Remember when people compared Gove’s backstabbing of Boris in the Tory leadership contest to something straight out of House of Cards and Game of Thrones? Personally, I didn’t see it. As an avid fan of both these shows, the leadership contest lacked the intricate subterfuge, deception and betrayal in these shows. At worst, what we saw was a case of a politician lying to another politician, instead of all of us. If anything, the speed and ease at which the Conservative Party managed to secure a leader with no general or internal election raises more eyebrows than two controversial figures eventually deciding not to run for leader of the Conservative Party. However thankfully, fans of the previously mentioned shows aren’t bereft of drama and political intrigue because the Labour leadership contest has both in abundance, but frankly it’s been far more upsetting than entertaining.
Our story starts straight after the European Union referendum. With the surprise vote to leave, the shock within the Britain Stronger in Europe camp led to the rapid finger-pointing of those who may have had a part in the failure of the Remain campaign, and before long much of that blame turned to Corbyn for running a half-hearted campaign. There is some measure of truth here; Corbyn himself said his favourability on the EU is a seven to seven and a half. He wasn’t seen much in the public eye, and was certainly not as vocal as other prominent politicians and party leaders. But frankly, this makes sense. Corbyn voted to leave the EU in 1975 alongside much of the left at the time, and it’s likely that the markedly left wing Jeremy Corbyn still carries this left wing anti-EU sentiment. He voted against the Lisbon Treaty in 2008 and in the leadership election last year, regularly spoke of his opposition to a corporate, free-market centric European Union.
Now Corbyn is a leader who was elected and given a mandate by Labour Party members as a whole based on his strong left wing principles, therefore it makes sense that Labour Party members would expect him to lead and act based on his principles. So when referendum came, Corbyn probably still had a fair amount of opposition to the EU but wanted to stay most likely based on avoiding the economic risk. Therefore hopefully now it’s clear to see how the most principled option is not taking the highly partisan stance of passionately supporting the EU though you may actually disagree with it. Yet this is exactly what Corbyn is being blamed for. I’m no Corbyn supporter, but it seems quite wrong to me when a leader is attacked by his own party for essentially not selling out.
You may argue Corbyn has a responsibility no matter what to push for the will of his own party, which is a fair point and one steeped in democracy. It’s a point that would have held if the actions of the Parliamentary Labour Party over the next couple of weeks weren’t the exact opposite of democratic. The ensuing 20 resignations in a tantrum-like fashion occurred because Corbyn would not step down as leader. Then in the following vote of no confidence, 172 Labour MPs voted against him whilst 40 voted for him, and the PLP flared up once again because he still wouldn’t step down. Of course from this point, an abundance of arguments of Corbyn’s lack of listening, so-called poor leadership and lack of ability to unify the party started being made. Notice how the rhetoric moved away from the EU Referendum vote alone, seeing as there is an obvious hypocrisy in saying that the mandate given by 251,417 Labour supporters should be trumped by 172 MPs based on Corbyn not representing the interests of the party.
So it should come to no surprise that next up, 14 Labour National Executive Committee members actually voted against even allowing Corbyn on the ballot, losing only by 4 votes. Then of course in recent news, the Labour Party has finally won a long an arduous fight to exclude 130,000 members from voting in the first place, largely made up of those who voted for Corbyn in the last leadership election. The Parliamentary Labour Party, no matter how benign its interests, is now prioritising its own interests over the will of any potential Labour supporters and is actively fighting against them. Even if the will of Labour Party members is aligned with the interests of the PLP, there’s no way of knowing until the election, so all action taken so far has been little less than the PLP undermining the membership of the Labour party.
Owen Smith’s rhetoric that Corbyn will eventually cause the break-up of the party is a joke too; the party is only fractured because of this attempt to dethrone Corbyn in the first place. Now, it could be said Corbyn is unelectable and this is necessary to ensure Labour a win at the next election. However let’s assume Corbyn is the leader the majority of party members want, something that seems quite likely. It’s a pretty common sense principle of democracy that Labour Party members are responsible for their decision and should still be represented by who they want as leader. The idea that “the PLP knows best” is condescending, and the fact that the PLP has over and over again attempted to get rid of Corbyn with as little Labour Party member input as possible is little less than deceptive. Even if Corbyn turns out to be public enemy number one, the PLP has no indication of this and has still taken action against the interest of party members for their own benefit.
This is a good time to clarify that I’m not a Labour Party supporter, but it is a sad day in politics if the PLP is able to deceive and subvert its party members in this way with little objection. It sets a dangerous precedent if we’re all so willing to watch as a political party stops abiding by the basic principles of representative democracy and actively pushes against paying supporters to try and topple a leader who still has a mandate to lead from its own party members, and sets a dangerous slippery slope in the future.
words by Conrad Joel Kunadu