The Labour Party is a broad church as it’s so often said but that really isn’t a good thing if you want peace. It’s a family dinner where every extended relative comes along and it’s an evening of bickering, whilst you’re telling yourself that ultimately they’re family.
Sometimes the factionalism can lead to a dislike of different MPs even if they’re Labour. We all have our preferences and dislikes. But it was generally considered that if there was an MP everyone universally liked, it was Angela Rayner.
She’s a success story that embodies all which is good about Labour values: a working class single mother, who was raising children at a young age, leaving school with no qualifications. Now she is a Labour MP, a rare working class woman in a place flooded with middle class voices with no lived experience of working class issues; little empathy for low-income struggles and an inability to articulate how exactly the most deprived in our society might think. Surely she’s the one MP everyone could get behind?
It seems apparently not. Recently in an interview, Rayner criticised the left-wing purge of centrist councillors, viewing it as a distraction from the battle with the Tories, referring to the situation in the Haringey council in London. It’s something that my friend and now former councillor for Redbridge, Lloyd Jacob Duddridge found himself a victim of. He describes the whole situation as “this is how all revolutions begin and end, through cannibalism.” But Rayner’s interview saw her heavily criticised by some on the hard left, comparisons made with her and former leader Neil Kinnock. She was instantly conflated with the Labour right, her support of Andy Burnham in 2015 flagged up as supposed proof that she could never really be a true supporter of this new zealous fundamentalist faith.
It reveals the kind of totalitarian mentality that grips some on the far-left where difference of opinion is instantly misconstrued as deliberate undermining. Dissent is crushed, silenced through slandering of supposedly being against the people. We’ve seen this sort of behaviour manifest itself violently in the past on the left before, and though it’s absolutely ludicrous to imagine anything remotely sinister happening here, it underlines one trait that connects at least some parts of the modern far left to the twentieth century communists: they regard individual thinking as a threat. It is not enough to be merely supportive. You need to believe in precisely everything.
This isn’t to say that everyone in Momentum is some crazy Stalinist or that those opposing them are necessarily saints. I was a previously lukewarm member and they are for most part, just genuine Labour members, socialists enthused by the new energy feeding the party. Moreover are they really doing anything different to what the Labour right did? Factionalism didn’t begin with Jeremy Corbyn and Momentum. Left-wing journalist Abi Wilkinson does not believe that local councils should be the preserve of the Blairites given how much of a minority they have shrunk to. As she explained to me: “in safe seats re-selection is the only form of democratic accountability, and places like Haringey aren’t going to stop being Labour councils anytime soon.” Abi pointed out “the party was Blairite for a period of time and the Blairites had all the council seats and the party worked together in a certain direction. Now the party isn’t Blairite - either in membership or leadership – it’s not clear to me why members shouldn’t select councillors who better represent their views.”
In reference to Haringey, she is inferring to the Haringey Development Vehicle (HDV) which transfers ownership of land from council to a joint-enterprise owned 50% by the construction firm Landlease. The plan is to demolish social houses and rebuild them but a similar scheme – involving the same company – took place in Southwark that led to social homes being demolished and never replaced. It’s feels like merely another chapter in the gentrification of London. The anger here is not really misplaced given the huge housing insecurity, the fact that local Labour MPs (who aren’t hard left) oppose it and even some anti-Corbyn councillors have railed against it.
As someone living in a working-class Labour safe seat, I sympathise heavily with this. Regeneration schemes in London have not panned out well for the working-class, partly a product of corporate greed and partly awful local government oversight. But anger towards Labour councils is often never contextualised by the fact that these councils are bearing the brunt of austerity cuts and have to continuously compromise out of necessity. At the end of the day, the quality of council estates are often shoddy and need to be redeveloped and improved.
All of this underlines how petty, bitter, ruthless and unforgiving the factionalism within Labour is.