Polar opposite plotting
According to some reports from the anti-Corbyn rebels in the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn is going, come hell or high water, this time or next. Owen Smith’s anticipated defeat will merely be a setback, a postponement — a slight change to the schedule. The rebels say they’ll launch annual leadership challenges, planned battles in a promised war of attrition that only ends when Corbyn is defeated. If the rebels are to be believed, they will try and try and try until they win.
I’ve had little cause to take the rebels’ rhetoric seriously, but thought this plausible. Unlike many other of their claims, which only work if you gamble on speculation actually being cold hard certainty, this is something plotting MPs actually have the power to do. The message to the Labour Party membership is clear; “back us or deal with annual instability, constant negative briefing and a certain Conservative victory in the next general election”.
It is tempting to take the rebels at their word. They reportedly have a fighting fund of a quarter of a million sterling, to be spent on fighting Corbyn the moment he wins his second Labour leadership election. They’ve the numbers to trigger another leadership election and a candidate in mind for when that happens. Many of them were looking beyond Owen Smith weeks ago. David Miliband, failed candidate of six years past, is being touted as the next man to run for the leadership.
Corbyn’s supporters may feel a due sense of dread, not at the outcome necessarily, but simply the prospect of being plunged into further internecine conflict. Another contest will cause more division. The Tories will use the self-inflicted chaos as cover for whatever havoc they’re wreaking on the NHS , virtually unchallenged.
The dread may not be justified. The rebels have never been as strong as they’ve pretended to be. Upcoming changes in the Labour Party will erode much of the strength that remains even further.
Balance of the NEC slides in Corbyn’s favour
First, and already in the bag, the Labour Party will have six new NEC members, all left-leaning and in support of Corbyn’s policy platform.
The new NEC representatives will take their seats after the Labour conference concludes in September. While the clock cannot be turned back, the election of the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance NEC candidates should spare the Labour Party a repeat of shameful, anti-democratic episodes, such as the the attempts to keep Corbyn off the ballot. The disenfranchisement of voters from a political party has been perhaps the most damaging long term consequence of this coup. The Conservatives now get to say that elements of Labour place little faith in democracy, with considerable justification.
Reselection and deselection
The behaviour of many of the coup plotters has prompted calls for deselection. When Corbyn took a collegiate approach in his early days as leader, calls for deselection would have been nigh on unthinkable, only really surfacing after the Syria vote. Today, not only is deselection openly talked about by the leadership; it could be the only way that certain constituency situations are resolved. How else will Labour ever plant roots in the scorched earth of Angela Eagle’s Wallasey?
Due to the Conservatives’ plan to contract the House of Commons to 600 seats, reselection may be required even if not specifically requested by local members. Up to two hundred Labour seats could be affected by the change, with under quota seats being the most likely to face revision and reselection. Interestingly, many of the under quota Labour seats are some of the safest they presently hold in the North West, North East and South Wales. Owen Smith himself could be reselected as part of the plans.
House of cards
Boundary changes in clutches of safe seats are not a problem for the Labour Party as a whole, but represent a significant problem for the coup plotters, largely due to candidate selection policies in the past. Blair’s Labour was notorious for selecting centrally favoured candidates over local people in safe seats, termed Red Princes by some of the more cynical commentators. Temporary uproar would follow each paradrop, but generally, the party got its way and the fuss would die down.
Luciana Berger’s selection as candidate for Liverpool Wavertree was particularly acrimonious. Despite having little experience of the city, she was selected ahead of Wendy Simon, a local councillor much better placed to represent the needs of the constituency. At one stage, the outrage was such that Ricky Tomlinson was going to stand on a Socialist Labour ticket. Shame he didn’t. He’d have had my vote, and certainly wouldn’t have made the colossal cultural faux pas of sharing a platform with the justifiably despised former Sun editor, Kelvin MacKenzie — as Berger did.
Liverpool Wavertree is far from an isolated case. The aforementioned Angela Eagle’s selection in Wallasey was a similar tale. She was selected over a left-wing local candidate. Stephen Twigg was transplanted into ultra-safe West Derby after being voted out of Enfield Southgate in 2005, with Bob Wareing deselected to make way in 2010.
The imposition of candidates became so widespread and so normal that by 2015, Labour was trying the same trick in marginals like Southampton Itchen with Rowenna Davis. Despite being extremely capable, she ended up losing to Royston Smith, the local Conservative candidate. He has gone on to win the somewhat dubious honour of “Britain’s laziest MP”.
The cumulative consequences of top down selection have turned Labour into a party where many of its most centrist MPs are in its most left-wing seats, with very little in common with the people they represent, least of all ideologically.
Nearly all of New Labour’s problems are of its own making, and in many cases, they have achieved the exact opposite of their objective. Top down selection was designed to secure the centrist revolution, yet centrist MPs are possibly in the most politically precarious place they’ve ever been.
After years of denying such charges, Peter Mandelson finally admitted that in 2004, Labour sent search parties out for immigrants. When a new country joins the EU, existing members have seven years before they are obligated to implement freedom of movement. New Labour waived that requirement with states from the 2004 enlargement, allowing citizens to enter immediately. The aim was to create a Labour-leaning multicultural vote, keeping the Tories out for generations. The result was swamped public services, the rise of UKIP, a Tory-led government by 2010 and a Brexit vote in 2016.
Even Corbyn’s position as leader is New Labour blowback. The right wing of the party was incensed with the unions’ decisive role in choosing “the wrong Miliband”. One Member One Vote was accordingly designed to curb union power in Labour Party decisions. The result was Jeremy Corbyn’s election to the leadership in an unprecedented landslide.
Time after time, New Labour barreled in with little consideration as to what happened next, be it PFI, Iraq or the enabling act it created in 2006. They’re hardly alone on the short-termism front, but they’ve demonstrated a dismal record for delivery. It’s worth repeating; they frequently achieved the exact opposite to their stated intention. That really takes some doing — and they’re doing it again.
The purpose of the coup was to dethrone the Labour leader without having to contest him. The plotters failed to avoid the dreaded electoral contest. Barring a miracle for Smith, Corbyn is likely to win with an increased mandate and a strengthened position — even after the disenfranchisement and purging of Labour members.
The rebels set out to demonstrate that Corbyn was unfit to lead. In doing so, they’ve unwittingly managed to illustrate that he’s the only person fit to be entrusted with Labour values and that their wing of the party is profoundly unfit to lead.
Once again, it’s the exact opposite of what they wanted. A split now seems inevitable. If and when that happens, let’s hope its one of the few things New Labour gets right.