Having spent much of the past three years writing about Chartism and its importance in the development of radical working-class politics, it is ironic that during those years that the Labour Party has degenerated from a credible opposition and potential government into political farce. The precipitous resignation of Ed Miliband in the immediate aftermath of his defeat in the 2015 General Election and the consequent leadership election in which Jeremy Corbyn--left-wing, arch-rebel and only on the ballot paper when some MPs ‘lent him’ their vote—surprisingly emerged victorious.
That Jeremy was not expected to win…something that he probably thought himself at least to begin with…and that he did reflected a growing disconnect between Labour politics as seen from Westminster and the Labour Party and perhaps more importantly (electorally) in the country. Those who support Jeremy initially came from the young..and his motivating the young to become involved in politics is important…but many of those thrown out of the Party in the 1980s and 1990s re-emerged..the problem of ‘entryism’…often with views of politics that had changed little. It is perhaps not surprising that the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party took a contrary view…from the beginning Jeremy did not have the wholehearted support of his MPs. Increasingly the issue between him and his MPs was not one of policies—though inevitably there were differences between the leader and his troops—but whether he was or was not a credible leader and future Prime Minister. This was evident right from the beginning…one remembers the National Anthem incident (a grossly overplayed issue by the government)…and over the past ten months have reoccurred with monotonous regularity. To be fair, Jeremy made concessions to his opponents sitting behind him on issues such as active intervention in Syria by making it a free vote but this showed him as a weak leader unable to get his MPs to vote for his policies.
What has happened in the past few weeks has been a slow motion car crash. Matters have now come to a head with the failure of attempts to persuade Jeremy to resign as party leader following the ‘rolling resignations’ from the Shadow Cabinet. What is clear is that there is now an unbridgeable chasm between the PLP and the leadership with its ‘mandate’ from the party membership. Will changing the leader actually help? Well probably not. Despite restricting the electorate in the forthcoming contest between Jeremy Corbyn and Angela Eagle and/or Owen Smith (assuming those opposed to Corbyn can get their act together) for, as one MP has it, for the ‘soul of the Labour Party’, whoever wins it difficult to see the party coming together at least in the short term. The divisions are now so deep, the internicine, intimidating behaviour so intense and the words spoken so toxic that they are not going to be healed overnight, if they can be healed at all.