Part 2 of a two-part article.
Ridiculous as Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn may seem, it is important understand that he is forging ahead with remaking the Labour Party. Since he became leader, Corbyn has pursued a classic hard left strategy: Get a foothold on the power positions in an organization, then expel the dissenters and bring your own people in. Of course this cannot be done overnight when the organisation to be captured and moulded is a major party in a parliamentary democracy because, by its nature, such a party is a broad coalition. Nonetheless, Corbyn has already placed many likeminded people in his shadow cabinet, such as John McDonnell as shadow chancellor and employed special advisers from the hard left, like Seumas Milne as Executive Director of Strategy and Communications who unburdened himself with this in 2006 in the Guardian: “ For all its brutalities and failures, communism in the Soviet Union, eastern Europe and elsewhere delivered rapid industrialisation, mass education, job security and huge advances in social and gender equality. It encompassed genuine idealism and commitment… Its existence helped to drive up welfare standards in the west, boosted the anticolonial movement and provided a powerful counterweight to Western global domination…”
That is just the beginning of the Corbynisation of the Labour Party. The Momentum organization has also grown out of the political engagement generated by Corbyn during the Labour leadership campaign. What does Momentum seek to do? This:
Organise events, rallies, meet ups and policy consultations to encourage mass mobilisation for a more democratic, equal and decent society.
Encourage those inspired by Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign to get involved with the Labour Party. Assist members in making their voice heard in Labour Party debates.
Facilitate and coordinate people to build new and support existing organisations that can make concrete improvements to people’s lives. Through these actions, we aim to demonstrate on a micro level how collective action and Labour values can transform our society for the better.
So far, Momentum’s main public showing has been for some members to engage in the type of vicious trolling that taints the SNP cybernats. Further down the line, the Corbyn plan is to push through compulsory re-selection of Labour MPs and use Momentum to ensure the deselection of anti-Corbyn Labour MPs and their substitution with Corbyn followers. Momentum will also be working to replace anti-Corbyn candidates who are not MPs with Corbynites.
In the meantime, Momentum will attempt to silence Corbyn’s many critics in the Parliamentary Labour Party by controlling what they say on social media. Labour’s National Executive Committee have agreed to the creation of a code of conduct on social media for Labour MPs that will inhibit criticism of Corbyn.
It might be thought that with a majority of Labour MPs opposed to Corbyn it would be easy enough to unseat him as leader within the next year for only 20% of the PLP need to nominate a challenger. But the politics of the situation are much too messy for that to be the case.
The first stumbling block is Corbyn’s overwhelming victory in the leadership election. To gain nearly 60% of the vote in a four-horse race is astonishing. It shows how much a large segment of the Labour Party and its supporters are sick to the back teeth with the Tory-lite of Blairism. Nor is that support a passing fad. A recent YouGov poll showed 86% of Corbyn supporters in the leadership election think he is doing a good job as leader, a view shared by 66% of Labour voters. Corbyn’s electoral mandate alone makes it difficult to mount a challenge to him and the continued high levels of support he is getting from Labour members bolster that mandate. There is also the embarrassing lack of a strong candidate to challenge Corbyn. Alan Johnson would be an obvious choice, but he has more than once made it clear that he is not interested in becoming leader.
But suppose a challenge did arise. Would Corbyn be required to gain 15% of the PLP to nominate him, or would he be allowed to stand simply because he is leader? This is not clear because Labour’s “politburo” the National Executive Council (NEC) would probably decide the matter. But whichever way the NEC decided, the PLP would be in a bind. If Corbyn did stand he would in all probability win the contest again, for it is difficult to see how it could be run on a different franchise than the vote that elected Corbyn leader. Alternatively, if he were unable to run because the NEC decided he had to meet the 15% of the PLP to nominate him and he was unable to do so, that would quite reasonably be seen by both Labour supporters, and to some degree the public at large, as at best shabby and at worst straightforward chicanery.
Ironically, Corbyn has supported the idea of regular vote to elect or re-elect a leader. During the leadership election, he said this:
“I think there should be an opportunity to elect or not elect the leader regularly, every one or two years – so that we don’t go into this idea that ‘The leader’s vulnerable, we’ve got to get rid of the leader or not get rid of the leader’, because the system is already there in place. Bring back democracy into the Labour Party and the labour movement.”
But even if such a regulation were put in place, if the franchise remains much as it is now, Corbyn would probably win. The problem for the anti-Corbynites is the fact that, for all the absurdity of the day-to-day circumstances created by his election, Corbyn represents not just the hard left, but also a substantial number of voters who do not want to see Britain getting into yet another futile war, who would be happy to see the utilities (the railways, energy companies and water companies) taken back into public ownership, and above all, those who have found that their lives become more and more precarious as inequality has grows.
There are other methods by which Corbyn might be persuaded to go, such as a mass resignation from his shadow cabinet, a large number of Labour MPs stating publicly he should go, or a vote of no confidence in Corbyn. All depend on the man not being stubborn and resigning. If Corbyn refused to resign, and I suspect he would, calls for him to resign would be a dead letter.
The sad truth is that the Labour Party are in serious danger of ceasing to be a serious Party. If Corbyn remains for any extended period, there is every chance that the party will split and become irrelevant as a contender to form a government, either on their own or even as the dominant party in a coalition. That would not be healthy because it is not healthy for any democracy to have only one party or political grouping with any hope of holding office.