Jayne Dowle: Labour’s woes mean voters face miserable conundrum over potential General Election

Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson have opposing visions for the future of Labour as a general election looms.
Jeremy Corbyn and Tom Watson have opposing visions for the future of Labour as a general election looms.
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By the time you read this, a snap General Election may have been called. Or not. Political events are so fast-moving and difficult to predict, anything could happen in the next half an hour.

However, anyone with half an ounce of political imagination can’t help but conjure up a series of potential scenarios. If you’re a supporter of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the best possible course of action is easy to identify. Swoop now as the Conservative party is factionalised and in disarray with no clear contender for a leader to replace beleaguered Mrs May. Then gamble on a Labour victory with Mr Corbyn delivered straight to Number 10.

But what if you’re a middle-of-the-road Labour person who doesn’t support ultra-left-winger Corbyn? This is the conundrum facing countless voters. In our region in particular, the often-unfathomable modus operandi of Labour’s Westminster high command has left natural supporters confused and stranded.

Where to turn? With its number still barely in double figures, and including three former Conservative MPs, the Independent Group has still to make the impact promised by its original ground-breaking stance. What then of the deputy leader, Tom Watson? It could be argued that the Sheffield-born moderate MP for West Bromwich East has been keeping his powder mysteriously dry – until now.

Looking on as eight of his Labour colleagues broke ranks to form the Independent Group, he released a Facebook video in which he sympathised with those quitting and publicly echoed their concerns. Significantly, he refused to criticise them, saying that their decision was “premature” rather than wrong.

Someone much wiser than me once said that the most effective way to bring about change in any organisation is to do so from the inside. This is clearly the strategy that Watson has adopted; watching as events have battered Corbyn and engulfed the leader yet further in the poisonous rows over bullying and anti-Semitism. And now, his deputy has chosen his moment.

He’s launched the Future Britain Group to rally MPs in the centre and on the right-wing of the party, gathering around 130 Labour members to his cause. In doing so, he appears to be gaining a power base which will be helpful should he decide to accept the reported overtures of pro-European Tories to join a government of national unity which – it’s hoped – would steer us through the next turbulent phase of Brexit negotiations.

All of this is highly interesting and has the potential to break the mould of British politics once and for all. And whilst it is clear that political expediency is required in the short-term, voters are obliged to see a bigger long-term picture.

Who really cares for our concerns? Who would be prepared to put aside personal ambition in order to stamp out social injustice and tackle knife crime and violence? Which politicians really believe that a fair education for all should be a basic human right and that state schools having to close early and beg parents for funds should not be tolerated? Who is prepared to put our international interests first and ensure that post-Brexit, our national security is not compromised?

This is bothering not just Labour, but Conservative supporters too, who have witnessed their own party’s bitter rivalries and treacherous about-turns at close range these past few weeks. However, as the party of Opposition to a government which has failed to deliver, it is Labour which really needs to pull itself together – or decide to part in the middle with some kind of credibility intact.

Bookmakers remain fairly confident that a general election will indeed be held this year. We shall see, but should we find ourselves with the prospect of going to the polls, what kind of choice are we faced with? More so now than ever, we must consider our allegiances carefully.

Whilst the major chords play out at Westminster and in Brussels, it’s time to focus closely on the minor notes closer to home; what precisely does your own MP stand for? No longer can we assume that because they belong to a certain political party that they will think and act in a certain way.

For too long, we have taken our MPs for granted. The fervent turn-out for the EU Referendum has been held up as proof of our healthy national political engagement, but I’d argue that the simple yes/no demand of the vote suggested the very opposite. This are complex times which demand careful consideration, not blind faith.

Come the day of reckoning, we need to examine all political candidates with forensic attention to detail and avail ourselves of their commitment to policies and causes that we personally believe in. It is no longer enough to simply shrug and put an X in the box. With so much that is uncertain, I can only add this. Be very careful what you do wish for; if nothing else, Brexit has taught us that.