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Is a Labour split inevitable?

By Frank McKenna

By Frank McKenna

I have never known a more incompetent or directionless government as the one which is leading the country at present. Sadly, I have never known a less effective, disunited official opposition either.

Theresa May presides over a Conservative Party boasting a Foreign Secretary that has taken buffoonery to another level; a cabinet that is split asunder on what a final Brexit deal should look like; and a bunch of backwoodsmen on her backbenchers led by Jacob Rees-Mogg who look and sound like they have been dug up from the Nineteenth Century.

Against such a rag, tag, and bobtail lot, the Labour Party should be knocking spots off their opponents and holding the type of double-digit poll leads once enjoyed by Tony Blair.

Instead, Jeremy Corbyn’s mob have spent much of 2018 focussed on the internal mechanisms and machinations of its party machine. There was a fight over National Executive Committee places. There was a row over who the new party General Secretary should be. Momentum manoeuvres are resulting in the removal of long-time Labour leaders in a number of London boroughs. MPs are being openly threatened with de-selection.

Following the fragile peace that followed the last General Election, when Labour performed better than anyone, including the party leadership, thought they would, this improbable détente has now crashed and burned.

It was always going to be challenging for mainstream party members to swallow the culture of politics that is always generated by the hard left. The lack of cohesion and commitment from the opposition frontbench in holding the government to account on Brexit must be disappointing and galling in equal measure though.

To compound matters, this month, Labour has surpassed itself as far as shooting itself in the foot (repeatedly) is concerned.

Rows over Russia and anti-Semitism, as well as Owen Smith’s shadow cabinet sacking and moves to unseat Dan Jarvis, selected to fight the mayoral election in South Yorkshire, have highlighted the chasm that now exist within the party.

Corbynistas scream ‘smear’ and ‘foul’ whenever the leaderships position or actions are questioned. Bizarrely, these same disciples never saw a problem with undermining Labour governments and Labour leaders in the recent past. Indeed, St Jeremy himself often walked through the lobby with the detested Tory party to vote against the Labour whip in parliament (collective responsibility anybody?). Indeed, many who now hold senior party posts have actively campaigned against Labour at several elections.

As someone who first campaigned for Labour in a General Election back in 1983, when Michael Foot was the leader, I never thought I would see such chaos engulf the party again. My assessment is that 2018 is worse for Labour than 1983. Only the incompetence of its Tory opponent is saving it from obliteration -and the Conservatives won’t be this bad forever.

Labour’s left will be emboldened by what I anticipate will be a decent set of local election results in May. London will be particularly fertile ground. However, the electorate use local polls to protest. May’s poll will be no reflection of what will happen at the next general Election.

So, what does Labour’s ‘mainstream’ do – stick or twist? Those of us who have held a party membership card for almost forty-years have an emotional attachment to Labour. The problem is, Corbyn’s Labour doesn’t look or feel like Labour to me. On the most important issue facing the country, Brexit, he, and his cohorts are nowhere.

For now, most long-standing members and MPs will stay and hope for an unlikely change of direction, or at least see some evidence of a more accommodating approach from the dominant wing of the organisation.

Nonetheless, many more months like this one, and I can’t see how a split is avoidable.

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