THE BLOG

Labour - The New Nasty Party?

11/07/2016 16:58
Jack Taylor via Getty Images

There are leadership debates taking place in the Greens, Ukip and Labour parties. The Conservative leadership race has accidentally come to a quick conclusion after Andrea Leadsom pushed the self-destruct button. The level of political upheaval though remains unprecedented and there is no doubt that it is a consequence of the Brexit result. But in the Labour contests we are about to see some of the nastiest politics we have seen in over 30 years.

The party faces a knock-down, old-style political fight involving the MPs, the trade unions and the membership. Angela Eagle vs Jeremy Corbyn (vs any others who may want to get involved) will make all other recent elections look like the height of decorum and sensible discussion. If Ms Leadsom withdrew from the Conservative race in part because the abuse levelled at her had been too great, then watch out Corbyn and Eagle.

There will be legal challenges, accusations, mass rallies, and personal attacks. Every trick in the political playbook will be used by both sides. This is a winner takes all contest.

As well as the personal attacks there has already been talk about the launching of a new political party should Eagle be unsuccessful in challenging Jeremy Corbyn and on the other side that Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, believe that a split in the party is a price worth paying.

Jon Lansman, the head of Momentum, seems to have accidentally summed up the positions of the two sides in a recent tweet:
"Democracy gives power to people, "Winning" is the small bit that matters to political elites who want to keep power themselves".

What is clear to Labour MPs is that they have nothing to lose. For them, if Corbyn remains they will either be deselected or will lost their seat in the next General Election so they are out under either scenario.

The role of the trade unions is somewhat more opaque. At a time when workers' rights are potential at risk from any Brexit negotiations they are completed wedded to a leadership that looks, on current polling, unlikely to do well come a General Election. At a time when many union memberships are declining and their contributions to Labour are likewise declining, the unions are in danger of alienating themselves.

It should be remembered that not even Tony Blair forced a showdown with the trade unions. He did everything he could to maintain the relationship, as did Harold Wilson in the late 1960s as well. Normally it is the leaders needing to be show the electorate that there is distance between themselves and the unions. This time it is the leadership and the unions wanting to show how close the relationship is.

Even Corbyn's achievements as leader are far from uncontroversial. Take the local election results. They are either as good as Ed Miliband achieved or a failure to gain ground which is itself a historic failure. The defeats inflicted on the Conservative Government are either a result of Labour's campaigns or actually because of the House of Lords and backlashes from within the Conservative Party itself. Interestingly when talking of the progress made under his leadership, Corbyn never mentions the result in Scotland.

A number of scenarios can be mapped out as to what happens to the Party once the result is known. But a few things are more certain:

1) Corbyn won't have a shadow cabinet - even if he wins, he will not have enough people to fill all the roles.
2) The creation of a new party is a real option - and there are few doubts that it could raise finance.
3) Both Labour, and any new party that may emerge, will need to spend a huge amount of time rebuilding the trust of the public.
4) If Theresa May becomes a "Mrs Thatcher Mark 2" then this would galvanise the Labour movement(s) and would give it or them the political target they are after to help build themselves up again.

The Labour Party and the wider Labour movement will do itself damage through this leadership election. The only question is how much?

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