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Tears, threats and resignations….what’s left for the Labour party?

Tears, threats and resignations….what’s left for the Labour party?

🕔29.Jun 2016

Never underestimate the ability of the Labour party to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

Just at a time of maximum danger for the Government, with Tories split apart over Europe and a lame duck leader, when the need for a united opposition party with a credible plan has never been greater, Labour is engaged in a feud that makes the Militant insurgency of the 1980s look like the teddy bears’ picnic.

As things stand, and with the pace that this saga is moving at anything may have happened in the time it takes to publish this post, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has witnessed the resignation of well over half his shadow cabinet and front bench team since Sunday, has been defeated 172 to 40 in a no confidence vote by MPs, and is still attempting to carry as if nothing much has happened.

It goes almost without saying that in all of the long, proud history of the Labour party nothing on this scale has happened before. It is a cliché to say a political party or a country is in uncharted waters, but my goodness there are occasions when clichés are appropriate, and this is one such occasion.

It can only be imagined what impact Labour’s increasingly bitter and personal battle is having on the British public, but there surely can be few voters who regard the party as even approaching Government material in its current state, while a poll leaked to The Guardian newspaper suggests 25 per cent of the party’s supporters are considering not voting Labour in the wake of the European referendum debacle.

Birmingham Yardley MP Jess Phillips – who else? – was spotted at Westminster yesterday haranguing Seumas Milne, the ultra-hard-left communications chief to hard-left Mr Corbyn. Phillips reportedly told Milne “this is f***ing personal” and claimed that one of the Labour leader’s supporters had threatened online to take a blow torch to her neck. Mr Milne said she shouldn’t take it personally. She then apparently described Mr Milne as a “cock”. Nice people.

Labour MPs were emotional during the PLP meeting that delivered the crushing no confidence vote in Mr Corbyn. Many pleaded with him to do the honourable thing and resign since it must surely be obvious that Labour cannot win a General Election under his leadership.

To add to the sense of pantomime, shadow DCLG minister Liz McInnis was one of the 40 MPs voting for Corbyn, and then promptly resigned saying the scale of the revolt showed Labour “are unable to be as united and as effective as we need to be for the sake of the nation”. Labour veteran Margaret Beckett wept on the BBC Today programme, literally in tears as she urged Corbyn to stand aside and let Labour “get its act together”.

But the stubborn Mr Corbyn, who in the true tradition of the Bennites (Tony, not Hilary) believes it should be Labour members across the country that set policy and elect party leaders, and was of course chosen by an overwhelming majority of members less than a year ago, is determined to fight on to the bitter end.

Commenting on the no confidence vote, Mr Corbyn said:

I was democratically elected leader of our party for a new kind of politics by 60 per cent of Labour members and supporters, and I will not betray them by resigning.

Today’s vote by MPs has no constitutional legitimacy.

We are a democratic party, with a clear constitution. Our people need Labour party members, trade unionists and MPs to unite behind my leadership at a critical time for our country.

Inevitably today the 51 MPs required to trigger a leadership election will submit the required letter to Labour’s National Executive Committee. The NEC will have to make a tricky decision – do the party’s rules state that the leader is automatically a candidate in the event of a leadership challenge? Mr Corbyn’s camp says it has unequivocal legal advice that this is the case.

At the moment the 33-strong NEC consists of a majority of Corbyn supporters chiefly through 12 seats held by union leaders. If the unions stick with Mr Corbyn, then he will be on the ballot paper for a leadership election the result of which may not be known until the party conference which is to be held in Liverpool at the end of September.

There is much talk of former shadow business secretary Angela Eagle as a “unity candidate” to take on Mr Corbyn. But who is Angela Eagle? Apart from being Labour’s first openly lesbian MP and being the Oxford-educated daughter of a Yorkshire print worker, Ms Eagle is not a figure hitherto to have come to the attention of the great British electorate.

Tom Watson, the Black Country MP who is deputy Labour leader, has a far higher profile and would probably have a better chance of leading the party to election victory, or at least to a credible General Election result, but shows a curious reluctance to throw his hat into the ring.

In the meantime, Momentum, the Corbyn supporters’ organisation, aka the revolutionary shock troops of the hard-left, will continue to demonstrate and march in attempt to keep their man at the head of the Labour party.

Momentum held rallies in Newcastle, Leeds and Bristol after the no confidence vote and the Labour leader will address another rally in London this evening.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey condemned the “extraordinary behaviour” of Labour MPs who stood down in protest at Mr Corbyn’s leadership.

“If anyone wants to change the Labour leadership, they must do it openly and democratically through an election, not through resignations and pointless posturing.

If there has to be such an election, Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters throughout the movement will be ready for it.

And so the scene is set for a bitter battle where the very future of the Labour party may be at stake.

Should Jeremy Corbyn be re-elected leader in a few months’ time it is not impossible to imagine at least 100 Labour MPs splitting from the party and sitting in the Commons as a separate centre-left grouping. We may indeed be seeing the culmination of the great left realignment begun by the SDP 30 years ago. It really is that serious.

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