Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Loyalty, disloyalty and British politics

The question of loyalty has been important over the last few days in Westminster and it seems tome to represent the growing dysfunction at the heart of both Conservative and Labour parties.  For the Conservatives it is the long-running schism between those who want to stay in Europe and those who do not while for Labour, it’s arguably the even longer battle between the left and the centre for control of the party.

Ken Livingstone, who is co-chairing Labour's review of Trident, has insisted Jeremy Corbyn was right to get rid of Michael Dugher and Pat McFadden, saying: ‘You can't have shadow team going on telly and slagging off Jeremy.’  Why ever not?  This is precisely what Jeremy did on many occasions during his decades on the backbenches.  The outcome of what must be the longest reshuffle in history has been two shadow ministers being sacked and Maria Eagle being moved from defence to culture and Hilary Benn coming to an ‘agreement’ that, although he may disagree in private, he will toe the party line in public, something that his ‘friends’ appear to deny.  Jeremy’s calls for greater discussion and democracy within the party—something he trumpeted during his election campaign and subsequently—is beginning to look somewhat tattered.  This may have been a credible stance when you are oppositionist in attitude but it is increasingly becoming obvious that it is not a credible position to take in opposition.  Of necessity, Jeremy needs to be seen as the leader of the opposition not leader of the oppositionists and in that respect sacking Shadow Cabinet ministers for ‘disloyalty’ is perfectly logical.  This does, however, raise questions about what ‘democracy’ means in the Labour Party today and it increasingly appears that it is Jeremy who is the fount of all democratic wisdom, a reflection of his oppositionist career.  What I find interesting in the attitude of what is increasingly seen by Labour as an anti-Corbyn ‘commentariat’ is that their focus is almost exclusively on what is happening in Westminster rather than in the country.  How far, for instance, have the Corbynistas been able to influence the direction and position of local branches of the Labour Party?  This is something that appears little in the media and yet surely it is at least as important, and arguably more important, than the shenanigans in Westminster.  For Ralph Miliband, this was the source of his ‘parliamentary socialism’.

This morning Chuka Umunna has described David Cameron’s decision to allow ministers to campaign for either side in the EU referendum once a deal is reached on the UK’s relationship with the EU as ‘fairly ludicrous’.  Yet this is precisely what Harold Wilson did with his divided Cabinet in 1975.  Without this relaxation of collective responsibility, there would almost certainly have been resignations so the Prime Minister’s decision removes one of many possible problems those in favour of staying in have removed.  It was a purely practical solution to a problem.

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