THE MYTH OF LABOUR’S BROAD CHURCH
Today we examine a particularly disingenuous Blairite catchphrase — the claim that Labour should be a “Broad Church”.
It pops up quite a lot in discussions of the leadership, although its most famous recent use was by Sadiq Khan in an attack on Corbyn soon after Khan’s election to his Mayoralty.
What people mean when they say this is….well, hard to know what they mean actually. It’s one of the many vacuous phrases Corbyn’s opponents throw around in the hope of shutting down the debate before it arrives at their flimsy and illogical lines of argument.
But OK, let’s strip it down to basics and assume that what they are saying is that Labour should incorporate a large diversity of opinions within it.
Doesn’t really make sense if you think about it for more than a second, does it?
Firstly, are they applying this formula on a country or a party level?
Are they saying that Labour should literally incorporate all points on the political spectrum within the entire country? Liberal? OK. Tory??? UKIP??? BNP??? Militant??? Trotskyists???
In that case what is the point of Labour at all? Surely Labour is NOT there to be a broad church. It’s there to try and promote a certain set of values within our political system — a distinctive set of values that is in competition with the values of other Parties. It is not there to act as a Social Club, a Fraternity or a patronage machine in the style of the US Democrats, the French Gaullists or Putin’s United Russia Party. It is not just a recruiting mechanism for promising young tehcnocrats, much though the SPAD demographic within the Party would like it to be.
On other occassions, when they have forgotten the whole “Broad Church” thing, Smithites like to blether on about how “only in power can we put our values into action” What values are these then? An amorphous, grey mishmash that chimes with the opinion of everyone in the entire country? Truly worth fighting for!
Of course the Broad Church inclusiveness absolutely doesn’t extend to Greens, let alone anyone to the left of them. The Labour Right harbour an overwhelming tribal hatred towards “Greens”, as well as for “Trots” and so on. Clearly, then, the Broad Church approach conveniently only applies when looking at positions to the right of, say, Ed Miliband.
So maybe they are talking in more narrow party terms? The Party should be more accepting of internal differences of opinion about how and how far to implement our goals? The Progress and Momentum tendencies should work together?
Oh no hang on, they can’t possibly mean that, considering how 172 MPs have absolutely refused to work with a leader elected by 250,000 members and tried to remove him by bullying him out. Considering how they are currently purging the membership of anyone they think might vote for Corbyn on blatantly flimsy grounds (including, by the way, previous support for other Parties) Considering how they blast the enthusiastic new members that Corbyn has attracted to the party as “Entryists”
According to the narrower Party definition of Broad Church Corbyn, by contrast, absolutely has tried his best to follow it, appointing the likes of Hillary Benn, Chris Bryant, Charlie Falconer and the Eagle twins to his Front Bench, and going out of his way to praise and support such people. They threw it back in his face, briefed against him, contradicted him openly on TV and launched a coup against him.
The “Broad Church” argument, then, turns out to be an entirely specious one, being both illogical and blatantly inconsistent with the actions of the people making it.
Of course the argument cannot be taken at face value. The motivation behind making it is entirely self-interested and manipulative.
Firstly, it is a weaselly way of trying to maintain the New Labour ethos of the Party despite the 2015 leadership election. What they’re really saying is “OK Corbyn won the leadership but nevertheless let’s keep the New Labour policies and ethos that election decisively rejected”
Secondly, it is a cover for them backing all sorts of outrageously right wing, typically Tory policies. If they want to advocate Marketisation of the NHS, or Union Busting, or cutting Corporation Tax this would normally and justifiably seen as shocking in a Labour context. In October 2015 (after Corbyn became leader) 21 Labour MPs abstained on the Tories’ fiscal charter (an austerity measure). In any sane world this would be seen as shocking behaviour — not only failing to oppose the Tories but on a key Labour line in the sand such as austerity. By trying to change the ethos of the party into one of a “Broad Church”, however, they give themselves a free licence to indulge as much of their right wing nonsense as they desire.