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To Save Itself, The Labour Party Need to Split

11/08/2016 16:27 | Updated 11 August 2016
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Labour is in the throes of an identity crisis. The roots of this run deep but can be most immediately traced to Jeremy Corbyn's unexpected victory in last year's leadership contest. It looks very likely that Corbyn will win this year's contest (and who knows if it will become an annual spectacle). Whether he wins or loses, however, the identity crisis will persist.

Labour must decide if it will pursue ideological purity of the leftish variety - in the conviction that ultimately the electorate will move towards them - or whether this formula will lock it out of power and therefore the party must pursue a more centrist set of positions in order to win enough support to form a government. I take no view on this struggle but do suggest an accommodation can be reached.

Labour should split. Not, as some currently suggest, into a new party or anything as surely electorally self-defeating as that. Rather English Labour, Scottish Labour and Welsh Labour should each become independent parties. It would work thusly.

First, each respective party (plus the Co-operative Party, for you political anoraks) would elect their own leader, debate and agree their own policy platform, and select their own parliamentary candidates.

In Scotland and Wales, the leader of the party would likely contest elections for their respective devolved assemblies whilst appointing/electing a leader of their party in the House of Commons - much as the Scottish National Party does now. Of course, the leader could opt to contest an election to the House of Commons. English Labour would select English mayoral candidates and elect a leader of their own to lead their campaign during local council elections etc.

Each respective Labour Party - Co-operative, English, Scottish and Welsh with perhaps the SDLP - would elect a leader from amongst their collective Commons MPs to lead the Parliamentary Labour Party and be their chosen Leader of the Opposition (or indeed Prime Minister). This process would likely need to be revisited as soon as a General Election is called so that it is clear who will be their choice for Prime Minister.

This solution is neither novel - the Liberal Democrats have long practiced a form of federalism and some Labour types I know are increasingly keen on it - nor is it without drawbacks. However if the current situation persists, whoever wins the current leadership contest will continue to lead a party so divided that it cannot function effectively as Her Majesty's Opposition. This, apart from anything else, is a near criminal neglect of our democratic system. At such a tumultuous time in our country's history, the Government needs to be held to account.

Moreover, and more narrowly for the Party itself, this formulation would allow for differences of political opinion to be accommodated without rendering asunder the entire edifice. There are other ways out of Labour's current identify crisis. Federalism offers one of the least bad, and surest ways, to accommodate the different identities that Labour is currently struggling to reconcile.

e: j.musgrave.blogger@gmail.com

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