It has become something of a cliché to say you can’t believe everything (or, indeed, anything) that you read in the papers. Increasingly the same is true of Twitter, unfiltered as it is and accessible to anyone with a digit to type with and an axe to grind. All clichés contain some degree of truth, though, and this one means it is almost impossible to get a clear, unbiased picture of what is going on in the Labour party at present, and what the exact outcome of the leadership election will be will be. So, what follows isn’t a scientifically validated piece of research, nor has it been weighted, tested and analysed via careful studies, opinion polls and focus groups. (Focus groups. Whatever happened to them? Yet another sure-fire way of keeping politics fresh and relevant but which turns out to have been little more than a passing fad, and which is now more uncool than a hedge fund manager at Glastonbury) (But then again, I’ve never met a hedge fund manager, nor been to Glastonbury, so what would I know?) No goats have been sacrificed in the writing of this blog, nor chicken entrails examined. This piece is more along the lines of a peculiarly political daydream, a game of ‘what if?’ played out in the head of someone who really ought to put down the laptop and get out a bit more.
What if Jeremy wins? What then for the Labour party?
You may be passionately on one side of the current debate or the other, with strongly and sincerely held views about the suitability, virtuosity and talents of your chosen candidate and their supporters, and the many, massive, manifold inadequacies of their opponents and their underhanded tactics. Or, like me, you might find yourself adopting the foetal position with distressing frequency, rocking back and forwards and moaning ‘make the pain go away, please someone just make it STOP!’. Whichever stance claims you, we can all surely agree that this schism has inflicted real damage on the party, which needs to start uniting, moving on and taking the fight to the Tories. Remember them? You know, the *really* bad guys, who doubtless set the alarm every morning in anticipation of another productive and profitable day of stealth shitstorms, heartless homilies, spineless sell-offs and furtive fuck ups.
I’m sorry if you are backing Owen Smith and think I’m being presumptuous here. I’m not. I’m being lazy, if anything, because thinking through the various permutations of either candidate winning seems a stretch too far for my supersaturated brain, which has been immersed in potential permutations for what seems like decades now.
For no very scientific reasons, I have identified three possible outcomes once the votes have been counted and Jeremy declared the winner.
Archives of Pain
Jeremy wins by such an overwhelming majority that the PLP and dissident MPs feel they have no choice but to stay and win back control of the party they love and, for the most part, have devoted their lives to supporting. Corbyn feels invigorated by a fresh, increased mandate but his opponents feel their case is more urgent than ever, so the infighting continues and the mood stays overwhelmingly hostile, inward looking and depressingly, well, depressing. Mrs May can’t believe her luck and sails on in her mission to roll back the state, sell off its assets and rescind human rights while looking and sounding reasonable. Because, how couldn’t she? All she’d have to do is look in control of her party to appear efficient and effective. And loathe them or hate them, the Tories are ruthlessly well organised and practiced at presenting a united front, no matter how idiotic individual members/factions/policies ought to make them look. It was widely predicted that the referendum would destroy their party, although I could never quite allow myself to be seduced by that idea. The ham faced replicant erstwhile PM lost the vote; he resigned, as did Gideon eventually, and for a few delicious hours they looked like the rudderless excuse for a government they have always seemed to be in my eyes. But it didn’t last long; they soon did what any ruthless pack of predators do and regrouped. (Like a pack of hyenas, in fact. Mangy, smirking, feeding on the weak and vulnerable and with a penchant for faux leopard print.)
