Labour pains: can the British left unite under the Labour party?

Unity is underrated. Groups that work together to become better than the sum of their parts often achieve more than anyone could think and yet, especially in our recent political culture, there is a clear disparity between the ideal and the reality. We have endured a year of bickering and hostility in the Labour party that would make even the most spiteful of divorced couples shudder with embarrassment. There have, of course, been over-the-top Nazi comparisons, childish outbursts reminiscent of toy shop tantrums and a plethora of conspiracy theories – some slightly zanier than others, but luckily none reaching lizard-people levels of delusion (which is exactly how our Lizard overlords want it).

 

There are a few facts in this debate, but sadly they don’t really get us anywhere. It is a fact that media coverage towards Corbyn has been rather hostile and has often ignored the points he is trying to make. It is also a fact that Labour would be crushed under Corbyn if a general election was held today. A lot of that is to do with the rarity with which he has managed to articulate ideas clearly, as opposed to being caused wholly by bias or disunity within his own party. One promising poll out of seventy-odd doesn’t mean that Labour could win an election.

 

The often patronising nature of some of the more vociferous ends of both parties has done nothing to help. We are resigned to the knowledge that the newer pro-Corbyn members will relegate the general public to the role of unenlightened plebs who just need to see the light, and the Blarite fossils shall denigrate those who question the established consensus as “out of touch” or “childish”.

 

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There is hope, of course. The Labour party has come out in favour of multilateral, rather than unilateral, disarmament again, which shows compromise from the Corbynite wing. Whilst the debate on Trident will continue to rumble on, renewal is simply more popular as a policy. Quite frankly the philosophical hand-wringing over the existence of nuclear weapons should be taking a back seat to those other more pressing issues, such as Brexit, housing, inequality, cronyism, electoral reform and a hundred other things.

 

There is a place for principles, but the principles that affect actual change for those who need it should be prioritised over a hypothetical. Hopefully, this is the first of many olive branches extended by one end of the party to the other.

 

Compromise and pragmatism should be the words on everyone’s lips. Purity and ideology are important, of course, but a dogmatic adherence to ideology will only end badly. Both sides of the party are guilty of this intellectual fraud, assuming that they know the right way. When either side has been confronted with uncomfortable truths, they have both dug their heels in rather than concede on any point.

 

Labour needs to take courage from Oedipus who, upon realising his patricidal error, blinded himself and left Thebes. Penance for mistakes made in the past is a vital part of reconciliation and will go a long way to causing the rifts that have widened over the last year in the party. Whilst New Labour did achieve a lot, they also oversaw the slow disenfranchisement of the British working class; a massive decline in Labour’s traditional voter base; and a cavalier attitude to economic liberalisation and globalisation. You cannot rest on your laurels, especially when your massive triumphs came alongside many concering issues. Equally, believing in a real left-wing electoral policy and being opposed to ideological austerity is certainly something many can get behind, but there have been real issues with bullying, harassment and a worrying detachment from everyday electoral reality and arithmetic: your ability to do anything will always be limited by a lack of power, and you can’t help people by protesting and opposing in the same way that you can when you are making decisions and policy.

 

A somewhat diametrically opposed point that needs to be taken aboard by the Labour party comes from the big JC himself – not Corbyn, but Jesus. “Forgive them, for they know not what they do” is a pretty powerful concept, contained elegantly in just nine words. Both sides of the party need to forgive the other for perceived wrongs and remember that everyone wants a fairer society. The right of the party need to understand the real and justified anger towards some of the actions of the New Labour movement. The left of the party need to understand that there is palpable frustration and resentment with a perceived radicalism that is damaging Labour’s electoral chances and rubbishing the many achievements of the period 1997 – 2010.

 

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Having no credible opposition means that ideology and intellectual amateurism wins out. We are already seeing this with May who, despite her wafer thin majority, is trying to push forward with a foolhardy schools bill that flies in the face of near enough every expert opinion and piece of research on the topic, purely because she likes the look of it. She has been shown to be fairly incompetent in her last post, showcasing an amusing mix of attempted authoritarianism and sheer unworkable idiocy. Her inability to stand up to the hard right of her party, who are clamouring for a “hard Brexit” based on their own outdated beliefs, means we may face another weak-willed leader blinded by the intoxication of power and ill-thought out, short-term populism a la David Cameron. May has been lifted above her competence by both a lack of accountability and a lack of other options. We have already seen mixed-messages and inane tautology that wouldn’t look out of place in The Thick of It (Brexit means Brexit means Brexit), so it is of paramount importance that she is constrained by a viable opposition – although even her own party are now accusing her of having no plan.

 

To become this opposition, Labour needs to unite, or we will continue bouncing from crisis to crisis. Whether or not they do is up to those who make up the party, but it will definitely require patience, understanding and an ability to see beyond perceived “right” and “wrong”. It is early days, but there is hope yet.

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