Sinking without a trace

Another dispatch from inside the Westminster village

Which is deserting Labour faster, voters or leadership authority? It is a surprisingly tough question. On the one hand, it barely registers as a shock that Labour can poll third with working-class voters, or lose Copeland after holding the seat for 82 continuous years. On the other hand, a shadow minister did sign off their weekly team meeting recently with ‘Well, I suppose I might see you next week or I might not’, before voting against a three-line whip.

They kept their job. That vote, on triggering article 50, was a defining moment for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour in the way that being hit below the waterline is a defining moment for a battleship. The reshuffle on deck which followed was Corbyn’s fifth, and perhaps will be seen, when the history books are written, as the most damaging to him because of how it split his core supporters.

It is hard to tell who did well out of it. Whips who voted against their own whip kept their jobs but presumably lost some authority. In an ever diminishing inner circle, Rebecca Long-Bailey gained the coveted title of the fastest-rising Corbynista star since the last one. Clive Lewis and Dawn Butler quit, beginning what might be best termed an ‘uncoupling’ period with the Corbyn project. Jon Trickett, election supremo no more, was pushed out with perhaps more than lingering doubt about his commitment to the revolutionary cause.

Not even those who stayed where they were emerged unscathed. Angela Rayner found herself on the wrong end of some selectively briefed focus group polling looking at potential leaders in the post-Corbyn era. Might the leak – which described John McDonnell’s protégé Long-Bailey as the more credible choice of future leader – have been a response to Trickett’s sacking?

But the frenzy of speculation around Lewis resigning was well wide of the mark in terms of leadership challenges. He will have shored up his support in his heavily ‘Remain’ constituency, but there is a general air of scepticism about him in the corridors of Westminster, with his indecisive and inconsistent behaviour doing him no favours. The tone was set when Tom Watson produced a performance on Marr which would not look out of place on House of Cards, wryly commenting that he respected Lewis for wanting to ‘spend the next five years campaigning for his constituents’.

Lewis will be yet another ‘could be leader’ in a very crowded pack. But the often unloved collective he now has to build support in, the parliamentary Labour party, has had a good act two in the Corbyn drama. Opting to stay out of trouble below deck, they have left the depleted captain’s crew with no one to blame but themselves for the ship running aground.

Great expectations

All eyes might have been on some more high-profile byelections recently, but it is worth asking: with election coordinators shuffled and reshuffled, does Labour have a plan for the local and mayoral elections in May?

The elections are at a crucial time for Labour in local government. Budget cuts and the unpopularity of Labour nationally are the two main criticisms levelled at Labour council leaders, whose recent gathering at the Local Government Association saw many stay away from the address by John McDonnell.

Your insider hears that instead of preparing to win council seats, the usual pattern of expectation management is well underway. Shadow ministers were recently treated to a big polling presentation, showing an apocalyptic worst-case scenario for Labour. It was, of course, designed to be leaked – the same tactic employed last year, which allowed Corbyn to say ‘we hung on’ after going backwards in the local elections. Expect more of the same this year.

Down with pragmatism

More acrimonious hard-left splits and paranoia in the leader’s office. The embattled bunker has been divided since day one, but is now more publicly visible. Simon Fletcher’s departure from his role as director of campaigns follows that of Neale Coleman, head of policy, a year ago. Both Fletcher and Coleman were vital links to the party’s backbenchers and local government leaders. Both were associated with Ken Livingstone and his secretive supporter group Socialist Action, but were at least the only people around Corbyn to have experience of running anything.

That Seumas Milne is the constant source of irritation will not surprise many readers. The announcement that he has now left the Guardian permanently was the final proof he had won the battle for supremacy within the plush office suites reserved in parliament for the leader of the opposition.

Last summer’s leadership challenge emboldened Milne, who urged Corbyn to hang on and not resign. Weary Labour staffers are being reminded of university lectures on how hardliners within regimes can dramatically alter the course of events. With Milne and Karie Murphy now running the show, the hardliners in Corbyn’s camp are decisively in control.

With the pragmatists departing, what is left of the leader’s team will be encouraged that they are right to not repair relations with the backbenches. Such confidence usually only comes before a fall.

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Comments: 6...

