Labour: always the loser in the end

'It's time for Labour', a 1992 poster by the Labour Party. Image credit: BBC
‘It’s time for Labour’, a 1992 poster by the Labour Party. Image credit: BBC

British politics have been beaten senseless ever since the surprise ‘Brexit’ result of the referendum. You would think that a defeat for the government in the referendum should have led to its downfall. The Conservative Party’s Prime Minister announced his resignation on the morning of the result, triggering a leadership election. The expected candidate, Boris Johnson, chickened out, drawing many comparisons of backstabbing and cowardice. The Chancellor, George Osborne, abandoned his pre-referendum economic target. Overall, the party – largely pro-EU – is out of touch with many of its voters who sided with the ‘UKIP wing’ of its base and voted for our country to leave the EU.

But over the last few months, the Labour Party has developed a real knack for matching the levels of incompetence, disarray and disorder that the government has so regularly exhibited. This combination of maladies reached its zenith shortly after the referendum result, in which, following the dismissal of Hilary Benn on the grounds of starting a plot against his leader, Shadow Cabinet members began their assault against Jeremy Corbyn.

The Labour MPs thought that this was the moment to boot out the leader they clearly despise. In all the chaos and confusion, now was the time to dethrone the king and hastily appoint a new successor. Resignation after resignation followed, bleeding Jeremy Corbyn’s cabinet dry. When Corbyn stood his ground, the Parliamentary Labour Party (all of Labour’s Members of Parliament) launched the greatest personal tirade against him in a party meeting. The subsequent vote of no confidence was a mere footnote in comparison to the swathes of furious abuse directed at the leader, some of it bringing tears to some MPs’ eyes, readily distributed to journalists by text or Twitter.

The Parliamentary Labour Party sought something akin to the assassination of Julius Caesar. They wanted Corbyn not only to step aside, but to be knocked off the podium by a steam locomotive. However, Corbyn simply refused this. He remained – and continues to remain – determined to hold on to the position into which he was elected by the party members; the same party members who are quite likely to vote Corbyn into the same position when faced with a new leadership election.

Why is now the moment for the Labour Party to self-destruct? Why, when the ugliest elements of British society have emerged in the wake of ‘Brexit’, is the Labour Party both eroding its own capacity to hold the government to account and damning itself to electoral defeat? Some say Jeremy Corbyn won’t lead Labour to general election victory – but the Labour Party seems incapable of letting itself stand a chance, Corbyn or no Corbyn.

The ‘Corbyn coup’ was a flop, as the MPs surely realised. Their membership would put Corbyn back into the position from which they wished to remove him. What then? Splitting off into a new party will tear out the already-frail heart of Labour once and for all, decimating Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition. By failing to kick Corbyn out overnight and letting the coup drag on for weeks, the Parliamentary Labour Party have only succeeded in making their rivals look all the more competent and capable, an astounding own goal considering the problems that the Conservatives are themselves facing.

Jeremy Corbyn is a principled, pleasant and fundamentally ‘normal’ MP, but does not possess the oratory, the countenance or the deviousness of the modern political elite. His honesty connects with many voters, but to his party’s MPs, he will never lead the party to victory. Who will play Judas Iscariot and betray ‘JC’ to those who will crucify him? It seems to be Angela Eagle, described by a friend of mine as ‘the most un-extraordinary’ candidate he’d ever seen. None of the original candidates for leadership – Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper or Liz Kendall – nor highly-regarded Labour MPs such as Dan Jarvis or Tristram Hunt, nor even the previous leader Ed Miliband, are leading the charge. How does the PLP expect to overthrow their unpopular leader with such a lacklustre candidate? Corbyn will likely win again and the PLP will be left, dazed and confused, questioning how this could have happened, but unable to criticise the outcome without patronising their party’s ordinary members.

Angela Eagle launched her challenge to Corbyn – but has since given way to Owen Smith – on the same day as Andrea Leadsom withdrew from the race to be the new Conservative leader and Prime Minister. Leadsom will not be the only one to cite the need for strength and stability in government – there will be no end in comparisons between Conservative searches for unity and ongoing Labour civil war. Once again, at the critical moment, the Labour Party wishes to shoot itself in the foot, repeatedly. Theresa May became Prime Minister whilst the Labour Party started killing itself.

Perhaps, the main forces of ‘the Left’ need reform; is it “time for Labour” to quit? Others argue that ‘the Left’ itself should be torn down and rebuilt. Such things will not happen overnight. But whatever seems to be going on these days, Labour always seems to be the loser in the end; and, for the most part, it’s the party elite’s own fault.

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Jack Harvey

Alumni & Public Relations Officer at The Yorker
Comment and Politics Editor 2015/2016, Editor 2016/2017, Alumni & Public Relations Officer 2017/2018 and acting, 2018/2019. Waiting to graduate with MA in Philosophy at University of York in 2019.