We all know that sometime tomorrow Jeremy Corbyn will be re-elected Labour leader. In the words of Captain Sensible, I’m glad it’s all over. It’s not the end of the world as we know it, as Michael Stipe would have put it, but it’s the end of any possibility of us seeing a Labour government for both the foreseeable and unforeseeable future. What we have seen is a clash between two very distinct and irreconcilable philosophies. Never the twain shall meet.
What has happened with Labour is what has happened with politics all over Europe but with one very big difference. In Greece and Spain, for example, the traditional left of centre parties have been usurped and even crushed by brand new political parties of the hard left. In the former, PASOK has been obliterated by SYRIZA which is more a coalition of the hard left than a single party. PASOK, which was in government as recently as 2011, achieved barely more than 6% of the national vote in the second election of 2015, winning just 17 seats. This represented a small improvement on the first election where the figures were 4% and 13 seats. In other words, nowhere. Podemos, a new Spanish hard left party is now the third biggest party in the country in terms of popular support and they’ve only been going for two and a bit years. In Britain, instead of forming new hard left parties, hard left supporters have joined Labour, creating a problem for which there is no hope of finding a solution.
It would be too simplistic to say that the Labour Party is now divided into two distinct parts which is to say those mainstream supporters, the foot soldiers, who have been there all along and a hard left rump which has joined since 2015. There have always been a broad range of opinions and philosophies but in the end we have usually managed, often through compromise, to put forward policies on which we can all campaign. The status quo no longer exists.
My experience is that a very large proportion, a majority indeed, of new members are University-educated members of the affluent middle classes who live in the big cities. Far less of the new blood has been recruited in Labour’s working class heartlands. Some of the new members were members and supporters in the dim and distant past before Labour became electable again in the 1990s. They left in the Blair years, rejecting New Labour’s achievements such as the minimum wage, rescuing the NHS, the Human Rights Act, Sure Start and all the rest of it. Others were inspired to become active in politics by the simple, homespun rhetoric from the 1980s resurrected by Jeremy Corbyn, dressed up as a “new kind of politics”. That it was no such thing is beside the point. For many people, having experienced the slippery spin of modern politics this appeared to be something worth fighting for. Here was an elderly man who was prepared to say it like it was. The antithesis of the modern politician. Put the pre 2015 Labour Party together with the post 2015 version and it didn’t work. It never could and it never will.
Where Labour could once come to agreement through debate and compromise, Labour is now two parties in one. You cannot square the circle where a large number of members support an independent nuclear deterrent and the rest support a pacifist, a pacifist who also supported the IRA when they were murdering innocent people, who regards islamic fascists as “friends” and a man who has tolerated and arguably by his inertia encouraged the most disgraceful campaign of bullying and abuse in recent political memory. I consider myself to be to the left of centre left, if that makes any sense, but I cannot honestly say that I would vote for a Labour Party led by the likes of Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell which includes as members the likes of far left union wrecker Mark Serwotka and anti-Semites like Ken Livingstone. I am someone who left the Labour Party because of the Iraq invasion of 2003 and didn’t rejoin until 2015. I am not some Tory/Blair lite socialist or a Red Tory as the posh boy Corbynistas try to paint anyone who doesn’t worship at the altar of the great leader.
I didn’t actively support Owen Smith in his doomed but courageous campaign to defeat Corbyn but I voted for him as a far less damaging candidate than Corbyn, hardly a glowing endorsement there. I see no one in the parliamentary party who offers the Labour any real hope of rescuing its descent into political oblivion so the future for Labour is Corbyn and that’s no future at all.
Labour needs a swing bigger than Tony Blair achieved in 1997 to win a parliamentary majority of one seat and, with Scotland lost, probably forever, to the centrist, arguably right of centre, SNP. Labour in England and Wales must improve dramatically. It’s not going to happen, is it?
Many of those who have joined Labour since last year do not need a Labour government. They quite fancy one, but it wouldn’t make any real difference to their lives, so they can put their weight behind the “pure” candidate who will not win. To them, socialist purity matters far more than the poor, the old, the sick, the disabled, the low paid and everyone else politics has left behind.
In the end, winning elections does matter because you cannot improve the lives of working people without power. Tomorrow, Labour members will have consigned Labour to years of opposition, assuming it survives at all, which is by no means a given. And when Corbyn addresses his adoring cult following, the Champagne corks will be popping at Tory HQ because their preferred candidate will be back in place.