• Putting Labour Together Again

    The challenge manufactured by the Parliamentary Labour Party to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership seems destined to prove an exercise in futility and impotence.  Nothing more clearly demonstrates, in both its motivation and impracticality, the gulf that has been allowed – and in some cases encouraged – to develop between Labour MPs and the party in the country.

    But when it reaches its inevitable conclusion, what then?  When the warring parties return to their encampments to lick their respective wounds, does the Labour party limp on, broken-backed and riven by division and ill-feeling, until a general election puts the whole enterprise out of its misery?  And what, in the meantime, about all those who have looked to the Labour Party to protect their interests and to bring about change in a system that has so thoroughly betrayed them?

    One thing is certain.  There is no future in returning to the status quo ante.  One or other, or preferably both, of the combatants has to undergo an “agonising re-appraisal” in the interests of learning lessons and learning to work together.

    On the face of it, that duty does not lie immediately on the victor.  Corbyn and his supporters may feel that, having seen off a challenge that was born of a misplaced incredulity that the PLP could be defied by the party’s membership, any rapprochement is the responsibility of those who so thoroughly misread the situation.

    But that would be a mistake.  Those who claim and are entrusted with the leadership of the party must shoulder the responsibilities of leadership, among the principal of which is the mounting of a unified and effective effort to win the next election.

    The newly confirmed leader, however, is entitled to expect a significant shift in the attitude of his parliamentary colleagues.  The dead end that has been reached is the outcome of a policy of confrontation can no longer be sustained.  The Corbyn leadership is there for the foreseeable future.  The task now, surely, is no longer to undermine it – hitherto the preferred strategy of many – but to strengthen it and to use those strengths to win an election.

    The first duty of those who mounted the challenge is to understand what has happened.  Jeremy Corbyn became, and will have been endorsed as, leader because he dared to break free from a stultifying orthodoxy which had imprisoned Labour, without their even knowing it, in an intellectual framework that precluded any real departure from neo-liberal politics and neo-classical economics.  His central assertion, which can be regarded as not only important in its own right but as a surrogate for a much wider rejection of orthodoxy, is that we do not need to accept austerity as a suppose answer to our economic problems.

    There is no reason why those who criticise him so bitterly should not have shown similar courage.  It is their timidity, and – in many cases – their keenness to assure voters that they would be just as tough as the Tories, that has left them so far out of touch with Labour voters and with a leader they do not support.  Talk of splits, breakaways and court cases (whose limitations and impropriety in such matters has already been demonstrated) is simply to compound the deeply damaging mistakes they have already made.

    There is some evidence that the penny is beginning to drop.  Even the chosen candidate of the parliamentary rebels has shown that he understands the appeal and the relevance of what Corbyn has been saying.  Owen Smith has embraced alternatives to austerity and policies for growth, full employment and a more competitive productive sector – and while there might be some raised eyebrows at the genuineness of this somewhat belated conversion, the road to Damascus is the right road to take.  If Smith can take that stance, why can’t his supporters?

    If Corbyn’s critics can be brought to understand his appeal to party members but nevertheless lament what they see as his personal deficiencies, then the remedy is surely to help him make good those deficiencies by offering him the support that he needs.  The right response from the PLP to the likely result of the leadership election, in other words, is not one of sullen resentment and the withholding of support, but of using the party’s total and combined talents to offer a real alternative to a perpetual Tory government.

    A Corbyn leadership supported by the strongest possible Shadow Cabinet would be a very different proposition from one undermined by those ready to brief continuously against him.  His supposed unelectability looms large in the minds of his critics rather than in any hard evidence; the recent emergence of a substantial Tory poll lead is no more than the classic response to the emergence of a new Prime Minister, helped along by constant reports of Labour dissension.

    A parliamentary party ready to unite behind its leader (and what other constructive response is there?) would in turn invite and deserve a considered response from Corbyn.  He has had time to understand the difference between the freedom enjoyed by the long-time defender of often minority causes and the responsibility accepted by the builder of a team ready to form a government.  He will now have the chance to show that he is ready to complete that transition.

    Bryan Gould

    31 July 2016



  1. Margaret Ledgerton says: July 31, 2016 at 6:29 amReply

    Couldn’t agree more – lessons for the home front here too.

  2. Diane Bellamy says: July 31, 2016 at 6:57 amReply

    Totally agree and am so pleased to hear this being said. I still struggle to believe that the dissenters chose the best moment in history that they were ever going to get to challenge their leadership. I do wonder if those so steeped in Neo Liberal thinking within the Labour party, are in the wrong party and should try for a seat in the Tory party.

  3. ian campbell says: July 31, 2016 at 1:47 pmReply

    a breath of fresh air from someone who has lived through dissent in the PLP.
    this is is the start of new politics called for by so many people
    the biggest socilist party in europe the youngest demographic and the fastest growing, the 172 are Luddites concerned for their secure salaries and comfortable dynastic lives
    they should accept the need for change, they could be part of a true alternative to the ressurrected nasty party led by Thatcher times two.

  4. Graeme of Wales says: July 31, 2016 at 3:04 pmReply

    Come back Bryan Gould. The Labour Party is far poorer for your absence.