Faced with the arguments of the last 12 months being rehashed for the next 4 or 5 years, many party members (myself included, in the interests of full disclosure) would begin a process of consciously uncoupling. Perhaps there would be a bewildered few months to be spent agonising over what to do, how to help, what would be best. We’re nice people, aren’t we? Socialist, caring, practical, good-hearted; our natural instinct is to see what needs doing and pitch in to help. Personally speaking, my own brand of feckless optimism is a consciously adopted stance; a small act of rebellion in a world where the powerful want me to feel defeated, overwhelmed, apathetic, beaten. I will not yield to that pressure. The audacity of hope, if you like. But even my legendary levels of positivity can’t take much more of this pain, and the only way for me to maintain them, and my sanity, in these circumstances, would be to take them and my enthusiasm elsewhere
Some Kind of Nothingness
Jeremy wins by such an overwhelming majority that the PLP and dissident MPs feel they have no choice but to make their excuses and leave. They cannot comprehend why such an unassuming figure has apparently commanded such an astonishing level of support, and presume this must be because their party has been hijacked by a cult, or some massive entryist conspiracy involving half a million SWP sleeper activists, initiated by nefarious and impenetrable Twitter activity. They feel much as I did on 24th June; the landscape looks familiar but somehow everything has changed and they no longer feel this is their place. So they form a ‘centre left’ alliance, with Lib Dems, and the last half a dozen moderate Tories left in the country, with the aim of defeating the Tories by being slightly less neoliberal and bastardy than they are. This leaves behind a greatly reduced Labour party, but a much more united one; some kind of formal alliance would be necessary for it to have any impact at all in Parliament.
I imagine there would need to be some long, drawn out and expensive legal battle over the heritage of the party in this eventuality. Who would have the right to use the name, premises, staff and assets of the party? This would end up making Jarndyce v Jarndyce look like a minor squabble about who ate the last rolo and would do nothing to dissipate the poisonous legacy of the last year or so. It’s not hard to imagine the corrosive effects such a confrontation would have; it is hard to imagine how any kind of business as usual could be carried on in its shadow
The Future Has Been Here Forever
Jeremy wins by such an overwhelming majority that the PLP and dissident MPs feel they have no choice but to swallow their doubts and misgivings, and do their very best to get behind the leader. They will have finally realised that the wave of popularity that Corbyn is surfing is not predicated around him personally, and at last understood that this is not a cult, some massive entryist conspiracy involving half a million SWP sleeper activists, or a figment of Twitter’s imagination. They will have grasped that this is part of a much wider hunger for change, fairness, justice and reform, which has generated Podemos and Syrzia, and, arguably, which has fuelled Bernie Sanders’ support in the generally anti radical USA. They understand that harnessing this current is a very attractive and very powerful prospect, bringing with it a sense of renewal and optimism, but also that the flip side of this clamour for change is UKIP, EDL and even BNP resurgence. These parties thrive by feeding on people’s fears, and amongst those is the fear that their voices are not being listened to, and that their opinions do not count.
In this scenario, there is no need to make any formal alliance with other parties, but instead there would be a willingness to work together in pursuit of common objectives. A united, reinvigorated party would not need to strike deals, since it would have the confidence to speak in unison with other parties when necessary, rather than to maintain dogmatic differences at any cost. It would put ideals before ideology and pragmatism before policy, if necessary, so there would be no need to, say, abstain in a vote about welfare cuts. (Or Social Security cuts, as I still like to call them in my unreconstructed 20th century brain)
Another Invented Disease
The Labour party was critically wounded by Iraq, but it was a deep, internal wound and the extent of the damage caused was not immediately apparent. It has been quietly haemorrhaging ever since, and now perhaps does not have the inner reserves of strength to withstand the current punishing conflict. This may not necessarily be a bad thing, oddly enough. Nothing in the universe remains constant, and at some point the struggle to stay still expends more effort than the value of changing will reap. This brutal battle may turn out to be the labour pains (sorry!) heralding the birth of a new, better, more fit-for-purpose movement. One with broader appeal, in tune with the thirst for change discernible globally, but also in tune with the core values of social justice, community, inclusiveness and equality. Whatever happens, whatever form the inevitable forthcoming change manifests as, there should be no talk of or room for deselections, purges, traitors, dog, trots, revenge, recanting or any of the other angry, divisive and toxic terms which have been all too frequently used lately. Whoever wins, whatever the outcome, we need to remember that all this bile, negativity, even hatred is not healthy, either for the party, the country or for us personally. People on all sides have said and done intemperate things which would have been better left unsaid and undone. But none of us are perfect and most of the people involved are just trying to work towards what they genuinely believe to be the best outcome. I think it will be really important to draw a line under the divisions, whatever the outcome, and let them go. Be the bigger person. Rise above. Remember what this is really about – winning the next election and getting the ‘endless parade of old Etonian scum/that line the front benches’ back to the wilderness, where they belong.