Jeremy Corbyn's election as Labour leader in September 2015 came as no surprise, his campaign having steadily gained momentum over the course of the preceding months. The reactions to the veteran rebel's victory varied wildly, from pseudo-messianic jubilation to apocalyptic despair. Corbyn himself was quick to emphasise his intention to lead a broad-based, united opposition, this objective being at least partly reflected in the formation of his Shadow Cabinet.
Fast forward four months and the Labour Party's inner divisions have burst forth, creating the kind of carnage not seen since the opening twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan. At stake in this increasingly bitter battle is the very soul of the Labour Party in the face of a seemingly strident neoliberal Conservative consensus and an incredibly hostile right-wing media.
Jeremy Corbyn is a serial dissenter, having defied the party whip no less than 428 times from 1997 to 2010. In many ways, the very mechanisms of British party parliamentary democracy are contrary to the democratic process. The party whip system means that MPs are often constrained to vote against both their own conscience and, crucially, the wishes of their constituents. Corbyn recognised this and chose to defy convention from the back benches for 13 years. How, then, can he expect to be taken seriously when demanding the loyalty of his colleagues as party leader? Those who seek to answer this by referring his sizeable mandate from party members find themselves inconveniently reminded of Corbyn's repeated defiance of Tony Blair, despite his own sizeable majority in the 1994 leadership election.
On the one side of this progressively more vicious civil war are Corbyn's disciples, quick to take to social media and TV alike to decry their leader's detractors as disloyal. Meanwhile, the other camp laments Corbyn's leadership, predicting perpetual electoral obliteration at the hands of what they see as a relic of Labour's less moderate past. Nothing symbolises this polarisation more than the recent marathon shadow cabinet reshuffle. Following days of hysterical speculation, the whole business actually ended up being something of a damp squib, with the possible exception of Hilary Benn's retention as Shadow Foreign Secretary.
What ensued, however, was altogether different and, frankly, far more interesting. Serial resignations of shadow ministers seen as 'moderate' were followed by a very public social media war of words between the two Labour factions. This included MPs themselves, with Corbynite Diane Abbott engaging in a ferocious war of words with Jonathan Reynolds, who had recently resigned in the wake of Pat McFadden's sacking as Shadow Europe Minister.
Unfortunately, this rift is caused by the incompatibility of two totally unbridgeable visions of Labour's future. It is, if you like, a battle for the very soul of the party. This would not be so disastrous were it not for the fact that in the meantime, the Conservatives are getting away with murder. Labour's civil war is providing a heaven-sent distraction from the government's pernicious agenda. While the Housing and Planning Bill makes its way through the House of Commons, the population is coerced into preoccupying itself with the vacillation of Corbyn's reshuffle and its very public aftermath. Labour Party supporters trade online blows while Cameron succeeds in quietly shrugging off the righteous anger at his irresponsible slash-and-burn policies in the wake of the recent flooding. Simultaneously, the Tory benches are literally left rolling in the aisles as Corbyn finds himself persistently unable to land a knockout punch at PMQs, despite the government's transparent failings. He need only look around him to understand the reasons why.
That the Tories are the ones to emerge unscathed by this crisis is irrefutable. The solutions, however, are more opaque. One could argue that the 'Blairites' within the Parliamentary Labour Party have proven themselves unwilling to even give Jeremy Corbyn the chance to prove himself a competent leader, instead providing a constant feed of critical negativity to a gleeful right-wing media. The unfortunate truth is that it is nigh on impossible to level accusations of disloyalty to a leader with a serially disloyal past.
Whether Corbyn is able to salvage this shipwreck of a situation remains to be seen. If not, he will doubtlessly be toppled via either an internal coup or electoral humiliation. Ultimately, the country can not afford to wait too long for a resolution. This self-indulgent philosophical warfare is a betrayal of Labour supporters and of those who rely on an effective opposition to counter the narrative of austerity.
No one benefits more from the current civil war consuming the Labour Party than the Conservatives. As one Tory activist tweeted recently, 'We're just sitting back and watching with popcorn.' Labour's woes are like manna from heaven for Cameron and co. Corbyn's supporters and opponents must find a way to see past their ideological divergence and aim their blows firmly and squarely at the real target. The questions over the evolution of Labour's cerebral vision must be debated within. Outwardly, the common enemy must be confronted in a coherent, unified manner. To do otherwise is not just electoral suicide, it amounts to Tory propaganda at a time when a competent opposition is needed the most.Suggest a correction