  5. John P Reid says: July 31, 2016 at 4:09 pmReply

    Can’t fault your argument, and your recognition of Owen Smiths view in anti Austerity, but the problem is momentum appear to disregard for the parties rules, I know some on the right of the party, have exploited loop holes To get their way, but it’s not just the Mysoginy, homophobia, anti semetism, the left of the party have attracted with their , control, when You fought with Neil kinnock to democratize the unions, take on militant tendency, this sort of stuff was controlled and we increased our support ,from it

    • Cyndy Hodgson says: July 31, 2016 at 9:32 pmReply

      I am sorry, but I don’t understand what you are trying to say here. Please post your message again, but pay some attention to sentence structure, and meaning. Thank you.

      • John Kelly says: August 1, 2016 at 7:50 pmReply

        Ignore him, it’s his usual anti-Corbyn smear.

  6. David Penn says: July 31, 2016 at 6:44 pmReply

    Thank you so much Bryan, for that blog. After the leadership election, assuming Corbyn wins, we all have an obligation get behind and support him and the party. Any further negativity around him must be vehemently challenged by as many as possible of the membership. Above all, we want a Labour win!

  7. Sunny Lambe says: July 31, 2016 at 10:08 pmReply

    I couldn’t agree more with Bryan Gould’s informed comments. Labour misses you. Come back!

  8. Phillip Hallam-Baker says: July 31, 2016 at 10:34 pmReply

    How can any MP stand for re-election for a party that insists in keeping a leader that has been decisively rejected by they Parliamentary party? The MPs don’t just disagree with Corbyn on policy, they consider him to be incapable of leading the party or the country.

    Labour members face two choices. Either they elect someone other than Corbyn to be leader or they keep Corbyn and force a split that will end the Labour party as a party of government.

    The statements made by Labour MPS make clear that there is absolutely no way that they are going to be convinced that Corbyn can win a General Election. Like it or not, the UK is a parliamentary system and no leader can form a government without a majority in the commons.

    Of course you might well be right that the Labour party brand is much stronger than the MPs that represent it in the commons and that defecting MPs would simply be replaced. But I rather doubt it, the Labour brand is practically extinct in Scotland and it is a clear liability in much of England. Today the Progressive vote is split between LibDems and Labour in a way that allows the Tory party to govern on barely a third of the vote. A realignment in which the electable left formed a new party and the Corbynites inherited the rotting carcass of the Labour Party would almost certainly serve the progressive cause better.

    What I suspect will happen next is that Corbyn will be re-elected leader and a clear majority of Labour MPs will refuse to take his whip.

    • John Kelly says: August 1, 2016 at 7:53 pmReply

      “Today the Progressive vote is split between LibDems and Labour in a way that allows the Tory party to govern on barely a third of the vote. A realignment in which the electable left formed a new party”

      I’ve heard that before – Hmmm let me think, 1980’s SDP. Where are they now?

  9. Angeline Hargreaves says: August 1, 2016 at 8:02 amReply

    This is the piece Owen Jones should of produced!Since his work appeared the claws of the people against Corbyn have been sharpened and all of us with hope of a new way forward ,well our hearts sank a little! I for one still hope that the PLP will get behind Corbyn and help him as said with a super strong shadow cabinet,it’s not about one man it’s the policies,the Team,the movement! Thank you for an uplifting piece. A new Labour member!

  10. John Kelly says: August 1, 2016 at 7:58 pmReply

    Didn’t always agree with you when you were a Southampton MP Bryan, but this article is spot on. The majority of the 172 have got to realise that have to work with and support the Corbyn leadership. As for the other side of the coin I think Corbyn has already shown that he is prepared to be inclusive and has already talked about working together as a team after the Leadership election.

  11. Janis Garbutt says: August 3, 2016 at 1:30 amReply

    I completely agree and have said the same for a while.I actually think too much water may have gone under the bridge now.My first vote was Wilson I’ve never left Labour but the lies and smears from the dissenting PLP has sickened me.I don’t think I can ever trust them or even want to try.I don’t know the answer but I do not want to go back to the status quo,too many people have eyes wide open now.Jeremy has been amazingly inclusive yet still they continue to work to rule not caring a jot for the people they should represent.

  12. Sanctuary says: August 8, 2016 at 9:10 pmReply

    The UK PLP responds to every legal and electoral defeat by doubling down on its Intransigent and increasingly isolated seige mentailty. Like a certain other intransient individual with a Messiah complex they seem to have occupied an intellectual bunker from which the only exit they see will be trying to ensure they destroy the party that is no longer fit to deserve them before going on to commit political suicide.

  13. Mike Shone says: September 28, 2016 at 11:14 pmReply

    Good to see you still taking a constructive interest.

    Some of us who were in your neck of the Labour Party a few decades ago have gone to the Green Party. I decided that Labour would always lack unity because it lacked common values and a common electoral attitude amongst its membership. Compass has tried to emphasise “equality, democracy and sustainability” as common values with significant but insufficient success.

    The Party still oscillates between centre-right pessimistic delusionists and hardish left, optimistic , delusionists and the rational democratic socialists never get much of a look in.

    These things together with the decline of the social basis of Labour and Social Democrat parties throughout Europe make it necessary in the era of climate catastrophe to develop more relevant and coherent parties.

    But how well or badly Labour deals with its internal tensions and therefore how well it does at the next General Election remains to be seen.

    • Mike Ellwood says: October 5, 2016 at 12:40 pmReply

      @Mike Shone: another (UK) Green here (for similar reasons). However, the Greens still seem wedded to the EU, seemingly not noticing that it has become a neo-liberal disaster area. I do my best to spread dissent in that respect.

      The UK government is also, of course, a neo-liberal disaster area, but at least it is something we can directly change, whereas the chances of “reforming” the EU are vanishingly small.