The price of unity
Another response to Owen Jones
I have a lot of respect for Owen Jones both as a socialist and a political commentator. Reading his work, I certainly have more views in common with him than disagreements. Unlike many others, I welcomed his earlier critique on Jeremy Corbyn (Questions All Jeremy Corbyn Supporters Need To Answer) and indeed responded with my own blog. Equally I welcome his latest analysis and once again feel obliged to respond.
I broadly agree with much of what Owen writes. Certainly in terms of strategy it is essential that we develop a clear concise vision of what a Jeremy Corbyn led Labour Party represents. That vision has to address concerns from across the various sections of the electorate and must be a united vision of all sections of our party. That is really where I have some reservations about what Owen suggests. Genuine unity has a price.
If one thing has become blatantly obvious, it is that certain elements within our party neither share anything like a common vision with the majority or a commitment to truly democratic principles. Since the beginning of this debacle of a leadership contest, my call has been, in the interest of party unity, for dissident MP’s to end the infighting and return to the fold. With the exception of Sarah Champion MP, that call was not heeded and the hugely damaging ‘no-contest’ to unseat the democratically elected leader continued.
Owen Jones has much to say about relations with the PLP, but I feel he misses a crucial point. Short of complete subjection to their will, unity is not and never has been, in the leadership’s gift. Coming together requires those of the PLP who started this crisis to recognise that not only have they failed, but in doing so have caused much harm to the electoral chances of the Party. While I concur that an overturning of their vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn would be welcome, I simply can not see it happening. Too much has been said and done; the animosity between the membership and the PLP has been stoked to such a degree that it is now inevitable that the positions of some MP’s and Party officers is untenable. One way or another, there will be a reckoning. There will be a price to pay. As unpalatable as that may be; how ever much some may find it self defeating, in my view, it is simply now an unavoidable fact.
My intention here is not to apportion blame for a continuing division within Labour, nor to advocate for it or otherwise. I only point out what to me seems obvious. I have never believed that the challenge to the leadership was anything to do with Jeremy Corbyn’s competence, his handling of the EU referendum, his pre-coup standing in the polls or any other reason that has been suggested during the leadership contest. Despite the presentation of a soft left opponent espousing similar policies, I firmly believe that it is the leftward direction of travel which the leader intends for the Party that is, for many MP’s, the real objection to him. They plotted against his leadership from the beginning and if he is re-elected, I believe they will continue to do so. How their opposition will manifest remains to be seen, but the creation of Saving Labour and Labour Tomorrow is perhaps an indication that such opposition will persist.
The other obstacle to unity is the way in which the election has been handled. Perhaps more accurately, mishandled. There are at least 130,000 new members who were retrospectively dis-enfranchised from voting in this election plus an as yet unknown number purged. Life-long Labour Party members, activists, officers, delegates and supporters have not only been denied a vote, but in many instances thrown out of the Party. The shutting down of democratic debate, by banning branch and constituency meetings, is an additional feature of how democracy in the party has been undermined. This issue is not going to go away no matter who is elected as leader. Those who have been unfairly treated will demand exoneration and their rights as members restored. They will insist that those responsible must be held to account for their actions. Anything short of this will inevitably lead to more chaos and infighting.
While I understand Owen Jones’ call for unity, for the reasons mentioned, I believe it is naive to expect it. I agree that we are in electoral trouble if, as a party, we do not get our act together, but the electorate are not stupid. Some things can’t be swept under the carpet in the hope that we will appear united. The electorate will see straight through such falsehood. What we have to provide is genuine unity around a vision for change and re-electing Jeremy Corbyn alone will not achieve that. One way or another, we must address the underlying divisions within the Labour Party… and quickly. Only then will we have a viable offer to make to the electorate. Only then is there any hope of returning a Labour majority.
Genuine unity has a price… and I fear it is going to have to be paid.