Ben Ffrench reviews the Parliamentary toils of Labour’s new leader
Jeremy Corbyn will be feeling the heat now. No doubt. The plotting will only continue. But then they always were going to. And yet it will come as no surprise to Corbyn and his allies. They must watch their backs. They must be careful. Otherwise, after just under three months, Corbyn could go down as the shortest reigning Labour leader in history.
Corbyn could go down as the shortest reigning Labour leader in history.
Ever since Tony Blair introduced his ideology into the veins of the party, it has never been the same. Before I am lambasted for inflammatory rhetoric, let me get this clear. Labour were formed as a socialist party. Not Trotskyite, or communist, but socialist. That is what it says on their membership cards. But a lot of high profile MPs subscribe to Blairism. MPs who will stop at nothing to remove Corbyn.
And he’s not exactly made it hard for them. The little red book’s appearance was at best insensitive, at worst stupid. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell is still learning, but showing it to George Osborne, must not, and will not happen again. It gave Osborne an open goal, with the Chancellor remarking: ‘oh look, it’s a signed copy!’. Gaffes like these may seem insignificant, but are damaging. It detracted attention from Osborne latest omnishambles Autumn statement. It let down those who rely on Labour. And worst of all, it upped the pressure on Corbyn.
Who does a party belong to? Its MPs, its leader, or its members? This question is becoming ever more relevant with the Labour party. And what’s the answer? I’m telling you now.
Its members. Not a small majority of MPs from a bygone era, worshipping a divisive, one time leader. Its members. These people select the candidates. They attend the rallies. They pour their heart and soul into the party, just as much as MPs, if not more. And they select the leader. Who, right now, is Jeremy Corbyn.
Who does a party belong to? Its members.
The contradiction between members and MPs was made ever more clear on the night of Wednesday December 2. An overwhelming majority voted in favour of Syrian airstrikes, with 66 on the Labour side, while 75% of members are against it. David Cameron was quick to play on people’s fears after the Paris attacks. And a nasty Prime Minister bullied his MPs, calling those voting with Corbyn against air strikes ‘terrorist sympathisers’, at a meeting of Tory MPs. And with a whip, a heroic minority of just 7 Tories voted against.
Corbyn didn’t bring the whip into play. That’s not how he does things. And this debate was a perfect example of why not. Yes, you did hear that right. You can’t put a whip on matters of national security. So he lost. But a majority of Labour MPs voted against, and he will rightly count that as a victory. Some will argue this however: how can he be an effective leader and implement a whip, when he’s rebelled against it more than 500 times? Wouldn’t this be hypocrisy? It would. And that’s a strength. Without whipping power, Corbyn can’t just rely on his MPs. He has to convince everyone. This is arguably more effective than whipping, eliminating rebels.
But this debate brought out the worser elements of Labour Divisions. The Mud slinging and abuse that have much troubled the Labour party again reared its head. This ugly underside, if undealt with, will tear Labour apart. Before and during the debate on airstrikes, MPs such as Stella Creasy faced horrifying abuse. The Labour stalwart inparticular got a lot of vitriol. Local councillors and protesters lobbied her hard. She received images of dead Syrian babies, with threats of deselection if she voted for airstrikes.
I am against MPs voting for airstrikes, but this was wrong. In the end she voted in favour of the strikes. After these stupid and disgusting actions, it is no surprise. MPs like her will not be intimidated, and doing this made her far more likely to vote for the bombing. This is just one example of what happens when Labour division break into all out war.
I shouldn’t need to say this, but Corbyn responded well and maturely, as expected, with a joint letter of condemnation with Tom Watson, the deputy leader.
It’s not just on the Corbyn’s side. Tom Watson even dared to claim that Labour members protesting against airstrikes in Walthamstow, Creasy’s constituency, should be expelled from the party. This divisive intimidation defeats the deputy leader’s so called aims of unity, causing more conflict. He should apologise. MPs such as Simon Danczuk have given Corbyn much abuse, and the blairite has threatened to run as a stalking horse candidate. Moves like these undermine the unity of Labour and reopen the old arguments.
Stalking horse candidates aren’t the greatest threat to Corbyn
But Stalking horse candidates aren’t the greatest threat to Corbyn. He has a mandate from the Labour party. The divisions are. With more focus on the infighting, the focus on the Tories is gone. The Conservatives have already got away with enough, but could easily do more. Corbyn will not want this as his legacy.
The knives were out for Ed Miliband, and they will of course be out for Corbyn. But the fuss will calm down. All Corbyn needs to do is avoid getting the headlines for the wrong reasons. Irrelevant gestures like not singing the national anthem for example, are obviously unimportant, and actually quite good. But they can be blown up by the right wing media, and detract from the main goals. But the good news will come. The Labour party can take heart in Oldham in the by- election with a 10,000 majority. But they need to focus on the bigger picture. Only then can Corbyn deliver the mandate the Labour party voted him in for.