July 8th, 2016
The Labour coup’s final stand will take place on Monday night in the form of a leadership challenge, reports the Evening Standard. And both strategies coming from the two potential challengers, Angela Eagle and Owen Smith, hold the membership in contempt.
Eagle has continued to bullishly call for Corbyn’s resignation, praying the will of MPs can still crush that of the membership. Meanwhile, leadership hopeful Owen Smith paints himself as saving the party from a crisis he himself helped manufacture.
The Labour coup has postponed the challenge until next week to give time for “talks“. But considering senior parliamentary plotters have stated a deal is impossible anyway, this move seems to be more about appearances than a genuine desire to unify a party they’re busily tearing in half. An anonymous Labour MP told The Telegraph:
There are more talks planned, but when one side’s red line is that Jeremy stays in post and the other side says he has to go, it is impossible to find a compromise. It’s done.
This conclusion crystalised on Friday, as Jeremy Corbyn reaffirmed his position:
Those who want to challenge my leadership are free to do so in a democratic contest, in which I will be a candidate.
So a leadership challenge looks like the coup’s last resort. Both leadership hopefuls have the signatures they need from Labour MPs to mount a challenge, but if they do not agree on one candidate they risk splitting the establishment vote.
Crucially, the game plans we are seeing from Smith and Eagle show just how little respect they have for democracy and the membership.
Chiming with the name of the rebel MP’s campaign website ‘Saving Labour’, the former Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary is trying to present himself as the candidate for Labour unity, dedicated to keeping the party from splitting:
I stand ready to do anything I can to save and serve the party.
But this strategy is an insult to the party membership, because it’s Smith and his ilk who caused the crisis in the first place. The MP for Pontypridd is trying to rebrand himself as the saviour of a problem he helped create. Smith and the rest of the anti-Corbyn MPs are the ones who tried to eject their democratically elected leader from the pilot’s seat through a carefully coordinated series of resignations, public statements and PR stunts.
I believe that all of us whose priority is to restore unity in the Labour movement and give us a chance to defeat our only true enemy, the Tories, should give these talks every chance to succeed.
But it’s precisely the opportunist resignation campaign of Smith and other plotters that acted as a media smokescreen for a Tory party in disarray post-Brexit. David Cameron risked the fate of the country to secure power when he promised the referendum, while Boris Johnson led the country to Brexit in pursuit of his own selfish leadership ambitions.
However, instead of pouncing on the failings of both sides of a divided Conservative party, Smith and his fellow plotters abandoned the country and launched a coup against their elected leader. Not the best look for a self-appointed “effective opposition“.
Smith thinks he can create a crisis then paint himself as the solution. Believing Labour supporters will be hoodwinked into rallying behind him is an insult to the membership.
The “effective opposition” offered by Angela Eagle must also be unpacked. What Eagle and the Blairite-led faction sees as effective is the membership following the MPs, and not the other way around. The now approaching 600,000 strong membership must accommodate for the 172 MPs who voted for no confidence in Corbyn, not vice versa. They believe their vote of no confidence overrides Corbyn’s unprecedented democratic mandate from the membership.
And it’s precisely this worldview of top-heavy, anti-democratic control of an organisation, harboured by the majority of the parliamentary coup brigade, that will make unification impossible. The plotters want to maintain the established economy, whereby the people who make up an organisation are second-class to bosses. Within the coup worldview, just as workers must follow the will of bosses, members must listen to the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and fall in line.
Contrary to Eagle and her ilk, Corbyn and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell are supporters of non-statist socialism – not central government control, but workers having democratic control over their workplace. Instead of distant shareholders multiplying their cash, the workers own a share of the business they are a key part of. McDonnell said in January:
In an uncertain world where a laissez faire market approach continues to fail, co-operation is an idea whose time has come again. This is the start of developing a new, positive economic alternative for Labour.
The current clash within the Labour party can be summarised as elitism versus democracy – the two sides are at odds with each other. Unfortunately for the elitist camp, it looks like they cannot subvert the democrats. To the coup’s dismay, Corbyn will be on the ballot paper, and the membership, which has risen by well over 100,000 since the coup began, still overwhelmingly supports him.
Deselection or defection?
Considering the two factions within the Labour party are fundamentally opposed, there is no hope of patching a functioning party back together. Each side has made its position clear.
Therefore, the only two options are deselection or defection. Deselection would allow the pro-Corbyn membership and parliamentary faction to stop the rebel MPs representing Labour in the next election. Those being removed would undoubtedly argue they have a mandate of 9 million voters. But Corbyn supporters could argue this mandate is to oppose the Tories, not launch a coup against their elected leader.
Deselection is a possibility. As Shannon Ikebe writes:
While this conciliatory tack has ameliorated open hostility, already there is a groundswell of support for ousting right-wing MPs and spontaneous calls for deselection at the CLP level. And an acrimonious leadership race would fuel radicalization among the grassroots of Momentum and union branches (which hold key roles in initiating the deselection process, unless the rules are changed to make it easier).
Adding to this, a recent study has shown that 55% of Labour members who joined after May 2015 support deselecting MPs that undermine Corbyn.
Meanwhile, defection would also mean the rebel MPs split from the Labour party. Both options may create a new soft-Tory party which would vote with the Tories on key economic policies. All of the MPs who have resigned to topple Corbyn abstained on the 2015 welfare bill, which allowed the Conservatives to make a further £12bn of ideological cuts to public services.
Overall, the Labour coup’s argument is a tautologous sham: Corbyn is unfit to lead because he has lost support of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). But, at the same time, he has lost the support of the PLP because he is ‘unfit to lead’.
Whether by deselection or defection, it is imperative to make way for Labour MPs that represent ordinary people. As Kerry-anne Mendoza writes:
For Labour to provide an anti-austerity platform in the next election, and provide the left wing answer to austerity, it needs anti-austerity, unashamedly left wing MPs. For it to represent working class concerns, it needs working class MPs. This unwelcome and unrequested intervention by the Labour mutineers presents the party membership with a chance to restock those benches with MPs that look, sound and think like the voters they will need next time round. Butchers, bakers, entrepreneurs, teachers, social workers, public defenders, journalists, carers, the staff of the NHS, office workers, call centre workers, bus and train drivers – an influx of new and fresh voices, a break from career MPs. Imagine that at the next election? The stale, dry offering of the Conservative party, versus a movement of, and by, the true face of Britain.
Deselecting the plotters from the PLP could birth a true people’s party facilitated by Corbyn’s leadership. Removing these establishment MPs is the path to a Labour party that genuinely represents the 99%.
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