Labour must remember what loyalty means

Written by Comment

It’s been a summer of upheaval in British politics. We’ve seen a referendum that defied expectations, a Prime Minister’s resignation, UKIP MEPs punching each other, and no fewer than three leadership elections, with a fourth underway.

One election, however, was completely unnecessary. While David Cameron, Nigel Farage and Diane James resigned of their own volition, Jeremy Corbyn was forced to defend his leadership against a parliamentary coup culminating in a vote of no confidence and a new leadership election.

On the morning of June 24, the government was in disarray. This was the moment when the country needed the opposition to be united, and it was also their chance to prove themselves as a government-in-waiting.

Instead, a handful of Labour MPs dishonoured themselves by attempting a behind-the-scenes coup against their own leader, who had earned an overwhelming mandate only nine months earlier from the party membership. This attempt was fatally flawed from the start, because it ignored why the Labour members elected Corbyn last year.

They were tired of Labour’s parliamentary wing acting in isolation, with no reference to the wishes of the membership – a situation that gave us Iraq, tuition fees and nearly ID cards. So when the parliamentary party attempted to remove the members’ choice of leader,

It was always doomed to failure. It was self-indulgent and stubborn, simply serving to distract us from the business of opposition, turn our gaze yet further inwards, speaking only to ourselves rather than the country, and opening a fresh round of recrimination, making us appear still more divided in the eyes of the voters. As Andy Burnham rightly said at the time, it made no sense for us to do that to ourselves.

I am far from Jeremy’s biggest fan. He is well to the left of me, and I wish he displayed far more seriousness about winning a general election. But you don’t have to think your leader is perfect in order to respect two simple principles called democratic rule  and loyalty.

The coup was a culmination of a year of sickeningly open disloyalty and deserved to be so decisively defeated. The coup took us further away from government, not closer towards it. Labour MPs are paid to represent their constituents, and a plurality of voters in their constituencies oppose the kind of Tory policy all this in-fighting is letting slide through the Commons.

Ayesha Hazarika, who supported Owen Smith, wrote in the Guardian on the 27th of September, urging her fellow Smith supporters to stop sniping and move on, and do not ‘provide a bitter, angry running commentary about the failings of Corbyn. I suspect the wider public will start to have very little patience with MPs who continue to cause pointless trouble for the leadership on a daily basis… His opponents needs to let him and his team have a proper run at things.’ I urge the same.

Labour’s moderates, I understand your frustration, but the real enemy is not Jeremy Corbyn; it is the Tories. Focus your fire on them, not your own leader.

Last modified: 7th November 2017

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