That there’s a coordinated plot by the Labour Right to unseat Jeremy Corbyn is beyond doubt but the plotters have a legal problem. They’d reckoned on thwarting the party rank and file by following a no confidence vote with a leadership election in which his name would not be on the ballot for want of the 50 PLP nominations the rules require. It seems their interpretation of those rules – that an incumbent leader must be nominated along with the challengers – may not be legally upheld. Corbyn’s name may go automatically on the ballot paper and, unless the game has shifted significantly, be re-elected. That will deepen the civil war between PLP and grass roots party members, as of course would his exclusion from the ballot.
But a more fundamental problem for the Labour Right was stated with admirable lucidity in a New Years Day piece by John Harris, the only Graun writer to get why Corbyn leads the Party:
… whatever his suitability for the job, Corbyn is where he is for one reason above all others: Britain’s post-1979 journey into a new reality of shrunken welfare state, marketised public services, rising inequality and impossible job market had reached a watershed with the deepening of austerity, and there was a need for a clear moral response, without which Labour was in danger of shrinking into meaninglessness. On that score, over the summer of 2015, the heirs to the New Labour project were found wanting; indeed, their very philosophy was fatally exposed.
Neither Corbyn nor neo-Blairites are well posed to win a general election. Blair pulled it off in ’97 not just because he had ‘moderate’ policies, JFK appeal and an electorate tired of the tories. He won because now discredited trickledown economics made a “3rd Way” seem plausible and allowed the C1/C2 vote to be tapped without alienating D/Es. His subsequent two wins were with shrinking majorities despite a Conservative Party in disarray under leaders chosen not for electoral appeal but stance on Europe. (Ken Clarke would have posed a more credible challenge to New Labour than Howard, IDS or Hague could ever do.) New Labour ‘realists’ dream fondly of a charismatic leader with centrist policies to woo Middle England and return the party to the glory days. Not possible. In spite of everything the tories are in better shape than in 1997-2010 but, more importantly, Britain’s fault lines have deepened and hardened. In an increasingly Disunited Kingdom a party may appeal to Middle England or burgeoning underclass but not both; not in sufficient numbers to win elections. The C1/C2s have the option of voting Tory or Lib-Dem while D/Es, long deemed to have no alternative to Labour, now have SNP, Ukip and (we can predict) parties further to the right. That Corbyn has such huge grass roots support, and near zero PLP backing, is more a reflection of our fragmented society than of a uniquely Labour problem. Ditto the fact not one of the frontbench rebels voted against the 2015 Welfare Bill.
I don’t suppose either of the warring factions see things as I present them here. I fear most really do think, depending on political outlook, that to win an election Labour just needs to be more socialist … just needs to be less socialist. Too few are thinking in a big and rigorous way about transformed structural realities no longer capable of underpinning a mass party that combines social democracy with the political voice of organised labour. Until they do start to engage seriously with the faultlines, as opposed to calling one another names, I’ll back Corbyn since his is the superior moral case.
That said, the future looks troubled – and not just for Labour.