Tonight, in an extraordinary turn of events, the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), the group of Labour’s Members of Parliament (MPs), are mounting an attempted insurrection against Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the party.
I call it extraordinary since this is an incredible, skull-crushingly stupid thing to do.
The letters of resignation have been flying thick. The genre of letter of resignation is dreary to begin with (Many emphasise the respect they have for Corbyn. All are calling for a leader who will unite, not divide, the party.
In short, the coupmakers want to unite the party by ousting Jeremy Corbyn, a leader who was elected only nine months ago in an unprecedented landslide. With a stronger mandate than literally any other UK party leader in history. Whose campaign rallied over 180.000 new members to the party. That sounds very unifying and not divisive at all.
In all seriousness: what is the play here? Do they really believe that ignoring the voice of 60 % of party members will work? That giving the boot to the one thing that has really energised the party since the first blush of the Tony Blair years is a great idea? Is their idea of shoring up support and gearing up for the general election to start a war within the party?
I can tell them up front that this is really is a once-in-a-generation magnitude bad idea. In terms of stupid, it’s right up there with the Brexit vote. This is an unforced strategic error of cameronian proportions.
Corbyn has been leader for only nine months. This is quite simply not enough time to test a new leader. They are not interested in giving him a spin in a general election and then, if he loses, to have a fair contest against him with cause. No, they want him out in the midst of a public upheaval, while tempers are hot and passions are engorged.
So it’s not normal politics. What is the coup, then? Probably many things. For some, this is just the exploitation of a crisis to push a blairite political agenda. For others, no doubt, it is a genuine personal disagreement (tainted with political disputes as well). But I do suspect this is quite simply the Labour elite, the classical establishment, reacting strongly to the anti-establishment style of Corbyn. Powerful elites are always rubbed the wrong way by strong anti-elitists. They look wrong, they talk wrong. They don’t want the same things. They don’t get the joke.
That’s the real tragedy here. That the Labour party has ceased to be interested in the overwhelming, objective political questions of today. For at least twenty years now, it must have been possible to win an election in Britain on an anti-inequality non-elitist, populist-in-the-good-sense platform. Labour has not stepped up. That is the tragedy of the modern Labour party.
Modern political parties need to do two things in equal measure: lead and listen.
They lead the members and the voters on issues where the party elites are ahead of the electorate. Where public opinion is not quite there, or are not aware of the solutions to their problems. Or even where they are not quite yet aware of the problems. Gay marriage is a typical, recent example. Or equal rights. Parties are more or less modern information communication industry companies, informing the electorate and helping to shape public opinion. There need not be anything condescending or elitist about this. The parties act as representatives of their voters, also by helping the voters discover how their needs can be better met.
New Labour represents a profound lack of understanding of the party’s leading role. Tony Blair’s administrations represent a failure of leadership. During the New Labour era, the Labour party not just shifted to the centre in order to go where the voters where. They shifted the entire electorate to the right. When the party of working people tells them year after year that they need to back right-wing policies, present problems defined by the right wing and produce solutions that are centrist, you cede ground and change voter’s minds.
Parties also listen to the members and the voters on issues where the electorate is clearly sending a message loud and clear to the party. Like: the problem of social inequality and injustice needs to be adressed. Like: we are sick and tired of the elite class culture and structure that has dominated Great Britain since the days of Elizabethan England.
The voters, the members: they are sending the Labour party a message. I hope that the MPs can hear it. Because I’m pretty sure that the Labour members are starting to hear it.