The Party Line is………………..Schism

The British parliamentary system of government is a system of duality. It is a system which requires two parties to function effectively: one in government and one in opposition. The principle function of this is for one to provide an effective counterpoint to the other and vice versa. This ensures that the opposing viewpoints are aired and a consensus prevails.

When one party ceases to provide this effective counterpoint the system becomes prejudiced towards the other. In the unfortunate event of both parties ceasing to provide counterpoints to each other you inevitably see the sort of political and economic confusion that has existed over the last few weeks in the post referendum world.

With its speedy appointment of Theresa May as prime minister, the Conservative party has been the first to emerge from this land of confusion to a state of reasonable (if only perceptually) stability, allowing them to get a hold of the Brexit juggernaut and move toward a coherent exit plan.

On the other side of the aisle, the Labour party however has become embroiled in a civil war between its members of parliament and its leader Jeremy Corbyn. The only recently elected leader has found himself the subject of an attempted coup from within the Labour party. Using the pretext of Labour’s failure to effectively campaign in the EU referendum, a group of dissenting MP’s resigned and have pushed the Labour party into its second leadership contest in as many months.

A Labour member of Parliament for almost 35 years, Mr Corbyn is a man of deep conviction and an entrenched socialist, who matured in the staunchly union version of the Labour party that existed under the tenure of Neil Kinnock. He is not a man who conforms to the New Labour stereotype and was never expected to be anything but a backbencher in the young dynamic Labour party.

Yet it has been a rise as meteoric as much as it has been unexpected.

Winning a leadership election with almost 60% of the vote has given him almost unlimited carte blanche to turn the Labour party into his version of socialism and to steer it away from the Blairite version of new Labour.

The politics of new Labour and its chief architect; Tony Blair have been the prevailing political sentiment within the Labour party for the last 20 years and have shaped many of the politicians which now form the Labour parties front and back benches. It is a politics of reform and accountability.

The nascent politics of Corbynism which finds its voice in more traditionalist Labour values has moved in to replace this ideological standpoint, but New Labour is so entrenched in recent Labour philosophy will not leave without a fight.

A fight which has created the first schism in the Labour party, but a schism of their own making.

By contradicting the party zeitgeist, he has won a legion of new supporters in the party, but very few friends in Westminster.  Not every Labour party leader has been popular amongst his peers, but popularity in Parliament does not matter as much as support from within the party membership.

Indeed, by their actions, Labour party front and backbenchers cannot be called upon to offer Mr Corbyn the kind of support he needs in this second leadership contest, so he must look to other sources for assistance.

Historically, the largest and strongest support that Labour party leaders can call on comes from the Trade Union movement. An integral partner in the party since day one, prospective leaders have had to court union support to succeed in their rise to power.  They are the largest proportion of membership within the Labour party and are also its largest donor.

The candidate who can call on Trade Union support can win the leadership contest, regardless of the popularity of the other candidates as we saw when Ed Miliband famously “stabbed” his more popular brother David in the back to win the Labour leadership election in 2010. He could not have done so without the crucial support of the trade unions.

Jeremy Corbyn with his socialist background appeals to the union mentality of Labour and as such the Unions have been unswerving in their support of him, despite the attempted coup by the rest of the party.

The traditional support mechanism of the Unions has been joined by a new political group, that of the organisation known as Momentum.

Momentum, inaugurated in the wake of Mr Corbyn’s victory in 2015 is a group made up of those individuals who so vociferously campaigned for Mr Corbyn to be elected leader. It portrays itself as a unifying presence, a grassroots movement designed to strengthen the Labour party, increase its support and unify the party behind Mr Corbyn. It has a manifesto of broad social reform very much in keeping with core Labour values but remaining an independent organisation within the Labour party.

It is currently embroiled in campaigning to get more of its supporters elected to the Labour National Executive Committee, the key ruling council of the Labour party. Councillors have found themselves being supplanted by organisation members in their own constituencies and individuals within the party have been coerced into supporting Momentum’s aims.

Momentum has become extension of the Corbyn political machine, which has now dedicated itself to keeping him in power.

The Labour party is a party of communities, of organisations, of unions, which finds its strength in the politics of consensus rather than focusing itself on an individual, as Momentum does with Mr Corbyn.  A conflict between these two ideologies is inevitable as each is an anathema to the other.

It is this conflict, if unchecked that has potential to split the Labour party in two. This will undoubtedly lead to the end of the Labour party as it is known today.

This is the second schism which is rocking the foundations of the Labour party. Both threaten the core if a political settlement is not reached.

But what of those MP’s who openly rebelled against Mr Corbyn’s leadership?

If he does, as expected win the upcoming leadership election they will find their position is almost completely untenable.  If they do nothing, they will be forced out of their positions by Mr Corbyn and Momentum, but if they do choose to act they risk their entire political careers by going against the party which they represent.

There is no easy answer.

The only winners in this sort of scenario are the other main parties, who can sit around in their stability and watch as the Labour party implodes. There is potentially every chance that many of the rebel MP’s will choose to defect to parties which more closely match their views.

We could see the growth of a new political party distinct from Labour which could amalgamate with the Liberal Democrat party, a virtual non-entity since it was cast out of number 10 in 2015.

Whatever the scenario, the Labour party has a rocky road ahead of it.

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

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