Now lets face it, even a cursory look at Labour Party history shows us that the tension between the PLP and the rest of the party has been part of the story from the very, very beginning of the party and Ramsey Macdonald’s betrayal of the party in 1931 when he formed a National Government with the Conservatives nearly destroyed the party then.
But even so I have found the reaction of the PLP to Jeremy Corbyn’s election both shocking and disgraceful. The press reaction was more predictable and to a degree easier to fight, but the determination of the PLP to undermine and destroy Corbyn is shocking – at least to naive little old me. It appears the right of the PLP has in fact staked everything on removing Corbyn from office within 6 months, a year at the outside. Previously ambitious politicians have refused to take office in Corbyn’s cabinet, those who did accept office are speaking publicly about the party leader more disparagingly than they do the leader of the Tory party. This is giving the press a field day as the story never gets closed down and smelling blood the press and the right of the PLP mount attack after public attack on their own leader.
For the PLP this strategy has to be based on the judgement that Corbyn will not last longer than six months or a year, and will certainly not last until the next election. Otherwise these ambitious politicians are throwing their careers away. If the members of the current PLP thought Corbyn could survive until and beyond the next election and if they wanted parliamentary political careers in the Labour Party, which they most certainly do, then they would have to play a much more diplomatic game than they are playing.
And if this is true it is very sobering for us Corbynites because it means that most of the PLP have staked their entire careers on getting rid of Corbyn as quickly as possible; they have to have him gone or they have lost everything. And with 90% of the UK media also committed to getting rid of Corbyn he is in a very tough place indeed.
The Syrian vote is of course important but what is more important is that Corbyn stays as party leader for at least a year and if possible until the next election. If the PLP start to understand that Corbyn is going to see this through then they will have to change their approach or wave their careers goodbye.
But what the PLP also don’t seem to understand is that now he has been elected even if they were to be successful in mounting a coup against Corbyn or forcing him to resign, this would be a disaster for the Labour Party. The rank and file have had a glimmer of hope of reclaiming the Labour Party as a party of progressive political change, and if the PLP simply snuff out that hope and try to go back to Blairite neoliberalism then it could be the final nail in the coffin of the Labour Party.
The PLP is acting as if they are a completely different organisation to the rest of the party; as if the party membership has impertinently and illegitimately imposed a leader upon them. They talk and act as if Corbyn did something underhand by winning the election by the biggest majority in any party leadership campaign, of any party, ever. And that because of this unamed and unidentified duplicity they ascribe to Corbyn and his supporters, they can morally justify to themselves their sustained and public attacks on the elected leader of the party. I’ve seen comments like “we will get our party back”, but what the election of Corbyn clearly shows is that it wasn’t ever their party really, and that the New Labour project was an elite project of the PLP and at best got sullen acquiesce from the party rank and file rather than full-blown support.
The PLP don’t seem to understand that without the broader party, the support of the trade unions, and the party machinery they are nothing. They also don’t seem to understand the intensity of the commitment to Corbyn and his political and economic values that is felt by so many of the rank and file of the party.
If Corbyn is ousted surely the Trade Unions, who broadly support Corbyn, would have to reconsider their support for a Parliamentary Labour Party that so clearly does not share their political or economic values and aspirations? Surely many party members would have to reconsider whether they can commit to working so hard at election time to get members of the current PLP elected when the PLP shows such obvious contempt for the views of party members.
And let us be clear; it is not Corbyn who is ‘splitting the party’ it is the Blairite Right who simply refuse to accept the results of the democratic processes of the party. You could argue that the ‘election’ of Jeremy Corbyn is splitting the party but again that is only because of the reaction of the right-wing of the party and their disgraceful lack of grace in defeat. When the left was defeated by Kinnock’s progroms of the ’80’s many, including me, resigned from the party because it was clearly no longer a party that tolerated the democratic socialist views I held. So rather than stay and fight thus tearing the party apart, I resigned. And those Comrades of the left who did stay within the party kept their heads down and their mouths shut (publicly at least) in the name of party unity.
But as usual the right has so such concept of honour in defeat and seem determined that if they can’t have the Labour Party the way they want it then no one can have it. In these circumstances it is crucial that Corbyn sees this through and doesn’t fold under the pressure.