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How the Labour Party would split – and why it won’t

August 30th, 2018

A summer of conspiratorial meetings amongst serial rebels has fuelled talk of a split.

Picture the scene. Lord Mandleson hosts a BBQ where “up to” 20 Labour rebels look at their options for a breakaway party. Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson was amongst the group, uniting the remnant Blairite and Brownite camps against Corbyn.

Whether plotting to adopt the IHRA definition against the NEC, or plotting to deliberately lose to spite Corbyn (Stephen Kinnock not being very good at this), there is a clear sense of an internal battle for supremacy coming to a head. MPs vs Members. Let’s consider the options discussed at the Mandy BBQ:

1) Do Nothing. Jeremy Corbyn is an old man. His support claims to be “the membership” yet in practice the majority of members are silent. They do not participate in anything other than leadership elections, do not participate locally in any shape or form, and are already drifting away.

Jeremy Corbyn will retire, and a sizeable chunk of the membership will leave when he goes. When he does the party can change shape, organisation, message. Nothing that has been done – despite shrieking headlines of takeovers at local and NEC levels – cannot be undone.

2) A breakaway group of Labour MPs. Various options are open to them – an independent parliamentary group, the creation of SDP2, leaving to join the Greens, the LibDems, even a takeover of the Co-op was floated. None of these are particularly appealing to Labour rebels. SDP2 means starting from scratch in terms of organising and funding, the Greens and LibDems offer their own aims not the fulment of the rebel’s dreams.

3) A wholesale split in the party. Tom Watson has form plotting to remove unwanted leaders, and his physical shedding of weight has been accompanied by him clearly shedding any pretence at agreeing with Jeremy Corbyn or the Momentum cabal. A Watsonite Labour Party carrying the majority of MPs could try and claim legal title to the party machine, effectively de-merging the hard left into Momentum (“as you already have your own membership structure, branches, executive”)

4) A realignment in British politics. A similar piece could be written about both the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats, and Brexit has all the potential to create a big enough bang to fracture the fragile coalitions that make up our parties. Vince Cable went AWOL for a key Brexit vote supposedly attending a dinner party discussing the creation of a new centre party.

Emmanuel Macron broke away from the socialists, founded a new centre party and led it to power. A failed Brexit fracturing Labour and the Tories at the same time could make a new party born out of the wreckage look like the sane option. Especially if the alternatives are a Boris-led Tory Party fighting off a Farage UKIP resurgence or a Corbyn-led Labour Party busy denouncing the Momentum traitors.

The only rule in politics is that everything is possible – look at the 2017 General Election campaign. But from a betting perspective where does my money go? I am a Labour councillor, activist and member of nearly 25 years so I am personally caught up in this. I’m also a Co-op Party member.

My expectation is that “do nothing” is most likely. People like me sick to the back teeth of Corbyn and the dross that surround him will wait him out, as happened with Michael Foot. The split will be the hard left slouching off again post-Corbyn to join scab groups aimed at keeping the evil Labour Party out of power. Until that happens, I would be gobsmacked to see anything more than the odd MP aping James “Who” Purnell.

Unless of course Brexit really does fracture the political parties beyond repair. At which point literally anything is possible. Anna Turley and Anna Soubry as colleagues?

Rochdale Pioneers

Rochdale Pioneers is a member of the Labour Party and a long standing contributor to PB.