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Labour: Fighting over the ruins

August 16, 2016

 

There was once a Conservative poster that read: “If Labour is the answer then it’s a damn stupid question.”

 

It’s a joke that has new meaning but let there be no doubt, the party’s problems are entirely of their own making.

 

When the scale of the general election defeat became apparent last year, the shift away from the centre ground was inevitable.

 

What wasn’t expected however was the creative degree to which party apparatchiks would handle the succession process.

 

Being able to decide the identity of the Labour leader at £3 a pop not only made being left-wing affordable as well as fashionable, it went some way to fulfilling the axiom that capitalists are capable of selling the rope that will later be used to hang them.

 

I suppose you could argue that any party hierarchy unable to think through the longer-term implications of these money-spinning actions should not be trusted with helping to run the country anyway. Think again. The party machine remains markedly resilient.

 

For all the accusations of infiltration by Trotskyites, it’s worth recounting that it was Leon himself who observed the way of things is for the bureaucracy to firstly take over the party and then replace it.

 

Of course, it is in parliament where Labour’s problems are most apparent. Poor performances at the dispatch box, Mao’s red book thrown around ad-lib and equivocation over policy have all managed to put MPs nerves on edge.

 

Where most people get lost though – including me - is following through the logic how all this discontent translates into en masse front-bench resignations.

 

Informed sources insist that what triggered a survivalist instinct among mutinous troops was the prospect of a post-Brexit snap election combined with boundary changes. The best-case scenario being touted around was a loss of up to 90 seats.

 

Why should MPs worry about deselection by disaffected constituency parties, said the briefings, when terminal electoral oblivion beckoned anyway?

 

As things presently stand, there is no overt Conservative appetite for another general election – nor for a quick Brexit settlement either.

So where does that leave Labour?

 

Many describe the renewed leadership context as a struggle for the party’s future. I disagree.

 

This is unquestionably a battle but more like one fought over the ruins of some abandoned building whereby it is more important to the antagonists to gain ground than keep things intact. It has the squalid feel of a family quarrel that follows the reading of a will.

 

Labour historically grew from a mass movement into a political force. It introduced social and economic reforms that are still valued in our lifetimes. Furthermore, it was no less factionalised then than in the present day.

 

It is the nature of opposition parties to seek to become governments. Labour does not yet seem to have figured out how that it going to happen. It will prove to a fascinating experience to watch them try.

 

In the meantime, and pardon the expression, things can only get better.

 

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The challenges and changes ahead

 

While internal differences continue, there is a palpable despair among Labour supporters that the party’s guns are faced in the wrong direction.

 

As much as the clever set dismiss the Blair-Brown years as ‘tory-lite’, there’s no denying that the minimum wage, crime reduction, equality and devolution all happened on their watch. 

 

So did the Iraq invasion of course. It is probably at this point that Labour’s fortunes changed irrevocably – which is why the election of Jeremy Corbyn has changed more than perceptions.

 

Recent national and regional elections (plus the odd referendum) have spelled out even to the most optimistic comrade that the majority of the UK electorate are not yearning for inclusive, left-wing egalitarianism.

 

Yet Labour’s membership numbers have reached the 300,000 mark and continue to climb.

 

This is as much as challenge for Labour as an opportunity.

 

As one disgruntled branch official confided in me, there is no fun in the spectacle of newbies without a lick of political savvy attempting to lecture hardened campaigners about solidarity.

 

Worries abound within the party about an influx of individuals who think the act of joining a political party is sufficient in itself to bring about significant social change. Comparisons with a Red Guard fomenting the cult of personality are inevitable.

 

However, if just a fraction of the new intake become committed members then the party will not only have far more boots on the ground but also the financial resources to back them up.

 

This will be welcome news to Labour’s poor-bloody-infantry who turn out in all weathers to deliver leaflet or help organise the socials and fund-raisers.

 

The first test in Wales will be next year’s council elections. History shows that the party prospers locally when Labour is in national opposition. That said, precedents seem to count for very little in politics these days. Ah well.

 

 

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