Where does Labour go now? “We’re going nowhere,” defiantly cry Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and their supporters. “Precisely,” comes the response from everyone else in the Parliamentary Labour Party.
MPs have never been Jeremy Corbyn’s strongest supporters but they gave him a chance. They sat behind him at Prime Minister’s Questions and tried to laugh loyally at his “jokes”—not at David Cameron’s. They didn’t serve in his Shadow Cabinet if they felt they could not contribute to the new leadership’s agenda, but joined it where they felt they could help make a good fist of things (For example, Hilary Benn served as Shadow Foreign Secretary until Sunday, despite disagreeing with the direction that Corbyn was taking the party in). Even after the shambolic reshuffle in January many good people stayed around out of loyalty to the Labour Party.
But Brexit has proved a bridge too far and now they are abandoning him. It is like Snakes on a Plane—everywhere you turn there is another resignation. There are too many to list—and the list gets longer every minute (as it currently stands he has lost 20 members of his 31-strong Shadow Cabinet, and a further 11 shadow ministers). It is not just the usual anti-Corbyn suspects who are involved. Lisa Nandy (Shadow Energy Secretary), John Healey (Shadow Housing Minister), Chris Matheson (MP for Chester), to take just three, are not identikit MPs—not cookie cutter Blairites intent on a “right wing coup.” They are good, talented Labour people driven to despair and demanding change. What we are seeing is the full scale revolt of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and the cause can be summed up by one sentence from Chris Bryant’s resignation letter:
“I fear you will go down in history as the man who broke the Labour Party.”
The victory of “Leave” in the Brexit referendum is the catalyst for the revolt.
The lack of enthusiasm Corbyn had for Britain “Remaining” in the EU was evident in all that he did. To say that he posed in his performance would be to imply far too much vigour. Had Labour voters supported for Labour policy then we would still be in the European Union; they didn’t and they will suffer the most from the consequences of Brexit. As the Tories chose a new leader and the EU starts to sketch options for the UK the country desperately needs an opposition that not merely functions but is led—and led well.
Corbyn’s response to all this is typical of his time as leader, but now it is not just incompetent, it is insulting too. The new Shadow Cabinet appointments which were rushed out this morning are, frankly, a joke. The UK faces a constitutional crisis, the Good Friday Agreement is under assault from Sinn Fein and Labour’s Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is Dave Anderson. Dave Anderson. Now, Dave is a lovely guy but he is totally and utterly out of his depth. What is said about the future of Northern Ireland over the next days and weeks will have consequences. We face the unraveling of a peace deal that settled an 800 year long conflict and the best Corbyn can do is this?
The thing is, this is the best he can do. Literally. Anyone else would die of shame, any normal politician would resign.
Yet Corbyn supporters still tirelessly cite his mandate. True, he won an election on one day last year. But it was not a mandate to be utterly useless. Nor was it one to betray young people—for they are the ones who have to live with the consequences of the Brexit that Corbyn colluded in. The facts on the ground within the Labour Party are changing as well as the mood of the PLP.
What are the next steps after the resignations? What if Corbyn won’t go? Will there be a leadership election? Will Corbyn get on the ballot? Who will be the candidate(s)? All good questions but of secondary importance at the moment. It is now clear that while Corbyn remains leader there is no Labour Party. Without him, there is a chance—and the priority must be seizing it. The PLP is creating that chance—more power to the PLP!