Paul Sinclair: We are watching the death of the UK Labour Party
Instead of coming to the aid of the Labour Party in its time of strife, Jeremy Corbyn’s challengers have bottled it
A festival of triumphalism, and despair – the Labour Party conference in Liverpool has seen Jeremy Corbyn re-elected, and with a bigger mandate than before.
This is less, as Neil Kinnock said when Ed Miliband was elected, Labour getting their party back and more the squatters getting planning permission for an extension.
There will be, publicly at least, waves of insincerity. Politicians will pledge to unite. The party will claim to move on. Instead it will continue to sink into the quicksand of irrelevance with no one able to think of a plan ‘c’ now that plan ‘b’ has so clearly failed.
And then there will be despair. The inevitable deselections of moderate Labour MPs bring less fear than actually standing in an election. Already, with laminated CVs, Labour members are preparing for lives outside politics.
There is nothing that can be done. This is not history repeating itself. This is not Labour reliving the early 1980s. Then Labour may have had an unelectable leader, but Michael Foot was a man of substance and no friend of the Trots. Then the trade unions – in the main – sought moderation. This time, Unite’s Len McCluskey is willing the lemmings towards the edge of the cliff. And there is no Denis Healey, Roy Hattersley or Neil Kinnock demanding the party sees sense.
Indeed, this time, the moderates have been posted missing. Many will ask why Alan Johnson or Hilary Benn didn’t challenge Corbyn. Some say it is because they felt that their support for the Iraq war disqualified them. I don’t buy that. Corbyn’s support for the IRA, Hamas and his inability to really quash accusations of anti-semitism could have more than counteracted that.
The truth is that good men and women have not come to the aid of the party in this time of strife. They have bottled it, leaving the ambitious but risible Owen Smith to run into the Corbyn guns.
There will be a discussion about whether or not there might be a split in the party. That is a pointless discussion. It has already happened. Labour has been occupied by some of its bitterest enemies. It is not what it was. The moderates are no longer in control of the bridge but have yet to realise they are adrift on a raft to nowhere.
Kez Dugdale has done a decent job of claiming autonomy for the Scottish party if the pledges are followed through and the money still flows from south to north. It is the only chance Scottish Labour has to survive.
Be in no doubt. What we are watching is the death of the UK Labour Party and it is difficult to think of who could save it and how they could do it.
Corbyn will be emboldened by this result. More importantly – and damagingly – John McDonnell’s resolve will be stiffened.
The moderates – the realists – have all but run out of tools. They cannot credibly challenge the leadership again. Even if they form a majority on an elected shadow cabinet it will have little purchase. Far from undermining Corbyn, this leadership contest has made his foundations more solid.
And so Labour supporters will watch as the party heads for an even greater defeat in the next general election.
In 1983 Labour was saved by the tribal vote who refused to go elsewhere despite the hopelesssness of the party.
More than thirty years on, that sense of tribalism has deserted many voters and the UK party could be as decisively deserted by its core support as it was in Scotland in 2015 and 2016.
I have gone to party conference for many years, enjoying the company of old comrades. The warmth of being with people of your own tribe. It won’t be like that this year.
My tribe has been vanquished and the party is now occupied by people who have always been opposed to Labour governments. Corbyn will celebrate his victory – and many who have always opposed Labour will enjoy it being routed by one of its own.
The question of what comes next for anyone who believes in the centre-left will not be answered here, but this is the conference in which Labour will be remembered as being one stop away from irrelevance.
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