In This Writer’s experience, stories about splits, schisms and feuds in the Labour Party are distractions and bear no relationship with the situation on the ground.
Labour in the constituencies – or at least, in my local constituency – is looking very healthy indeed. Jeremy Corbyn’s election has brought with it a huge inflow of new or returning members and the mood is overwhelmingly optimistic.
This suggests that all the ‘Labour turmoil’ stories relate only to a tiny number of people in Westminster, rather than to any wider situation at all.
It is supported by the findings of Corbyn’s own consultation of Labour members over whether the UK should send warplanes to Syria – the responses indicated a larger proportion of the membership supported his own position than opposed it.
By contrast, we have the Labour MPs who supported air strikes – and their supporters – saying they are being bullied by vociferous party members who are overreacting to their decision.
It is an overreaction – and a deeply unpleasant one. There’s no justification for personal threats, or for sending pictures of severed heads to ‘rebel’ Labour MPs, and I will not try.
But it should be recognised that these MPs made very deliberate decisions to reject not only the will of their leader but also the will of their own electors. It is appropriate to ask whether they would have suffered any abuse at all, if they had accepted the will of the Labour Party at large.
They’ll hide behind the argument that they are representatives, not delegates (that the decision was theirs, rather than them having any responsibility to respond to the will of the people), but we’ve all been told – far too many times – that a decision to go to war is the most serious that an MP can make. If that’s right, then surely they should take notice when their voters express a view on it – especially one as vehement as what we’ve seen over the last week?
In that context, it is right that the behaviour of these rebels (if you like) should come under serious scrutiny. In that context, the squealing about bullying is a smokescreen.
They are in Parliament as representatives. They’re there as representatives of Labour policy. They might say it was a free vote, but the party at large made its will very well known.
These MPs reacted with scorn.
Did they honestly expect the voters they had treated with contempt to meekly accept it?
That was never going to happen.
Some of the reactions were far too strong, but criticism is deserved.
The real story, about the gravest decision any prime minister can make – deploying our armed services – was eclipsed by the Opposition’s woes.
Whenever David Cameron was under pressure, for example over his dodgy claim about 70,000 non-extremist fighters in Syria, he was let off the hook by Labour’s turmoil.
Even when Labour finally arrived at a position on air strikes – not to have one, and to allow its MPs a free vote – it did not stem the flow of damaging headlines.
The ones about the split were hard to avoid, since there were honestly held views on whether or not to extend RAF bombing from Iraq to Syria. But Labour’s deepest wounds were self-inflicted.
By today, my cuttings file was bulging with articles about the intimidation and bullying of Labour MPs by anti-war activists. There was pressure before Wednesday’s Commons vote and then threats to deselect the 66 who backed Mr Cameron rather than Jeremy Corbyn.
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