Let’s tackle the big question first: If the 172 rebels in the Parliamentary Labour Party manage to keep Jeremy Corbyn’s name off a future leadership election ballot paper, then it won’t be a democratic election and the best result they’ll be able to expect is a split in the party, the loss of hundreds of thousands of members and a significant proportion of their trade union backing (as TU members vote to cut off the MPs they will say betrayed Labour).
Supporters of the 172 have dredged up an argument from the 1980s, when Tony Benn challenged Neil Kinnock, but it isn’t a part of the party’s rules. They say that an incumbent leader is entitled to stand in a leadership election without seeking the support of MPs.
It seems to This Writer that the current situation provides a perfect example of the reason for that: Democracy.
The majority of the party membership still want Jeremy Corbyn as leader, because they consider him to be the only one with policies they support. The 172 are too far to the right wing of politics and have had two failed chances to win general elections with policies that were too similar to those of the Conservatives.
But the majority of the party membership don’t get to provide signatures in support of candidates, to get them on leadership ballot papers.
In order for the grassroots members to be represented, a leader they have already supported must be allowed to stand for re-election.
Concerns about a leadership election are probably meaningless in any case, as the 172 seem likely to leave Jeremy Corbyn to stew for at least a short period – as he let them stew and flounder after the attempted coup last week.
Such a period of silence will allow their agent provocateurs, on TV and in the press, to spread uncertainty about Mr Corbyn. Already they are claiming he is not as popular as he was last year (in fact, it seems he is more popular, with thousands of people joining the Labour Party simply so they can vote for him and the policy platform he represents).
And we will see more preposterous stories like those we’ve had over the last couple of days – the ‘anti-Semitism’ claim of Ruth Smeeth, the ‘lunge’ claim put forward in the Torygraph and denied by the alleged victim, and the ‘attempted resignation’ of new Shadow Cabinet members that has been denied by Andy Burnham and several of the other MPs who were allegedly involved. The latter was mentioned on Andrew Neil’s Sunday Politics, despite having been thoroughly debunked, with not a single voice raised in contradiction.
The only response is for Labour members to make their voices heard. Already we’ve had rallies in support of Mr Corbyn, while constituency Labour parties and regional Labour groups have stated their support.
The 172 and their supporters will be hoping that, if they delay any action long enough, people will lose interest and support for Mr Corbyn will drop off. It is important for democracy that they must be proved wrong.
Do we really want to tell the world that democracy only works until people get bored? Of course not.
So perhaps it is time for another option to come into play.
If members of the 172 continue to dither, perhaps their local CLPs should consider voting on whether they should be allowed to continue as Labour representatives.
- They don’t represent policies supported by the majority of Labour members.
- They are trying to prevent Labour members from making their views clear in a democratic leadership election.
- And they are actively sabotaging Labour’s effectiveness as a Parliamentary political movement by obstructing party business.
In these extraordinary circumstances, it seems reasonable for CLPs to review their support for those MPs, with a view either to having the Labour whip withdrawn or indeed expelling those MPs from the Labour Party altogether. Dead weight is worthless.
It is entirely possible that there’s nothing in the rule book to permit such action. That’s fine – it’s an extraordinary situation. That doesn’t mean CLP members can’t vote for it.
Even those constituencies that don’t have Labour MPs can support such moves.
So, Labour members, it’s up to you. What do you want to do?
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