Divisions to the left of me, schisms to the right …
This week started with two events that reflect Labour’s difficult journey in uncertain times.
The first was the sad passing of veteran Newport West MP Paul Flynn.
I only met the man a few times and yet on each occasion he impressed me with his insights and undiminished humanity. I also delighted in his wicked sense of humour during an afternoon spent door-knocking in a mid-Wales by-election.
The other, which is tinged with quite a different kind of regret, was the news that eight Labour MPs have formed a breakaway group in the House of Commons.
At the time of writing, it’s important to make the distinction between the act of establishing a separate group on the opposition benches and setting up a new centrist party with all the attendant apparatus. This isn’t a 21st century Limehouse declaration. Well, not yet anyway.
What changes things considerably though is the inclusion of a further three Conservative defectors among their number.
For the ex-Labour contingent, this development fosters a change in perception from being regarded as just an ‘anti-Corbyn club’ to one of a bi-lateral voice of reason.
For the tories, who have their own unique set of problems, this resignation by influential members turns a slender Commons majority into a knife edge that could yet be held against a few ministerial throats.
Of course, whether this new centrist tendency actually seeks (or gains) the requisite constituency momentum, so to speak, is another matter.
Media and assorted pundits seem sceptical. Meanwhile former party colleagues on both sides declare that everything is business as usual whilst insisting that by-elections are in order.
Such reactions are understandable. That said, you get the impression that this tends to cloud over the distinct possibility that people who voted for the respective candidates did so in the expectation that the next two years would deliver something more equitable and socially acceptable than has actually transpired.
As much as we get regularly fed the notion that what’s needed is ‘decisive’ leadership that espouses definitive policies, the truth is that it is the outcomes achieved by consensual politics and compromise which stand the democratic test of time.
It may be that the founders of the Commons breakaway group aspire towards restoring that almost forgotten approach. Unfortunately, to an electorate that has been cast into the role of by-stander as its government edges closer to the cliff edge, it’s hard to see the action of these individuals as anything more than an indulgence.
Labour’s problem is that it looks incapable of beginning to address complex national issues when it cannot even resolve internal quarrels. Despite the ideological divide, the Conservative self-destructive dilemma is really no different, at a basic level.
Touching further on the subject of similarities, you might think there’d be little common ground between Paul Flynn and defecting Labour MP Chuka Umunna. What could come a surprise is that both had key roles in a little known Westminster body called the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Proportional Representation.
That group was set up to ‘build alliances for the adoption of a system of PR’ and to bring about a House of Commons truly representative of the people and its aspirations.
Sounds like a good idea to me. It’s a pity that neither of them will have that chance now.