When Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation on Friday morning and a vote to leave the European Union started to take its toll, many would have thought that only the Conservative party would be the losers. The staunch divide created by tension between the politics of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, and the likes of Cameron and Theresa May has doubtless been accentuated thanks to last week’s vote.
But the Conservative Party’s destructive toil isn’t unique to them. Over several months, the Labour party has split into a collection of raging factions, fighting a bitter war against each other. After a catacylsmic defeat for Labour last May, the more radical Jeremy Corbyn was elected as party leader with a resounding victory. Corbyn has been successful in speaking for a massive body of Labour members who yearn for a different party. However, he has hammered in the wedge that divides the opponents to and supporters of his leadership far deeper.
The chaos caused by the EU referendum’s surprise result is testing UK party politics to lengths never seen before. With the heightened possibility of a general election very soon, both Westminster parties are desperate to iron out their problematic ideological creases. For quite some time, Labour’s benches have been an arena for fierce competition between advocates of more Blairite politics and traditionally-principled Corbynista radicals.
The atmosphere on opposition benches has only recently grown more intense, though. Labour’s movements of late have shown that the party seriously lacks unity and direction. Failure to eradicate such turmoil could mean that the party provides next to no function, unable to adequately hold the Conservatives to account. With exits quite different from last week’s, but of a level of seriousness that is just as worrying, Corbyn’s shadow cabinet has been ripped to shreds.
It were the grassroots members of the Labour party who elected Corbyn and his revolutionary politics last year. But it now seems that a lurch back towards the right may underpin the future of the party. The amnesty which Hilary Benn spearheaded early on Sunday morning has seen 47 MPs who were previously on Corbyn’s side abandoning their positions as department ministers and under-secretaries, profoundly questioning Labour’s status and its abilities. 150 Labour MPs are expected to support a motion of no confidence against the embroiled Labour leader this afternoon.
In the midst of the ongoing mass exodus, Corbyn’s position as Leader of the Opposition has never been so hotly contested by many politicians and commentators. But the grounds for the stubborn leader’s removal appear weak. Over two thirds of the party’s supporters voted to remain in the European Union. A degree of opposition is natural and a left-wing Brexit was, for a large number, a sure anti-establishment vote. If a majority had voted against remaining in the EU, Corbyn’s leadership would certainly be more justifiably fragile.
The stark divide which has manifested itself across the Parliamentary Labour Party is now more than just an inconvenience. And it is all the more frustrating given that support for Jeremy Corbyn amongst party members and recent Labour voters remains robust. A survey carried out in recent days by pollsters BMG showed that 85 percent of those who voted for Labour in 2015 would vote again for the party if Corbyn was leader in a possible snap general election. Three quarters of those who declared themselves as considerably left-wing would support a party led by Corbyn. The party has even seen an increase in membership over recent days, many voters desperate to secure Corbyn’s leadership in a likely internal vote. Corbyn’s impressive mandate still exists, but has been defaced with the EU referendum scapegoat with which his former allies have fatally sided. Several weeks ago, Jeremy Corbyn was more popular than David Cameron, a position which his own party has shamefully removed.
Evidently, the present Labour leader still commands a great deal of support amongst current party members. In the same way that taking Scotland out of the European Union would be unfair, so would the removal of Corbyn against the will of a majority of Labour’s support base. Corbyn’s victory last year was a major breakthrough, creating the potential for a revitalised Labour, galvanising progressive political forces.
Vote Leave’s win is unfairly being used to oust Corbyn. He is the man whom many MPs deem to be the antithesis of General Election-winning material. Coinciding with similar internal strife within the Tory party, Labour could have appeared as the united force ready to push for a progressive Brexit. Those who have abandoned Jeremy Corbyn and his progressive platoon show little faith in the causes that they previously pledged to defend. The break up of the shadow cabinet has wrecked prospects of election-winning unity any time soon.The party should be embarrassed, and it is somewhat disheartening to see that MPs are oblivious to the amount of self-harm that the removal of Jeremy Corbyn during such party system paralysis would create.
The well fuelled campaign for an end to Corbyn’s leadership shows that many of the party’s MPs are attached to the old, Blairite days of Labour. So few seem to believe in the socially democratic cause now. With a media which seems largely against Corbyn, looking instead to the forward-thinking aspirations of many party members could successfully prove the strength of our democracy, and the strength of the Labour party. This is a missed and now savaged opportunity. Labour now runs the risk of alienating its core supporters. Ignoring the wealth of voters and party members who still vehemently support Corbyn is mindless and undemocratic.
Should this weekend’s events spark an inevitable Labour leadership election, Jeremy Corbyn still has the ability to be successful. The incumbent chief still has the potential tto gain significant support and prove his opponents wrong. He may even hold on to his position as the face of the Labour party. If he is to emerge unscathed, it will expose a damaging truth – that Labour MPs are out of touch with its members.
The Labour MPs who have walked out this week have done their party no favours whatsoever. What it has shown is that much of the Labour frontbench will do anything for votes, succombing to the right and carelessly tossing away their truly socially democratic values. Jeremy Corbyn’s politics has refreshed the Labour party, and MPs should abandon him at their peril. Corbyn is the only chance the Labour party has of reflecting the views of ordinary people, and of achieving decisive and principled direction. A challenge to Corbyn’s membership is not in the interests of MPs or, most importantly, of Labour’s core voters. Many members of the shadow cabinet have this weekend only emphasised the rift in the Labour party more, and made progressive politics harder to achieve.