Labour Pains

The big distraction from the Brexit shambles at the moment is the the attempt by the Blairites to take back control of the Labour party. It has been suggested (www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2016/06/still-iraq-war-stupid/) that this is happening now because they are afraid that, once the Chilcot Report is finally published, Jeremy Corbyn will publicly describe Tony Blair as a war criminal and call for his prosecution. Perhaps the MPs who are trying to depose Corbyn are acting out of  loyalty to their former dear leader, although as many of them supported the invasion of Iraq they may also be considered culpable, some more than others; presumably they want to protect their own reputations. This may well be one reason for the attempted coup, and may be an important factor in its timing.

However, the most obvious reason for this well-orchestrated attack on Corbyn is supposed to be that the Blairites believe that having Corbyn as its leader makes the Labour party unelectable, and fear that this will cost them any chance of forming the next government and perhaps even their seats. Yet there is clear evidence to the contrary, including:

  • the surge in membership of the Labour party around the time when Corbyn became leader;
  • the large number of Labour party members and supporters who voted for Corbyn as leader;
  • decent performances by Labour in local elections and by-elections in England and Wales;
  • a narrowing in the Tory lead over Labour in the opinion polls;
  • polls showing high levels of satisfaction with Corbyn amongst Labour voters;
  • demonstrations of grass-roots support for Corbyn;
  • a recent surge in Labour membership, with many of the new members reported as saying that they have joined to support Corbyn.

Given the level of support for Corbyn, it is very unlikely that any Blairite can win a leadership contest against him. Instead, the Blairites appear to be pinning their hopes on exploiting their hopes on an ambiguity in the Labour party’s rules concerning a leadership contest. While any challenger needs to nominated by a substantial percentage of Labour MPs, it is not clearly stated whether the current leader also has to be nominated. Given what is at stake, it is likely that this issue will be decided in court. If the ruling is that Corbyn, as the current leader, is automatically eligible to stand in a leadership contest, he should win by a convincing margin. If Corbyn must be nominated by MPs, then it is unlikely that he would even be able to take part in the contest.

If the Blairites manage to force Corbyn out, by not even allowing his many supporters an opportunity to vote for him, it could be a very Pyrrhic victory. At the very least, the Labour party in England and Wales will lose a large part of its current support. (Scottish Labour should be less affected, as many of its former non-Blairite supporters have already left.) It may well be that Corbyn’s supporters will not just leave the Labour party in droves, but set up a new party and invite him to be its first leader. The MPs who have supported Corbyn might follow him into the new party. Trade unions could switch their allegiance to it, depriving Labour of a significant part of their funding. Most of the remaining Labour MPs would then have little chance of retaining their seats at the next election.

In view of all this, the 172 Labour MPs who voted that they had no confidence in Corbyn look rather like turkeys who just voted for Christmas. Their best chance of protecting their jobs would have been to back Corbyn, and to work with him to make the Labour party a real alternative to the Tories, and a party which would have a real chance of winning a majority of seats in England and Wales. Are they really all so stupid that they cannot see that it is their own actions which risk making Labour not just unelectable, but as irrelevant as the LibDems?

Hanlon’s razor is an aphorism which can be expressed as “Never assume malice when stupidity will suffice”. Being rather cynical, I am not convinced of its validity. Perhaps the Blairite MPs are selfishly trying to keep their jobs, and mistakenly believe that this can best be done by keeping Labour party policies almost indistinguishable from those of the Tories, when so many voters in England want a real alternative to the Tories. (If the Blairites really believe that right wing, neo-liberal policies are best for the UK, why did they not join the Tories?) However, I would like to propose an alternative hypothesis.

This hypothesis is that the true loyalty of the Blairites is to the Establishment. Since Labour became New Labour, its role has been to provide the appearance (but not the reality) of an alternative to the Tories, and to give ordinary people the illusion that they can, through their votes, make a difference to how the UK is governed. The task of the Blairites is to ensure either that the Labour party pursues only those policies which are to the liking of the Establishment, or else that it cannot win an election. Corbyn is a challenge to the Establishment, and they see it as their duty to defeat him, by fair means or foul. If they distract attention from the divisions within the Tory party, and the Brexit shambles, that is a bonus. If they wreck the Labour party in the process, that is acceptable to them and to the Establishment which they serve.

I do not actually believe that this hypothesis is correct; it implies that the Establishment is some kind of mega-conspiracy, rather than a set of people with common interests acting individually or in groups to protect those interests without any overall organisation. However, it would be difficult to disprove the hypothesis, given that the behaviour of the Blairites appears entirely consistent with it, and that the alternative is that they are both selfish and stupid. While most of the Blairite MPs may be considered as ‘useful idiots’ for the Tories, I cannot help wondering whether there might be a few among them who know exactly what they are doing, and are looking forward to being rewarded by a grateful Establishment with a peerage and perhaps a lucrative directorship.

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