Like a lot of people, I’ve just been watching Jeremy Corbyn, overwhelmingly confirmed as leader of the Labour Party, say nothing I really disagreed with and doing pretty well (with comparatively soft questions) on the Andrew Marr show. The last time I voted Labour was in 1983, which was roughly the last time either Jeremy Corbyn or I were ideologically comfortable with the direction of a Labour election manifesto. So why do I, along with a lot of people who are much more enthusiastic about Corbyn’s leadership than I am, feel that there is little to celebrate…just yet.
Well, because it is perfectly clear, both from the democratically dished but still disgruntled Parliamentary Party, and from the New Owners and Proprietors of the Labour Brand, that the civil war within the party…and a continuing lack of effective opposition to the divided and dithering Tory government…is far more likely this morning than not.
Jeremy said a lot of things about the Health Service, and about investment for example…but he also talked about the boundary changes which will mean that every sitting MP is up for re-selection. And if anyone thinks that doesn’t mean that every single CLP all over the country isn’t going to be completely consumed with re-selection between now and the next election, then they’ve never met a left wing activist. I’ve met a few in my time, I’ve BEEN one in my time, and the overwhelming attraction of fighting for an achievable local victory (as well as for the wider direction of “the movement”) means that the left of the Labour party will be right in its comfort zone, where they’ve always been happiest and most effective – fighting their own right wing and not the Tories – for the foreseeable future.
(The Tories are a damn sight more difficult to beat than the Blairites.)
Sitting as I am in another country, my own impatience makes me shout at the telly “Mother of God, there are going to be two Labour parties by, at the latest, the 2025 election…why don’t you just get on with it and SPLIT already!”
The anti-Tory majority of UK voters have historically allowed the Tories into power because their vote is already split, argue both the Corbynistas and the McTernans in reply to such a notion…the only way to beat them is to UNITE the PARTY…which means the other lot have to agree to cease to exist. And if they’d get on with disappearing it would be much better for everyone.
This is no more going to happen than Anas Sarwar’s plea for the SNP to cease to exist on September 19th 2014 was met with the acclaim of history. With peace having conspicuously failed to break out, both wings of the Labour Party, having written off the 2020 election, have some similarly vague notion that they will be able either to
a) overturn Corbyn after he’s beaten like a gong, or,
b) on the other hand, sweep to victory having de-selected “New” Labour without anyone noticing all the blood and screaming in the meantime
– all with just enough time to scrape together a victory for the “Real” Labour Party (take your pick) in 2025.
Oh, and by the way, Brexit means whatever Theresa and the chaps can cobble together in the meantime.
This scenario takes no account, you’ll notice, of Scotland – except that Corbyn granted “autonomy” to the Scottish Labour Party BEFORE the leadership election, and tried to take it away again, unsuccessfully, immediately AFTER.
This invisibility (or Brigadoon status) should not be at all surprising. One unintended effect of the presence of 56-ish SNP MPs in Westminster is a grand demonstration of the democratic irrelevance of “Scotland” as such in even so patently “national” a question as Brexit. Not quite believing it, having become used to being interesting and important for a bit, we are back on the sidelines where we belong.
Come now, the Tories might say, London too voted to Remain…Scotland is not a special case.
And, if what we did on September 18th 2014 – the rejection of democratic national sovereignty – was as binary a decision as the referendum made it, that would indeed be the case.
But politics is analog, mixed, complex – despite what Trump-esque demagogues promise. And a lot of us don’t think that’s quite what happened. We think that we voted No…for the moment…but kept the right to re-think that position. That Scotland asserted sovereignty, but chose to pool it within the UK, just as we chose to pool sovereignty within the EU in June of 2016. In both cases, we had a complicated analog answer to a simple binary question.
Besides, be under no illusions, the City of London, ably supported by the Tory government will find a way to do very bloody well out of Brexit. The brutal, schismatic Break up of Britain, which has been led by The City’s quasi –independence for getting on for thirty years, continues apace. Wales and regional England voted for London to become the tax haven for every crook in the world, even more than it already is. So the City, suitably ethnically and economically cleansed of all poor people apart from the messengers and cleaners…will do fine out of Brexit…don’t you worry.
And Scotland, like London, in the context iof the schism in these islands of which the Brexit decision is a part, is also trying to negotiate, via the SNP, on the basis of its own financial sector and of its limited sovereignty, for a “Soft Brexit.” Realistically, that is what the current phony war on another Independence referendum is about – it’s a negotiating posture.
And why not? Using the threat of independence to gain concessions from the Brits is what we do! It’s our entire economic basis! (We too accept that London is really the only place that really counts)
Hard Brexit will probably only come to those who voted for it, in Wales and regional England, and it will hurt like hell. And I don’t believe that either of the two Labour Parties…or the SNP, I fear…will be able to do a damn thing about it.
Unless, of course, Theresa and her Merry Band of Barmies screw up the negotiations so horribly that the virtues of constitutional “Hard” or “Soft” “Sexit” will be blindingly obvious to our bewildered electorate so that we meanwhile have and win very convincingly another referendum of our own…
But unless and until things over which we have very little control change very quickly in support of that strategy…we may be in for a long, dirty haul before that is even a possibility.
We’ll look back on September 18th 2014 in years to come and say, “Why did we have to pick the hard way? Why did we give them another chance?”