the best chance of shaping their party in their image.

Let us turn now to the seventh, Jeremy Corbyn. He already has.

In three-and-a-half years – he is currently at the rough midway-point of those seven years – he has reduced his party to one riddled with, and about to be formally investigated for, anti-Semitism; and provided a nonsensically equivocal position on Brexit, as a result shoring up what many have reasonably come to think of as the worst government in history.

The disastrous term of Michael Foot, an essentially decent man, was only a little longer than Corbyn has been there already, and it still took another decade to recover the party back to power. Further, as many have written, the recovery conditions were demonstrably better in 1983 than now.

What would the current leader do with three-and-a-half more years? It is not difficult to see: more of the same And that is not all: on the current trajectory, he is also fairly likely to be succeeded by another Corbynite, so the real tenure of Corbynism in the leadership may even be longer.

The direction of travel is relentlessly unidirectional: at time of writing, there is no visible shift in the leadership´s stance on the two major issues confronting the party and, at this midway point, there is no reason to believe there will be. Control of the NEC is complete: the membership is overwhelmingly pro-Corbyn. By 2022, the party will surely be on its knees, and that is if it even still exists as a major electoral force.

At this point, Labour MPs, there is a choice: to vocally resist at every turn, or to accept the frog-boiling logic of Corbynite Labour. Of claiming we can all be friends and it will blow over. It won’t. Or wrongly celebrating minor negotiating gains as when, this week, some usually-sensible moderates were claiming a Pyrrhic victory at the NEC over a People´s Vote.

No moderate victory was won on Tuesday. The far left won: any other reading is denial.

There is still a chance, like Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, to change the future. But it is receding. And it requires a seismic shift from the current stance of the Parliamentary Labour Party. What matters is not your parliamentary pension. What matters is not your local party, local Momentum or even local electorate think. What matters is what is right.

Because, after three-and-a-half more years, the party you joined as idealistic and ambitious teens or twentysomethings will not be there any more. You can act now, or you can make sure that number seven, in that list of long-serving leaders of the Labour Party, is the last that ever led the party as a fighting force.

This post first published, in a slightly different form, at Labour Uncut

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