Moving on from Labour’s toxic civil war

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Moving on from Labour's toxic civil war

Roar writer Rory Orwell argues Labour must end its civil war if it is to succeed in battle with the Tories. 

Some scholars argue that the liberal side of politics has recently been defensive and divided by populism and hobbyism. The example of the UK Labour party brings the factor of factionalism into the picture. As a recently leaked 860-page dossier corroborates, Labour appears to be in a state of perpetual internal civil war.

Yet the Conservatives prioritise focus groups over ideology. The Tory party is a like a Machiavellian chameleon whose colours change to suit the prevailing national mood. Its habitat is the ‘centre-ground’, a nebulous but powerful concept. Under Theresa May and Boris Johnson, its policies increasingly tinged of Ukip purple and socialist scarlet. Tories were more able to unite behind their unifying belief in power. General elections were won, whether convincingly in 2019 and 2015, or narrowly and clumsily, as in 2010 and 2017 respectively. 

Whilst Labour’s factions bickered furiously, they all sank further into the quicksand of unpopularity.

Blame games erupted as comrade Corbyn’s ‘leadership team’ worsened his wider crisis of confidence with a losing combination of apathy and enmity. His bitter acolytes can now comfort themselves with the counterfactual delusion that their dear leader was undermined from within rather than rejected by the public.

The party became a pretty nasty place to work. Imagine the awkwardness in meetings of the National Executive Committee at Labour HQ. It is summer 2018, between the two election defeats of 2017 and 2019, the latter its worst since 1935. Simpler, better times. 2018, that is. Chief advisor Seamus Milne, the most eminent and greyest des éminences grises, is arguing that Brexit ambiguity will not destroy Labour’s electoral ambitions.

Team spirit has evaporated. The atmosphere is toxic in both senses of the word as the hot, polluted afternoon drags on. Minutes of both kinds become distorted. Crunches of vegan beetroot crisps and splashes of EU-imported elderflower cordial are heard. The sweaty party officials all think, perhaps for the first time, along the same lines: pour me… can things only get better…?

Apparently not. Corbyn glances at the agenda. Next up is choreographing a cover-up of rampant antisemitism to attempt to propitiate the British Jewish ‘community’, a word politicians like to evoke. He grimaces and glares leftward towards Milne as if to say, ‘I’m not sure this is a great idea’. About 7 out of 10 present would agree. ‘Shall we call it a day then?’ Corbyn asks the dismal, divided politburo. An excruciating silence follows as its commissars, avoiding all eye contact, are roused from the void of their daydreams. Nobody dares speak. One texts another, sat next to him, ‘he should have said that in a resignation speech 2 years ago’. The meeting is adjourned, to universal relief.

This unprecedented pandemic has the potential to, simply put, change so much.

The Westminster pendulum of who governs and who opposes is moved by swing voters changing their minds. Already it has radically altered the facts of the economy. Chancellor ‘whatever it takes’ Sunak’s neo-Keynesian support measures have set aside more funding for the NHS than could any pseudo-pledge on a Vote Leave bus (a simplification at best, a distortion at worst).

Thus Labour can no longer be validly associated with profligate deficits as the Conservatives still are with austerity in the 2010s – albeit a result of the last global financial crisis in 2008. Mere weekly applause is not a sufficient recompense for the staff of an NHS now stretched to and beyond its limits. Labour could be a forum for new ideas for the ‘new normal’, and could well pull off a 1945-style, ‘post-war’ election victory. It must pull its head from out of the sand of these exaggerated ‘factions’. For they were the future once.

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