By thinking of everyone and everything in terms of being “Blairite” or “Corbynite”, Labour risks succumbing to a black-and-white view of the party and wider politics which the country neither understands nor cares for.
Labour lost the vote on the European Union for a multitude of complex reasons: arguments of sovereignty, lies about NHS funding, racism, and yes, Corbyn’s lacklustre leadership and apparent negligence of the “Labour In” campaign. The general election was the same, not simply due to Labour being too left or too right or too uncompromising or too hesitant. There is no single scapegoat and there will be no easy fix.
It’s not fair to call the events of the past few days a “Blairite coup”. The idea that the majority of the PLP has been opposed to Corbyn’s leadership from its beginning is a misguided one – though certainly there is no lack of Corbyn-cynics in the opposition, and perhaps a fair few opportunists who would like a Blair-esque direction for the party. Labour MPs of all shades have resigned, including those aligned with Corbyn’s politics and those who nominated the leader last summer, like Lisa Nandy and Sarah Champion. From reading the letters of many of those who resigned it’s evident that most of these decisions have not been made from self-interested motivations; Angela Eagle spoke in tears on BBC News about the fate of the party, but yet was still called a “careerist” by some Corbyn supporters.
It helps no one, certainly not the electorate, to present weak arguments of right-wing PLP conspiracies; Corbyn’s first shadow cabinet was a broad church, including a lot of MPs who rallied around him and urged others to do so also. The fact that now they are conceding this support is significant and their reasons deserve consideration instead of falsely being labelled as “Blairites”.
Rejection of Corbyn’s leadership is not just coming from his political opponents within the party, but from his allies too, such as Thomas Piketty, a left-wing economist who stood down as Corbyn’s adviser on Wednesday. Many former supporters have criticised Corbyn on leadership and on strategy, rather than on policy. This is why it’s important to not revert to “Corbyn or nothing” arguments; Corbyn is not the only figure in the party advocating social liberation, anti-austerity and grassroots politics – the former are principles that the three main potential contenders, Owen Smith, Angela Eagle, and Tom Watson, do hold dear. Arguments that any criticism of Corbyn’s leadership equals support of the alternative end of the Labour political spectrum are redundant. The party isn’t facing a choice between Corbyn or massively moving the party to the right; it’s facing one between Corybn as leader and a new, currently unspecified, alternative.
Possibly the issue stretches beyond these black-and-white insults – different factions of the party use the “Blairite” and “Corbynite” (or “Corbynista”) labels to signify immorality and ahistorical revisions of the party’s history. The party too often tries to cling to a perception of what “true Labour values” are, labelling anyone advocating something different to this view as “traitorous”. The nostalgic revisionism of Labour’s history is an interesting one, where some see Attlee as a determined socialist radical, rather than a reluctant moderate, and the right now look to Blair as a model for future Labour electoral success that would be able to cure all current problems between the party and the nation currently. The Labour Party was created at the turn of the 20th Century to be the party of social justice for the working class and for unionised workers; now in a post-Thatcher landscape, the demographics of the country have drastically changed, but still the party needs to balance this knowledge with a commitment to its historical values of fairness, equality, and justice.
What’s increasingly clear in such uncertain times is that the electorate will soon be experiencing a deep sense of betrayal on the part of the Leave campaign when Brexit as a panacea for economic problems does not come to fruition. Leave won on a campaign of lies and extortionate promises. To counter the blatant lies and scaremongering of those who pushed the UK out of the economic and political sanctuary of the European Union, Labour needs to be a party of truth, balance, and self-awareness more than it has ever before. The current reductive and incorrect arguments from all factions of the party are bad habits that the party cannot fall into if it is willing to stand up for those duped into marking Leave on their ballot papers. From all sides of the party disingenuous and imprecise claims have been made, from “Blairite coups” and PLP conspiracies, to speculation on how Corbyn voted in the referendum, to recycled falsehoods about MPs’ true motivations.
The Labour Party is facing an existential threat. What is needed is an examination of data from recent polls, the referendum, and the last election. What is needed is trust in the views of both the party membership and MPs, who work tirelessly to gain Labour victories across the country. These discussions will be emotionally fraught and difficult to have, but different sides of the party must abandon factionalism and have thoughtful, evidence-based, balanced conversations. Only when each side of the debate on whether to keep or oust Corbyn can overcome instinctive defensive reactions will the party be able to reach the right decision for it – whatever that may be.