Bill Carmichael: Labour’s comrades at war damage democracy

Labour is danger of splitting under Jeremy Corbyn.

Labour is danger of splitting under Jeremy Corbyn.

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IN what is described as an “unprecedented” move, Labour Party staff working at this weekend’s conference in Liverpool have been warned to expect “aggressive and potentially violent” confrontations and given a telephone hotline number in case they are attacked by angry activists.

Meanwhile, a Jewish Labour MP 
has been forced to hire a bodyguard 
to accompany her to the conference 
in case the far left Twitter mobsters 
try to carry out the vile threats they 
have been bombarding her with for months.

Welcome to the new “gentler, kinder” politics as promised by Jeremy Corbyn when he was first elected Labour leader a year ago.

Politics – particularly the left wing variety – is a rough old trade, but in more than half a century of watching public affairs, I cannot recall the comrades ever before ripping each other apart with such unhinged relish.

As the British left greedily devours itself, it is tempting to sit back, break out the popcorn and enjoy the spectacle.

But I can’t. One reason is that I 
cut my political teeth as a teenager knocking on doors for Labour and still have a lot of affection for the party. It has played an important role in shaping modern Britain and it still contains many decent and sensible followers.

Another is that there are millions of people in this country with broadly left of centre views, although I happen to think they are in a minority. The idea, much put about by the Guardian and the BBC that there is a “progressive majority” in the UK, does not hold water. As the last two general elections and the Brexit vote demonstrated, we are a solidly conservative (note the small c) country.

But although they are in a minority, left-wingers should still have their voices heard on the national stage, and particularly in Parliament. That is not happening at the moment, partly because of the vicious civil war in Labour’s parliamentary party and partly because of the frankly laughable incompetence of Corbyn’s leadership.

Each passing week brings fresh embarrassment, from the disastrous ‘sitting on the floor of the train’ stunt to the declaration that companies should stop employees having after-work drinks – or ‘early evening socialisation’ in Corbyn’s hilariously tortuous formulation – because it is sexist. I must tell my boss the next time she takes me to the pub.

This week came the news that Corbyn wants to create a Ministry of Peace (Orwell anyone?). Maybe we’ll get a Ministry of Love and a Ministry of Truth too.

All this frankly fringe stuff may enthuse the Corbyn Cultists, but does the leadership seriously think it is likely to strike a chord with ordinary voters? If so, they are even crazier than we thought.

As a result of these blunders, the UK is effectively a one-party state, such is the dominance of the Conservatives. But one day soon Theresa May’s honeymoon with voters will come to an end and we will need at that point an effective, disciplined, opposition to hold the Government to account. There is little sign of that happening at the moment.

The pollsters and pundits tell us that when the leadership election result is announced tomorrow Corbyn will be declared a handsome winner – although it is worth pointing out that the pollsters and pundits got it badly wrong in the last two big national votes in the UK.

But let us assume that Corbyn wins. Will the civil war in the party suddenly end and the comrades embrace each other in a show of brotherly love? Er… I don’t think so.

The attitude of the Parliamentary party is key – and prominent Yorkshire MPs, such as Yvette Cooper, Alan Johnson, Dan Jarvis, Hilary Benn, Caroline Flint, Rachel Reeves and Michael Dugher have a crucial role to play.

Do they swallow their misgivings and back Corbyn as he stumbles from one disaster to the next, sinking ever deeper in the polls, and hope for some kind of revival post-2020?

Or do they continue sniping from the backbenches in the hope of bringing him down and installing a new leader before the election?

The third alternative – a formal split and the creation of a new centre-left party – seems unthinkable, but these are strange times.

One thing is for certain, for the sake of our democracy we need a strong Labour party and an effective Parliamentary opposition.

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