Wednesday, Nov 30, 2022
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Labour Civil War

Labour Civil War

The Labour Party in its state of complete meltdown may just become the architect of a one-party nation where Labour may cease to exist.

Dominic Lipinski / PA via AP

The United Kingdom’s Brexit vote has not only caused an explosion in Europe but has also led to a political implosion within the country. The Conservatives have shown better inner-party democracy. After the ugly show of connivance and treachery by Justice Secretary Michael Gove knifing Boris Johnson, at least the process of electing a new leader is moving along with Home Secretary Theresa May currently leading way ahead of her rivals.

The Labour Party, on the other hand, in its state of complete meltdown may just become the architect of a one-party nation where Labour may cease to exist, while its leader Jeremy Corbyn refuses to stand down despite a 172 to 40 vote in the no-confidence motion by members of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) against him. More than 500 Labour councilors have signed a public statement calling on Corbyn to step down.

Wayne David, MP and one of the several Labour front benchers to quit in the wake of the EU referendum echoed the growing chorus that Corbyn’s position is untenable. He said, "This is a crucial point in the Labour Party's entire history. If the Labour Party does descend into total civil war then it is quite possible that the Labour Party may cease to exist."

Most senior from Lord Kinnock, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown to Ed Miliband have asked Corbyn to step down. But pressure group Momentum which is backing Corbyn say over 60,000 new members have joined Labour during the current leadership crisis. Corbyn’s supporters and even the rebels feel Corbyn could win with the support of the membership if there was a leadership election. Corbyn has refused to resign, saying the motion of no-confidence — a vote of 172 to 40 — has "no constitutional legitimacy".

But Lord Neil Kinnock cited party rules according to which Corbyn would need to secure backing from more than 50 MPs if he wanted to fight a leadership challenge. He told BBC: "Unless the leader can have that substantial support in Parliament then there should be a contest or the leader should consider his position and do his duty to the party and resign." Corbyn has only 29. It also is believed that 63 of the 115 shadow frontbench positions now sit unfilled. Labour’s frontbench team in the House of Lords have virtually declared independence.

In the current Labour imbroglio it is not surprising that the Scottish National Party (SNP) made a formal request to be granted the designation of the official Opposition, which was rejected by the Commons Speaker John Bercow. But if the stand-off between Corbyn and his party continues and it becomes clear that Labour cannot effectively fulfill its constitutional responsibilities, with resignations from even the newly formed shadow cabinet after the spate of initial resignations, coming thick and fast, Bercow may be forced to intervene.

Corbyn’s critics believe he can no longer lead the party to an electoral victory, amidst concerns that a general election could be possible as soon as October, and many believe Labour may remain in opposition until 2025. Not only has Corbyn’s performance during the referendum campaign been appalling, in the midst of which he went on holiday, now even Brexiteers have taken the position of not triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty without careful consideration. Contrarily, Corbyn who expressed no concern about the result, said Britain must trigger article 50 “immediately”.

In fact, Prime Minister David Cameron in his first PMQs since the referendum in which the Labour Leader was largely met by silence from his own MPs, lashed out at Corbyn, saying: “It might be in my party’s interest for him to sit there. It’s not in the national interest. I would say — for heaven’s sake, man, go.”

The growing disenchantment with Corbyn has given rise to real concern that the party could split. As Will Hutton, writes in the pro-Labour the Guardian: “If Corbyn stays as a leader, many Labour MPs are resigned to the party splitting. There will be a minority of MPs and constituency associations loyal to his vision, but the overwhelming majority are in politics to make a difference — not to go down in a sinking ship. They feel a particular obligation at this time, above any other, to keep the liberal social democratic tradition alive — and with it a conception of being part of Europe.”

Growing number of MPs, including Chris Bryant have been pleading for Corbyn to ‘go out with dignity’, saying: "I'm sure in Jeremy's heart, he knows that there is a real danger that his broken leadership will break the Labour Party. If he is listening, please, please, please Jeremy, you're the only person who can break this log jam."

Senior Labour leader Lord Prescott also appealed for Corbyn to step down, saying, “We need to prevent the civil war. It will be disastrous for us. I sat in the Labour Party when it was the SDP. It put us out for 18 years. Is that what we want again?”

Corbyn, in the meantime, is refusing to meet his shadow cabinet members and even his elected deputy leader Tom Watson. Last week, the remaining members of his shadow cabinet, led by Shadow Home Secretary Andy Burnham, reportedly, twice tried to meet him to appeal to him to stand down. On both occasions they were turned down by his senior aide Karie Murphy. Many believe this inner coterie is not letting him see anyone.

Most MPs want Corbyn to step down to avoid any dramatic fall-out, and they believe that cracks are showing up even within the Labour membership. A poll of Labour membership showed his approval rate falling drastically from +45 to +3.

Corbyn’s inner circle is said to be trying to hold on until Wednesday when the Chilcot report on the Iraq war will be published, when they hope they can formally call for Tony Blair to be prosecuted for war crimes, in the hope that, that could change the dynamics of his bargain within the Labour for the extreme Left winger and his remaining supporters. According to Professor Philip Cowley, professor of politics at Queen Mary University of London, Corbyn was the single most disloyal lawmaker when Labour was in power from 1997 to 2010, voting against the government 216 times during the administrations of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown.

Over the weekend, it is believed, union bosses tried to broker a deal with the PLP to save Corbyn, which has clearly not worked as former shadow business secretary Angela Eagle, on Monday, declared she had the support to move against the Labour leader in order to end the "impasse" at Westminster.

If the Labour impasse continues not only will there be growing concern about the party splitting, which may be an advantage to the Lib Dems after its debacle in the last election, it will increase the strength of the far-right UKIP, with disaffected Labour voters in the north of England moving towards UKIP.

These are uncertain times indeed.

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