‘I’m surprised all the Mudbloods haven’t packed their bags by now’, remarked Draco Malfoy. Read ‘Mudbloods’ as ‘Blairites’, substitute ‘a Corbyn aide’ for Draco Malfoy, and you are some way to understanding the nature of the internal animosity in today’s Labour Party. Compromise means surrender and moderation is heresy. As yesterday’s machinations demonstrated, Labour is in an utterly disastrous state. Many from the Corbynista minority in the parliamentary partt seem to regard these ructions as necessary cultivation – the removal of weeds – so that a proper socialist agenda can soon flourish. ’Tis only the pure of heart who can deliver the country to the promised land. But no matter how much faith you have or how many dogmas you swallow, Corbyn’s Britain, like heaven, will never exist. Sweet it might seem, but real it is not. It is a mirage in the desert which leads people astray. And until they realise that, Labour will continue to wander blithely into the wilderness, a hopeless pariah.
A favourite delusion of the far left is the association of moderation with impurity. Socialism is good, therefore pure socialism is best. Moderation is dilution and dilution is unprincipled. But socialism is not Johnny Walker Black Label, never to be served on the rocks. Centre leftism is not – to use an analogy the many Corbynistas of North London will certainly understand – like a watery champagne. However, as with so many fanatical factions, those who do not subscribe to the most extreme form of the group’s ideology are ostracised, accused of treachery, and of sympathising with the enemy. A suggestion that certain NHS services might be better delivered by private companies (as Andy Burnham definitely did not) is ridiculed as neoliberal; favouring military force to combat Islamofascism is condemned as war mongering; not wishing to raise income tax to counterproductive levels is labeled Thatcherism. Rather than regard such positions as bona fide attempts to advance the social democratic cause through workable and electorally palatable policies, far too many on the left assume that those with whom they disagree bear ignoble motives; that they are simply more so-called “compassionate conservatives”.
Rather than level allegation after allegation at other party members, Labour supporters need to shed their attitude of self-absorption and look to the people whom they purport to represent. Do private service providers sometimes deliver better care to those who rely on the NHS? Does killing ISIS members advance humanity’s interest in preventing rape and murder? Would sharp rises in income tax fatally undermine Labour’s chances of getting elected – not to mention damaging economic growth? It is exasperating to have to put forward this bit of common sense – but results, not ideology, should be the party’s focus. Rejecting private involvement in the NHS because private involvement is bad per se, subordinates the interests of those who rely on the NHS to the ideological preferences of a few political hacks. Supporting policies like sharp income tax rises or unilateral nuclear disarmament, which have little support in the country – and for good reason – likewise erode Labour’s ability to further the fortunes of those whom they apparently represent. Propounding unpopular, unworkable policies in the interests of intellectual predilection and academic fancy is no way to help the people Labour wants to.
All this gives off far too strong a stench that Labour is more interested in itself than in those for whom it claims to advocate. For yesterday’s attempted purge of the moderates and the insistence on the purest possible form of socialism, regardless of what the electorate thinks, are rendering the party less and less electable. Driven by ideologically intoxicated groups like ‘Momentum’ (inaptly named given its stagnating influence on the party), Labour’s attention is slowly being confined to its activists and those already subscribing to its cause. The ongoing effort to increase the role of Labour’s National Executive Committee in formulating party policy is the latest reflection of this. Rather than allow elected MPs to have the final say on party policy, the Committee – whose majority is largely supportive of Corbyn – will acquire new authority to direct the leader and MPs. Members of Parliament, elected by and accountable to the populous, will have their views given less weight than the collective judgment of the activists and those who vote Labour come what may. The apparently broad church approach of Corbyn’s Nouveau Labour Party does not seem to extend to an attempt to widen the party’s appeal amongst the electorate.
The myopic navel gazing and obsessive self-concern displayed by the party leadership need to end. The party cannot confine its already narrow appeal. Talk of giving power back to the ‘grassroots’ and ‘democratising’ it to allow members and activists to determine more of its policy, while ostensibly benign, will, in fact, further reduce Labour’s ability to help those it wants to. For the mass delegation of policy to the converted will likely result in the party’s positions reflecting more the ideals of its members than a package that will realistically be endorsed by the electorate. Of course, this will not necessarily be so, but reapportioning policy responsibility away from MPs threatens to reduce the link between the electorate’s mood – often best ascertained by their elected representatives – and the policies the party presents to them.
