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Are We About to See a Labour Party Meltdown?

18/08/2015 14:31 BST | Updated 17/08/2016 10:59 BST

There is an old sports adage: get your retaliation in first! This is most evident in the fighting in the Labour Party leadership election. The anti-Corbyn parts of the party have been the most vociferous, pointing out all that will go wrong if Corbyn wins.

Simon Danczuk, MP for Rochdale and supporter of Liz Kendall, claimed there will be a leadership coup on day one of a Corbyn-led party. The Blairite wing of the party appears to dread the result before a ballot has been cast. We don't like the result so we will not accept it.

Not so extreme, but just as petty, has seen two leadership contenders - Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper - state they will not serve in a Corbyn shadow cabinet (nobody stops to consider if he would want them!). At a similar level of pettiness, some local councillors have threatened to leave the party should Corbyn win. The most notable intervention has probably been by Tony Blair, who stated anyone whose heart was with Corbyn needed a heart transplant. In the same interview, Blair said he would not support a Corbyn-esque platform, even if it was going to win. This is a clear example of the 'my way or no way' approach so often adopted by Blair.

None of this is helpful for the party. Corbyn got on to the ballot paper because the other candidates wanted a broader debate about the future policies of the party. He was the token 'leftie'. This meant neither Cooper nor Burnham would gain the supposedly ill-fated 'leftie' label. Nobody expected Corbyn to dominate the agenda. Consequently, Corbyn has raised a number of issues with which Labour needs to deal - namely, austerity. Corbyn's position has engaged with many people who previously felt disengaged with politics. His anti-austerity approach has chimed with many former Labour supporters who felt ignored during the Blair/Brown years, as the party moved to the centre-right ground of British politics. Labour Party membership has increased - even allowing for a modicum of entryism - as a direct result of Corbyn's involvement in the leadership election.

Interestingly, the more Corbyn is attacked as being unelectable, the more support he garners. Blair's interventions have been anything but helpful for the anti-Corbynites. Gordon Brown's far more measured intervention at the weekend may be too late to stop the Corbyn bandwagon. Consequently there is speculation about the Labour Party splitting in a similar fashion to 1981, with the creation of the Social Democrat Party. There has even been a story of the 'other' Miliband leading this party! The likelihood of this is not high. Bear in mind the SDP merged with the Liberals, forming the Liberal Democrats, who later went into office in coalition with the Conservative Party.

The Labour Party is moving into meltdown before a single ballot has been cast. The polarisation within the party - pro and anti-Corbyn - is going to be problematic in the future. It is not just about "what if Corbyn wins?", but what if he only just loses. How will the party attempt to re-engage with the grassroots if - and I speculate here - 45% of Labour Party members cast their first ballot for Corbyn? For 45%, you can read as low as 33%, and this would still leave Corbyn in first place after the first ballot. In such circumstances, Corbyn is still likely to lose, as the other candidates preferences are ABC (Anyone But Corbyn).

How does a non-Corbyn winning candidate re-engage with a party membership, when almost half of them backed the anti-austerity candidate? The momentum created by the Corbyn bandwagon is impressive. A non-Corbyn leader will need to engage with these new activists. Failure to do so will be a lost opportunity, and may well leave the party floundering in opposition.

Consider how the Corbyn supporters will react if their man loses after two rounds of the reallocation of votes. Watch the conspiracy theories spread on social media. While Twitter and Facebook will see hundreds ranting at the result, it is unlikely there will be rioting in the streets. Such conspiracy theorising will continue if Corbyn is not offered a shadow cabinet post.

The divisions in the Labour Party in the early 1980s saw the party fall to a terrible defeat in the 1983 election. Among those newly elected that year was the MP for Sedgefield and the MP for Dunfermline East - Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Both of them were good party members, toeing the party line, campaigning on the party manifesto.

Party unity is going to be needed after this leadership election, regardless of the result. If not, there will be nothing to prevent a meltdown, regardless of who is leading the party. Yet maybe this is what is needed to enable someone to rise phoenix-like out of the ashes of a 2020 electoral nightmare. Who in their right mind would want to knowingly lead the party to electoral defeat? So, party unity will be needed after the leadership election is over. It's just not going to happen, and don't we all know it.