Today, the High Court endorsed the decision of the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee to allow Jeremy Corbyn’s name to be on the forthcoming leadership ballot paper, without having the backing of 20% of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).
It was taken to the High Court because Michael Foster, a wealthy Labour Party contributor, had considered it undemocratic. His understanding of democracy is, however, rather at odds with mine.
Firstly, the Labour Party isn’t JUST the PLP. The huge upsurge in membership after the 2015 General Election was largely due to Jeremy Corbyn’s candidacy as a genuinely socialist representative, something the Labour Party has been in short supply of since, well, decades. It now has over 300,000 members, more than all of the other political parties combined. Jeremy Corbyn was elected as leader specifically because of them. To exclude him from the ballot at the behest of the PLP (who, remember, are supposed to represent their constituents and the wishes of the wider rank and file membership, not just themselves) would be a smack in the face to those members. The only reason that the PLP would want this is because they are not confident of their candidate(s) beating Jeremy Corbyn. Best to exclude his supporters altogether, then.
Secondly, to exclude Jeremy Corbyn from the ballot would have resulted in what amounts to a coup by the PLP, NOT a leadership contest. There is no democracy in that.
To force a leadership contest on the basis of a vote of no confidence is, I guess, fair enough, but to then try to rig the outcome of the contest by excluding the incumbent leader is not worthy of the Labour Party. The whole basis of the contest makes no sense, at least not now. It was trumped up by Angela Eagle on the basis of allegations of Jeremy Corbyn not showing sufficient commitment and leadership in the EU referendum Remain campaign. This was, of course, extremely debatable and simply an excuse. Anything would have done.
The timing was crass. At a point when all the other parties were in disarray following the unexpected Leave victory, this was the perfect opportunity for Labour to show real unity, and be a credible opposition to the fractured Tories, but they blew it. Instead, they descended into Machiavellian backstabbing, lies and squabbling. Their credibility took a further blow when, after opening nominations for the ballot, Angela Eagle and Owen Smith decided that only one name should go forward. Well, duh. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that having two names to vote for would split the votes against Corbyn, and further increase the likelihood of him winning. Embarrassing.
(These people are hopeful of becoming Prime Minister one day, don’t forget… Doesn’t fill you with confidence about their acumen, does it?)
Then we got accusations of intimidation and bullying by Corbyn’s supporters, and that he wasn’t doing enough to stop it. There may be some truth in that, but I don’t recall Jeremy uttering a bad word against any of his opponents, although it would be very understandable, given the way they’ve disrespected him. He has distanced himself from it and appealed for his supporters to act with dignity and respect, but ultimately, he isn’t responsible for the actions of an unruly few.
It’s unfortunate that the leadership contest won’t be resolved until 22 September 2016. That’s too long for the party to lose its focus on actually opposing the Tories, at a time when an effective opposition is desperately needed.
What will happen after the leadership issue is resolved? In the unlikely event that everyone will accept the result, whatever it is, and commit to settling their differences, uniting the party behind the new leader and getting on with the real job of opposing the Tories, there are two possible outcomes, in my opinion, both of which involve the party splitting.
Option 1: Jeremy Corbyn wins and is confirmed as the leader of the Labour Party. The largely Blairite right-wing of the party are unable to reconcile the party being returned to its roots as a truly socialist party once more and form a breakaway party. The cleansed party continues to grow its popular support and membership, as it offers the only real socialist alternative to the old way of doing politics in the UK, which people are sick to the back teeth of. The only way the rebels can survive is by forming alliances with other parties, but the Green Party, UKIP and the SNP aren’t interested. The LibDems may be tempted to try another go at something like the SDP, as in 1981, but it’s not a good idea. Angela Eagle’s political career is over.
Option 2: Owen Smith wins and retains the support of the bulk of the PLP. However, huge numbers of grass-roots Labour Party members, supporters and voters see it as the final nail in the coffin of socialism in the UK, and withdraw their membership, support and votes in disgust. Without the support of its voter base, the Labour Party confirms its position as the party of opposition for the rest of eternity, and eventually disappears altogether into obscurity. The left of the party breaks away and stays true to their principles, but it lacks the gravitas of the Labour Party’s heritage, and also withers on the vine. Angela Eagle’s political career is over.
Before 23 June, little of what has actually happened would have been believable. But, here we are, not quite five weeks later, with a new, unelected, Prime Minister, the main players in the Leave campaigns having deserted in ignominy when it was discovered that, not only had they lied, but they had neither a Brexit plan, or the brains / guts to make one, and Boris Johnson already embarrassing the UK in his role of Foreign Secretary.
If ever we needed a united, socialist Labour Party, it was now. And they’ve blown it. Thanks, Angela.