  1. On March 3, 2017 at 2:42 pm Delta responded with... #

    Unfortunately the pragmatists long left long before this.
    It takes something to create the correct environment for Corbyn and cretins like Milne.
    Meanwhile you are clumsily mis-nuancing yourselves to death in an era Blair has no understanding of….though I am sure the Lib Dems will be sure to thank him as they take your seats and the Conservatives quite wisely sweep up the rest.
    It won’t go to UKIP though…at least not yet to take the remains that fall off the edge of the table.

    A new age approaches – a tough one, but for most people tough is normal. But it will be one of confidence and the final shallow empty legacy of Blair and Mandelson will perish.

    A women will rise and an exciting time is arriving for genuinely talented women in politics not the low grade female drabs in quota seats in Labour whose presence certainly does make women look ill suited to politics.

    Its a balanced objective observation.

    Something most of your MPs could not manage and have not the wits to aspire to.

    In 1997 you had an opportunity. In 2002 you had an opportunity.
    Instead you chose to focus on short term grudges, petulance and self-interest.

    In 2020 The Labour Coffin will begin its descent as Corbyn or whatever nitwit replaces him gives the epitaph.

    Written on the coffin will be the words.

    “Labour defeated by ourselves”

  2. On March 3, 2017 at 5:10 pm Elizabeth McIntosh responded with... #

    I didn’t know there were two Labour Parties with different destinies. If Corbyn’s party is sinking then the Labour Party is. Voters don’t make the subtle distinctions of sectarian groups like progress.
    It will not just be left wing MPs who lose their seats. The right will too. We have already seen our right wing candidate lose in Copeland.
    It is the approach of progress with its hysterical shrieking at Corbyn that encourage his inflexibility while diverting the party from maturing its approach. Fighting a constant civil war means Corbyn and his supporters make contingent errors, display poor judgement and a lack of political skill. If progress and its gang of right wing MPs would calm down then Labour could develop a defendable position to move forward. Instead we get a daily hate sheet from progress.

  3. On March 3, 2017 at 7:28 pm David Lindsay responded with... #

    Two years ago, if any event were addressed by Owen Jones, then he himself was the event. But, like Peter Tatchell, he has now joined the long list of old left-wing star turns who resent having been made into supporting acts by a man whom they had spent decades assuming was the cloakroom attendant, yet who turns out to have an appeal beyond their wildest dreams.

    Jones’s insistence that anti-Trump events are only “official” if they are approved by him is the mark of a man who has quite taken leave of his senses. When I pointed out that his approach to certain previous military interventions and American Presidents made him an impossible spokesman or figurehead for the opposition to Donald Trump, then he blocked me on Twitter and unfriended me on Facebook, after the manner of a petulant teenager. He is utterly unused to criticism, and he reacts to it very badly indeed.

    His flip-flop on withdrawal from the European Union bespoke a lack of order or clarity in his thinking, and a certain opportunism that was also evident in the decision of his close friend, Clive Lewis, to resign from the Shadow Cabinet in order to vote against the activation of Article 50. Lewis is now the other key figure in the “official” demonstrations against Trump.

    But when Jeremy Corbyn departs the Labour Leadership, at the time of his choosing and not before the middle of the next Parliament at the absolute earliest, then he will be succeeded by one of three people. Those are all from the 2015 intake. In no particular order, they are Rebecca Long-Bailey, Angela Rayner and Richard Burgon. None of those is Clive Lewis, nor is any of them likely to engage the services of Owen Jones.

    Moreover, two of them are women, but neither of those women is Jess Phillips. Phillips has built a media career on the lie that MPs first elected in 2015, and especially the women among them, have not enjoyed preferment under Corbyn. But they have. So it’s you, Jess. It’s just you. Yet she is now dropping broad enough intends that she intends to stand for the Leadership this year. Well, bring that on, say I. For the sheer hilarity, bring it on.

    Although Phillips does at least have the advantage of being a member of the House of Commons, and indeed a resident of the United Kingdom. David Miliband is neither of those things. The attempted revival of the Transatlantic Torturer declared that Corbyn’s enemies included no sitting MP whom anyone might consider capable of becoming Leader of the Labour Party.

