The Labour Party is tearing itself apart. Jeremy Corbyn’s lukewarm support of the Remain campaign is just the excuse many Labour MP s have been waiting for. Corbyn’s overwhelming surprise victory in Labour’s leadership election upset moderate and right-leaning Labour members. Though Corbyn did his best to satisfy his parliamentary party detractors by appointing them to his shadow cabinet, he was never going to win them over. His years on Labour’s fringes meant mainstream politicians would never make it into his inner circle. In many ways, his leadership was doomed from the start.
Except that polls show Labour members still back Corbyn. Despite his dismal referendum performance and national unelectability, ordinary members will apparently vote for him again when the inevitable leadership ballot comes. This is a living hell for the moderates desperately trying to make Labour ready for government. Corbyn pleases self-styled lefties who hate Tony Blair and all his political heirs and he enjoys support from young voters fed up with an establishment that represents them so badly. But that’s not enough to put Labour back in Number 10, especially now Britain is about to leave the EU and possibly lose Scotland with all its parliamentary seats. The current state of British politics favours the Conservatives, who will probably unite quite easily under Teresa May.
The facts don’t sway hard core Corbynistas. There is already a conspiracy theory making the rounds that this is a ‘Blairite coup’. With the Chilcot Report due in the coming days, the conspiracy goes, Blairites want Corbyn gone so he can’t call Blair out for war crimes. By this logic, the Labour shadow cabinet members knifing Corbyn are apologists for a war criminal. Corbyn supporters foaming at the mouth to defend him look a lot like Trump’s fanboys arguing that the leader can never be wrong and seeing conspiracies around every corner. And like Trump, Corbyn’s supporters are making him unelectable and destroying their party while they’re at it.
No-one can claim Labour is a perfect representation of the liberals, socialists and social democrats who vote for it. The Blair and Brown years should have been the glory days of Labour. Instead, Blair’s third way was a sort of light Thatcherism and his foolish foreign adventurism destabilised the Middle East and crippled his party. Perhaps Blair is a war criminal, that’s for inquiries and courts to determine. Yes, Corbyn has a sterling anti-war record, but that is not enough. Labour needs a leader who is not tainted by Blair’s mistakes but who is also electable. That means appealing to moderates, convincing Tory voters to change their vote and thriving in a post-Brexit world.
Weirdly, the Tories will probably elect a pro-Remain leader to lead a pro-Brexit party. Teresa May can bring the party together if she can convince Remain Tories that the national interest, and the electoral interests of their party, are more important than recriminations. A prime minister who campaigned to stay in the EU may smooth exit negotiations, giving a boost to her premiership. And while the Conservative Party rallies behind May and prepares for the tough talks ahead, Labour is in chaos.
Labour has seen crisis follow crisis since leaving office in 2010. Ed Miliband’s surprise election was followed by a disastrous leadership. Then Labour lost Scotland and picked an even less likely leader, the totally unprepared Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn will never be PM and even his strongest supporters must realise that. With every passing year, the Tories have tightened their grip on power. The advance of the SNP combined with Labour in-fighting will keep Labour from winning the next election, whenever that is. The whole British political system is at risk.
Should Corbyn go? It doesn’t matter anymore. The divisions in Labour are too deep to be healed by resignations or leadership elections. If the members re-elect Corbyn, his opponents won’t just fall into line. The party will splinter and the hard left will become the official party, while most of the parliamentary party breaks away. Now is not the time for Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition to eat its own young but it may be too late to stop.