Bernard Ingham: Why moderate Labour MPs must follow Frank Field’s example

Labour should heed the lessons of the 1980s when they arrive in Liverpool, says Bill Carmichael.
Labour should heed the lessons of the 1980s when they arrive in Liverpool, says Bill Carmichael.
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This is the crucial week for the Labour Party. We shall soon learn whether the moderate majority of Labour MPs are mice or men.

Frank Field’s principled withdrawal from the Labour Whip to sit as Independent Labour because of his leader’s anti-Semitism and the party’s culture of intolerance and intimidation has presented them with a test of their guts.

Will they bottle the challenge or give their party new hope?

If they fail as a bloc to follow Field’s lead then they will for ever be rightly accused of cowardice in the face of the enemy – to wit, Jeremy Corbyn and his Momentum machine.

More important, there will be no prospect of an alternative government acceptable in the eyes of the vast majority of decent, tolerant and law-abiding voters.

That means that our democracy, already undermined by the European Union, will be further damaged. British governments need a strong Opposition if they are to function properly and in the public interest. Otherwise, they get lackadaisical and careless.

I know because I was in No 10 when part of the second of Margaret Thatcher’s three terms (1983-87) became known as the “banana skin years”. A combination of euphoria and ineffective Neil Kinnock opposition had Ministers treading on every banana skin strewn in the path of any administration.

The current woeful performance of the Tory Government, preoccupied with Brexit on which it is split asunder, can probably be put down partly to Corbyn’s leadership.

Tories find it simply impossible to believe he could ever be the PM when he has made it the habit of a lifetime to side with enemies of the state and holds up Venezuela as an example of socialist success.

That argument leads me on to the damage Labour MPs’ supine failure to follow Field’s lead could do to the national interest when Brexit in some form or other looms in little over six months’ time.

The present sheer disorder of British politics is worrying at a time in our history when we need a common purpose to make the most of the recovery of our independence and sovereignty. Our economy may be regularly confounding the Remainers’ Project Fear but a democracy in turmoil is not exactly an invitation to invest here.

It is certainly a comfort to Brussels’ federal Europhiles, even if some reality may belatedly be dawning on EU member states about their need for continuing good relations – political, economic, commercial and financial – with the UK.

I recognise that the moderate Labour majority may well be mostly pro-EU. But their ascendancy is much to be preferred to the essential anarchy of Corbyn’s tenure.

As moderates, they are more likely to serve the national interest than a Momentum-driven crew that hate what Britain has been and has become.

Do they wish to be a Left of centre party or a fringe bunch of Commies, Trots and hard Lefties?

Is this the “seismic shift” that Lord (David) Blunkett now seeks?

I am also the first to recognise that precedent is not on the side of Labour MPs who choose to break completely with Corbyn.

The fate of the Social Democrats (SDP) who broke from Labour in the troubled early 1980s is no encouragement to revolt and take your bat home.

But what is the alternative?

The destruction of the party you love, with its civilised if economically dubious values?

The risk that by some mischance Corbyn will enter No 10 with predictable and immensely damaging results?

The likely perpetuation of a less than impressive Tory Government if only because there is no effective Opposition and alternative government in sight?

The virtual certainty over time that you will be cast out of your constituency by Momentum leaving the Corbynistas reigning in all their totalitarian glory.

If self-interest does not move moderate Labour MPs, what will?

If you think I am overdoing the Momentum bit, Tony Blair’s stepmother-in-law, a former Labour Mayor, has quit because extremists have taken over the party in Todmorden.

If Momentum has penetrated so far into the sticks as my native Upper Calder Valley, then no sensible Labour MP is safe. Corbynistas will be much less easily shifted than the Militant tendency of the 1980s.

The world needs a strong, independent and thriving Britain. That will be best achieved by political moderation with a strong government subject to searching but constructive criticism by a manifest alternative.

Now is the time for all good Labour MPs to come to the aid of the party – by forming a new one.