    Who cares what David Miliband says about anything? He was once beaten by Ed Miliband, and that is quite a feat. Big before Twitter and Facebook were, he was such an object of ridicule in his day that he would be drowned in the gales of derision these days. But he is a nasty piece of work. Whereas Phillips, Lewis and Jones are merely laughable.

  4. On March 3, 2017 at 7:42 pm Maxine responded with... #

    Elizabeth. May I ask if you have ever suffered the indignity of right wing politics? I’m genuinely curious about the world the supporters of the current failing labour leader are living in? If Labour is right wing to you then maybe you are untouched by real right wing politics.

    I ask as a black lesbian whose quality of life and hard won freedoms have been eroded by the rise of the right. The political centre ground made up of Labour to the left of centre and the Torys to the right of centre are both being attacked by their own parties. The ‘smell’ of the 1930s is everywhere and I’m watching previously tolerant Brits become desensitised by Nationalist right wing politics.

    For me, in my world: Name calling in the street is back, racist drunks are considered ‘funny’ and go unchallenged. Talk of taking away rights of people by national identity is ‘patriotic’ and ‘common sense.’ Holding people’s lives to ransom is ‘shrewd negotiation’ and accepted Government Policy. Rounding immigrants up in the middle of the night, sending them to detention centres and deporting them by the plane load decades after their PARENTS became illegal immigrants is now common. Some didn’t know they were illegal and went to school and worked in the UK all their lives. They don’t know a thing about their parents country. All accepted policy by a right wing government with only occasional interest from the press. Down sizing companies are disproportionately chucking out BMEs with little noise from Unions.

    The language of political moderation has gone away: equality, tolerance, social justice and prosperity for all are now dirty words by ‘neo-liberals’ At the same time…..The limiting and divisive language of nationalism is back. Multi-cultural policy is treason. I’ve lived to see USA citizens return as the defenders of our civil rights at this difficult time #resist.

    I’m baffled by the far left or what some come ‘true lefts’ role in polarising British politics by campaigning against the centre ground. The US is now where I look for inspiration and a belief that there are enough good people in this world to holt the rise of the global right #resist Meanwhile the like if you,Elizabeth, think the ‘right’ is Labour MPs. Grow up please and fight the real enemy before you sink us all.

  5. On March 3, 2017 at 10:59 pm Elizabeth McIntosh responded with... #

    Maxine – I am not Black and I am not a lesbian. I am elderly and from a Scottish working class background and I have felt the impact of right wing policies.
    First, I need to use the NHS and my care has been underfunded because care for old people is not a priority. Second, I do not get the social care that I need because it is underfunded.
    I could go on about the discrimination old people face and our invisibility but lets not get into a miserabilist competition.
    Like you I am genuinely interested in why someone like you does not support left wing policies. It is the left of the party that has sought for the last 60 years to make Britain an inclusive society while the right of the party which in 1968 brought in legislation to deny entry to Kenyan Asians, enacted an Immigration Act to restrict immigration from the ‘New Commonwealth’ and surrender the political terrain on racism.
    The centre ground you talk of is not static. People like Harold Wilson, Roy Hattersley, Tony Crosland would now be thought of as on the left so far has the centre ground moved to the right. The ‘moderates’ of progress believe the centre is where the Tories are and they tail end them in case opposition alienates.
    As you say, the language of political discourse has coarsened and I am afraid progress is a leading culprit. Read again the language they use about Corbyn and McDonnell – ‘repugnant’ is the word in the description of the article. And this is not isolated. Their attacks are frenzied, they do not seek compromise. They do not appeal to the better angels of our nature.
    Please note, too, I am not far left but do consider it important to support the elected leader of the party and not conspire against him at every opportunity – and have done since joining the Labour League of youth in 1948.
    So I am baffled that someone like you feels the centre is where progress is. I would suggest you need to do a little bit more reading of Labour history and understand the concepts of right and left within the party. Just because a faction says it is moderate and progressive and modernising does not mean it is. Look at its actions and behaviour and you will find it is not any of these things. As you say they need to focus on the real enemy rather than wage permanent revolution against the leadership.

  6. On March 4, 2017 at 9:36 am Alf responded with... #

    Look on the bright side. 26,000 Blairites have left the party since last summer.

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