Jon Cruddas’ long-awaited independent inquiry into why Labour lost last year’s general election, released last month, was a rerun of the slow-motion car crash your insider, and, no doubt readers at home, bore horrified witness to after 2010. As a bucket of cold water to snap the old believers out of their earlier faith in the fatal ‘35 per cent strategy’ it ought to do the job, and ought too to warn the new leadership off the mistakes of their predecessors. But it does not feel as though the chill has really sunk in, and, in any case, one sometimes feels as though Jeremy Corbyn is acting and behaving as Ed Miliband wishes he had. There is a certain clarity to Corbyn’s message which Miliband, in his fog of predistribution, predators and producers, was never going to achieve. The latter may now be living vicariously through the former, and is clearly on manoeuvres to edge back towards the action.
There is only one senior role which is likely to come free in the near future through natural wastage. As Labour’s candidate for mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham would be seizing his chance to, at last, have his favourite biscuit – beer, chips and gravy – always within easy northern reach. As a result, Miliband may finally feel at home. An away appointment – replacing shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn – would be hugely more divisive. He would also be toppling one of his closest allies from his time as leader. But, then again, it does not feel one can rule anything out these days.
‘Political differences in the Labour Party are nothing compared with this poison. Breathtaking.’ So tweeted Ilford North member of parliament Wes Streeting following Sunday Times revelations of one Brexit-loving Tory MP who felt it was no overshare to confess that: ‘I don’t want to stab the prime minister in the back – I want to stab him in the front so I can see the expression on his face …You’d have to twist the knife, though, because we want it back for [George] Osborne’.
Whether to stab in the front or the back seems to be a new line of contemplation for MPs in the 2015-2020 parliament. Last year Labour’s Jess Phillips responded with characteristic forthrightness to a question from Guardian columnist Owen Jones, ‘If that means making Jeremy better, I’ll roll my sleeves up. If that’s not going to happen – and I’ve said [this] to him and to his staff to their faces: “The day that … you are hurting us more than you are helping us, I won’t knife you in the back, I’ll knife you in the front.”’ Remarks which prompted the similarly outspoken John Mann to suggest her as future Labour leader while, lurking in their caves, the Twitter trolls threatened to call 999 about an alleged attempted murder threat.
Phillips’ choice of wording was clearly metaphorical, while the mystery Tory’s language bordered on the genuine in its desire for a spot of MP-on-PM violence. Streeting may be right in identifying the deep seam of poison welling up inside Tory Towers – and the Conservative party may really erupt from 24 June onwards. Labour’s own internal differences tend to surge and recede in the public view, but may yet prove more slow-burning and ultimately deadly. The Tories may eventually draw the venom with a new leader who will certainly be in position by 2020. In Labour there is immensely less clarity about why, how and when its own leadership v parliamentary party stand-off will end.
Never quit the room
For the time being, the stand-off rumbles on, sometimes extramurally. ‘The Great Hitler Debate of 2016’ was how Spectator assistant editor Isabel Hardman wryly dubbed the incongruent (yet somehow congruent) spectacle of amateur Third Reich historian Ken Livingstone, first, invoking the former German chancellor to enlighten the debate around the painful revelations of Naz Shah’s Facebooked views on Israel only to, then, scold the man he couldn’t beat, Boris Johnson. The latter had himself thought it OK to go all BTL in public and show that ‘Godwin’s Law’ – the longer an online discussion goes on, the more likely it is a comparison with Nazism will rear its ugly head – need not happen only online, or take very long at all.
As well served as we clearly are with our leaders’ peacock displays of erudition and reflection, lower down the food chain the rest of us are being faced with what might in turn be dubbed ‘The Great Antisemitism Dialectic of the 21st Century’. There is clearly unfinished business from the last millennium, as reinstated Labour party member Jackie Walker wished to demonstrate when she thought it important to argue that Jews were ‘chief financiers of the slave trade.’ Her readmittance to Labour late last month will do nothing but worsen the perception that the party has not got a handle on the problem. In the same week, Labour councillor Phil Rosenberg wrote what he described as ‘a piece I never wanted to write’, an article describing how his local GC meeting voted down discussion of a motion on the agenda which condemned antisemitism, Islamophobia, all forms of racism and hate crime. 1980s veteran John Spellar’s warning to Progress Political Weekend this year is being realised: that life in Labour will soon be characterised by efforts to make things unbearable – to deliberately drive people out. All the more reason to stay. ‘Never quit the room’ is a good adage, but it will not be one that is easy to live out.
Cartoon: Ian Baker
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