Labour (Leadership) Pains

Labour (Leadership) Pains

This lack of cohesion and alignment in philosophy and values is not that far from the mix that seems to have led to the aborted coup in Turkey last week

Jeremy Corbyn

Jeremy Corbyn

So, today the battle for the soul of the Labour party really begins. We now know that there will be only one challenger to the current leader Jeremy Corbyn, and that is Owen Smith.

Corbyn has been leader for less than a year, and his ascendancy to the role signalled a clear shift to the left for the Labour Party. Despite gaining more than 60% of the votes in last year’s leadership contest, Corbyn has failed to establish his credentials with the Parliamentary Labour Party (or MPs to you and I). Over 80% of MPs recently expressed no confidence in their leader, resulting in the upcoming leadership contest. Why is this? The key to the answer is in that “clear shift to the left”.  For many Labour MPs elected in or inspired by “New Labour” and the Blair Labour Government, this shift challenges their beliefs and, even the identity of the Labour Party. For all sitting Labour MPs the contest is not just for leader of the Labour Party. but for the very soul of the party.

For all sitting Labour MPs the contest is not just for leader of the Labour Party. but for the very soul of the party

It is worth remembering that the Labour party tried to go down this route once before. At the height of the Thatcher government in the early 1980s, the Labour leader was Michael Foot. His political beliefs were not that different to those of Jeremy Corbyn, and once again the Labour Party was solidly left wing. This resulted in a group of more centralist Labour MPs breaking away and forming the Social Democratic Party (SDP). After failing to gain any real traction on their own, the SDP amalgamated with the Liberal Party to form the Liberal Democrats. It is not difficult to imagine history repeating itself, if the “centralist” coup should fail.

By the 1990s, after a sustained period of being unelectable, the extreme left wing of the party (Militant) was banished and the party moved back to the centre-left under Blair. Their new identity built around social mobility and aspiration won over traditional Tory voters (as it was not that different from centre-right or liberal-conservatism). Labour won 3 elections with the Blairite approach.

But what of the left wing? Well, like Sauron in “Lord of The Rings”, they never really went away, just bided their time and re-built. And as we know, they resumed control of the party last year.

If the recent EU referendum has taught us anything, it has taught us not to be too certain in predicting anything where voting is concerned

Owen Smith

Owen Smith

This has resulted in a minority of left wing Labour MPs with hard core socialist views leading a group of MPs who are predominantly centre-left (Blairite) in beliefs. This lack of cohesion and alignment in philosophy and values is not that far from the mix that seems to have led to the aborted coup in Turkey last week. A different arena, and different political issues and, thankfully, a different approach to the solution, but be in no doubt, the result of this leadership challenge will have repercussions for the Labour Party and its aspirations to be in government. If a left wing, socialist Labour Party couldn’t get elected at the height of Thatcherism, is it more electable now? If the recent EU referendum has taught us anything, it has taught us not to be too certain in predicting anything where voting is concerned

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