Alex Moore sees three paths Labour can choose right now. The trouble is: none of them end well.
A lot has happened in the past few weeks: Labour MPs staged a protest against their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who has suffered mass resignations from his Shadow Cabinet, lost a vote of no confidence by 172-40 votes and is now facing a leadership challenge. After all of this, he still refuses to resign.
As a result, Mr Corbyn was challenged to a leadership contest by Angela Eagle closely followed by Owen Smith. Mrs Eagle has since dropped out of the race, backing Mr Smith as the sole anti-Corbyn candidate. As a result, the Labour Party faces three options – none of which look particularly pleasant.
Option 1: Corbyn resigns
The first way this situation can be resolved is if Jeremy Corbyn resigns. Now, the problem with that is Jeremy was elected leader with a huge democratic mandate: 60 per cent of Labour party members voted for him. Assuming that the majority of these members still support him (and considering that most of them are heavily ideological millennials), a resignation would bring outrage and disillusionment amongst the younger generation of Labour members. These younger members will protest, they will fight for Jeremy Corbyn, and they will lose faith in the party – thus Labour will have a huge problem on its hands for many years to come.
Furthermore, Mr Corbyn is far too stubborn to stand down. He has said repeatedly, that he will not “betray” the party members who voted for him by standing down, despite the fact that the Parliamentary Labour Party can’t stand him. There are many reasons for this. A lot of Labour MPs don’t like their leader’s staunch opposition to Trident – in fact, 140 of them voted in favour of Trident renewal, while 47 voted against and 41 were absent or abstained. There are also some who claim, quite rightly, that Mr Corbyn took a very lax approach to the EU referendum campaign – the straw which broke the camel’s back and led to the “no confidence” vote. Clearly, the attitudes of the party members do not match the attitudes of the Parliamentary Labour Party – Corbyn has turned the party into his party, with his ideals and his membership to back it up. The problem is that his Members of Parliament aren’t happy with it.
Option 2: Corbyn stays and faces a leadership contest
This is currently looking like the most likely option, with Owen Smith to challenge Mr Corbyn to a bare-knuckles brawl to the death. How exciting. But it’s a bad idea for many reasons.
Firstly, Jeremy Corbyn still has a huge loyal following. A leadership contest will solve nothing for the 172 no-confidence MPs: Mr Corbyn will presumably win any contest he stands in. Except a general election where he looks set to lose by 11 points.
Finally, if the Labour elites think that a leadership battle is any way to mend the great divide within the party then they are, unfortunately, misguided fools. A contest would result in the losing side becoming quite understandably bitter – to put it lightly – and possibly splitting off into a separate party. Given the, frankly, quite extreme actions by a lot of Labour members – the brick being thrown through the window of Angela Eagle’s constituency office, John McDonnell referring to rebel Labour MPs as “f*cking useless” – whichever way the contest goes, it is not unfeasible to imagine a bitter losing side fracturing off into their own party. And so, we arrive at option 3.
Option 3: Split
Realistically, this could happen as a result of either of the two above options, making it an ever more foreboding and dangerous possibility.
In this scenario, Corbynites or the rebel MPs – depending on who loses the coming contest – would break off from the Labour Party in order to form their own. The left wing vote would split, liberal voices in Parliament would become few and far between and the Tories could continue to push an austere platform without an effective opposition. This would be, quite frankly, the single worst thing to happen to democracy in the UK in a very long time.
A democracy is not a democracy without a credible opposition. Without a united Labour Party, the Conservatives would go about their austerity, Philip Hammond would be able to reset this Conservative government’s fiscal policy and Brexit would be negotiated on the terms of Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox – all without the scrutiny of an organised opposition party. I do not support the Labour Party and yet I accept their integral role in keeping the Conservatives in line.
To put things frankly, this scenario would be a disaster. To make matters even worse, it is a plausible one.
I will be supporting Owen Smith in the coming contest. Mr Corbyn clearly did not put enough work into the EU referendum campaign and he cannot lead a party which has no faith in him for the next four years. A party leader should command the confidence of both MPs and members – just one of these groups is not good enough, especially when your political system is a parliamentary democracy. That Mr Corbyn has reacted to the losing of one of these groups with a staunch refusal to take responsibility for his actions and resign is a poor reflection of his character. Given that Mr Corbyn has said that all parliamentary seats will be up for reselection, a victory for him will likely result in a party split. A Smith victory is less likely to result in a split – but it’s also less likely to happen at all.
I once loved the Labour Party. I once admired them for standing up for young people, for their liberal policies, for fighting the good fight. It looks, however, as if that will be destroyed in the coming months. They are so caught up in their own petty disputes that they’ve lost sight of their goals. The massive wounds will not be healed with one little leadership contest. Looking at it now, there’s no easy way out for Labour.