If the party continues its drift away from the electorate, social democracy will be dead. For the further left Labour goes, the further right the country goes. Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership will not result in socialism. It will result in George Osborne. To those, like me, who want the Conservative Party to warm the opposition benches for the next generation and beyond, socialist policies which exist only in a Labour manifesto are not policies worth supporting. Labour must recognise that politics – especially democratic politics – is the art of the possible. Compromise and pragmatism are essential to win power. And without the power of government, Labour fails all those whom social democracy is supposed to help. They are no better off after a protest rally or a Facebook campaign. They do not care how many retweets Jeremy Corbyn receives or whether Labour reinstates Clause 4. They realise that Tony Blair did more for them than Jeremy Corbyn ever could.
But for all the condemnation that could rightly be made of Labour’s current leadership and approach, the appropriate question to ask is what should Labour’s moderates do? Constant moaning about their unelectable leader and his untenable policy positions risks casting more sensible Labour figures as petulant children, more interested in their own positions than in the country. Moreover, if centrist MPs want to retake control of the party they will have to win the support of many members who support or are at least sympathetic to Corbyn. Constant and vocal undermining of his leadership will do little to endear MPs to such people, let alone elicit their votes in a subsequent leadership election. So, not only is it pathetic for those unhappy with the current state of affairs to publicly whinge, but it is also counterproductive to their cause.
Instead of the moaning and lamentation of the last few days, the electable portion of the Labour Party needs to turn the other cheek. It does not need to uncritically swallow all of Corbyn’s platform, but it ought to stop habitually undermining his efforts through explicit sniping. The MPs ought to follow Hilary Benn’s example. Try, wherever possible, to vouch for the merit in electing a Labour government led by Corbyn, but without surrendering your principles in the process. Benn, for instance, can be seen in interviews, day after day, performing verbal gymnastics in order to defend Corbyn, with obvious difficulty. This is, however, the same Benn who stood next to Corbyn in the Commons and delivered an explicit and powerful denunciation of his leader’s views. Inevitably, this has made Benn’s position tenuous and has formed the basis of yet more media madness about Labour divisions. While such stories are ‘harmful’ so far as they indicate the sort of party disunity found unnerving by the electorate, indications of disunity are far less harmful to Labour’s electability than Corbyn’s leadership. Moderate MPs should therefore be prepared for continued reports of party division, if they are merely the product of those MPs’ sincerely adhering to their principles. It is more important in these circumstances to offer a positive vision of where they want to take the country and risk diverging with Corbyn, than to either silently acquiesce in Corbyn’s misadventures or constantly whinge and sulk from the back benches.
There are no easy options for those seeking to return the Labour Party to electoral respectability. The party is fast drifting into irrelevance. Those of the far left who hold out hope that the clear and forceful articulation of socialist policies will offer the credible alternative to Toryism that the public yearns for, ought to remind themselves of three people. First, Michael Foot. Second, Neil Kinnock. Third, Ed Miliband. They all tried to steer Labour to victory with variants of the Corbyn strategy, and in all cases steered Labour onto the rocks. Indeed, in Miliband’s case many of his supporters cited the 2008 financial Crisis and the ensuing anti-capitalist movements as evincing a greater public desire to embrace some form of socialism. This did, they thought, distinguish 2015 from the failed left-wing Labour campaigns of the past and would propel Miliband into No. 10. The resulting Tory majority indicates the invalidity of that view – to again make an obvious point that should be universally regarded as common sense.
Ultimately, Mr Corbyn must understand that the important ballot is on election day, not at a gathering of the Stop the War Coalition, or in an echo chamber of deluded lefty students on Facebook or Twitter. If he does not, or if his strategy, policy and rhetoric do not alter in due recognition of this fact, then he cannot lead Labour to the election. But these changes won’t happen. If Labour members want to avoid an utter rout at the ballot box – giving George Osborne five years in Number 10 with a whopping majority – they must rid their party of Jeremy Corbyn, fast.