Discussion with senior Labour figures confirms thatby Alex Dean / September 26, 2016 / Leave a comment
John McDonnell has said that “unity” is the watchword of this year’s Labour conference, and he’s right. Many here in Liverpool are hoping that after a bruising clash between the party’s left and right, MPs can put their differences aside and focus fire on the Conservatives. But I have spoken to some of Labour’s most senior figures—and dozens of its members—and one thing is clear: that unity is a mile off. The left is emboldened by Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election as leader and intends to plough on—even up the ante—despite his personal approval rating being 71 points lower than Theresa May’s. But Corbyn is not for turning. The seriousness of this cannot be overstated. With the government clueless on Brexit, the country needs a functioning opposition now more than at any time for a generation—but Corbyn’s team continues to care more about putting the left’s stamp on Labour than anything else. The chances of unity emerging from such a mess are very slim indeed.
Corbyn’s inner circle is determined that things are looking up. Diane Abbott, Shadow Health Secretary and one of Corbyn’s longest-standing political allies, told me: “the party membership is looking for MPs to unite behind the newly-elected leader. The party in the country is not divided in any serious way, and there’s a real unity around all sorts of policy issues.”
I also spoke to Dennis Skinner, the 84 year old MP for Bolsover, who told me: “I think Labour will unite. It’s got no other alternative really. Because even if some of them want to wander away, some of the ultra-right MPs, the truth is they’re not gonna make much of an impact. The last lot [The “Gang of Four” who left Labour in the 1980s to form the Social Democratic Party] tried it, many years ago when Michael Foot was around, and it failed miserably.”
MPs from the Smith camp, too, have declared that unity is now vital. Kezia Dugdale, leader of the Scottish Labour Party, wrote in Prospect today that “It’s time for us to start fighting the Tories. We can only do that if all wings of the party come together.” Ed Miliband has said that MPs must fall in behind Corbyn.