2 December 2015

Labour will have to split. Here’s how to do it


Splits and the creation of new factions that peeled off used to be normal in the Commons of the 19th and early 20th century. Free traders split and found cause with other free traders in other parties and drifted across the spectrum. Unionists of particular dispositions clustered together. Groups formed that voted and dined together, allying with one of the larger parties but not always formally merging.

The idea of two, enormous, fixed blocks centrally run with a national leadership overseeing a coalition of interests under one badge, is relatively new historically speaking. It also looks as though it is an idea that may have had its day. Only the SNP – in which MPs and MSPs are prohibited from criticising the leadership or SNP ministers, and free votes are virtually unheard of – persists with the mono-cultural approach to whipping and discipline because it holds together an unlikely alliance that spans the far left, social democrats and Tartan Tories.

The Tory tribe will be fractured in the EU referendum and it is conceivable, unlikely but conceivable, that a formal breakaway by Eurosceptics or Europhiles will happen, depending on how bitter the referendum becomes.

In the context of weakening class loyalties and consumer choice, what will become of the Corbyn-led Labour party?

Several months ago I suggested that the only way to save it was for the moderates to fight back. They should go to moderate, former donors and ask for help. Each moderate in a CLP should go out and recruit five sane Labour voters or former voters on a “save sensible Labour” basis. A new organisation, a rival to the Corbynite Momentum mob, should be founded to coordinate the rescue, fight deselections and put together a moderate policy platform.

In recent months there have been individual acts of great bravery, by MPs such as Mike Gapes (get well soon) and John Woodcock. Some members of the shadow cabinet are sticking it to the Corbynites. But it isn’t working and the effort isn’t focussed enough to make a difference.

This must be galling for Labour moderates who are fighting hard. Their party has been taken over by a small band of far left Labour types who have been joined by all manner of headbangers from the Greens and the hard left fringes. People who only recently joined Labour, and Corbyn backers who once backed other left-wing fringe parties, now scream abuse at people who have given a lifetime of service to Labour. It is ugly. It is a classic piece of hard left infiltration that people like Neil Kinnock, Charles Clarke and John Reid thought they had seen off in the 1980s. The left is back, and it has won.

In such circumstances, a split starts to look like the only option. This need not be the SDP-style schism that some imagine; there are other options short of that. Here’s how it can be done:

1) The sensible people in the cabinet, more than half of them, resign over the next provocation or Stalinist idiocy.

2) A new parliamentary grouping is formed – real Labour, classic Labour, non-wingnut Labour, take your pick. No-one resigns their parliamentary seat. The group sits together, it votes together, it sticks together, it whips together. Do the same in the Lords.

3) It’s a party within a party, cry the Corbynites! So what, say the moderates, sue us. That will take time and the moderates have good access to top London lawyers. Quite a few of the moderates are lawyers. Tie up Corbyn in court cases and rows over Commons procedure that make him look even more cretinous.

4) The Real Labour group should appeal to donors for help and establish a “policy and membership network” in a building in Westminster, advocating radical party reform and the complete end of Len McCluskey. It’s a headquarters for a new party, scream the Corbynites. Again, sue us, you muppets, say the moderates.

5) This way the moderates either end up with a movement that can take back Labour over the course of a couple of years, or they have the foundations in place for a new party that can claim credibly to be the true or new Labour party uncoupled forever from screaming Trots and trade union bosses.

This approach would be messy and quite nasty, but not much more messy and nasty than the situation already is. At least, this way, the moderates could regroup and start to build a mainstream left of centre party that cuts out the unions and exposes the hard left for what it is.

Iain Martin is Editor of CapX