Divisions in the party - Phil Whitney Vice Chair CLP
Despite considering myself as being on the left of the party, I remained on the inside continuing to argue my case throughout the drift to the right, and yuppification of the party mechanisms of the Blair/Brown years. I argued for my beliefs within the party but did not make any public attacks on policy except over Iraq, because a divided party, or at least one which the electorate perceives as divided, will never have the support of the electorate.
The vast majority of what is now, once again, a mass membership party are united behind a leader who is a man of principle, with whom we share the majority of his beliefs, and who young people find inspirational in the same way as the young have been inspired by Bernie Saunders in America.
As the majority of our more prominent MPs came to prominence in the Blairite era when, as an understandable reaction to eighteen years of Thatcherism, there was a belief that the most important thing was to be more caring than the Tories and that most people were uninterested in real social justice, they have never accepted the Party’s choice of Jeremy Corbyn as leader. All our MPs were selected by their constituency parties before the last general election, when there was no prospect of Jeremy Corbyn being leader.
In many constituencies, particularly ‘winnable’ ones, candidates acceptable to the yuppified central party mechanism were parachuted in at the expense of people more in touch with the local membership. Fortunately, in constituencies such as Derbyshire Dales which was pretty much written off as unwinnable by the central party, we were allowed to make our own decision and select a candidate in tune with the membership.
If or, if the radio this morning is to be believed when, the ‘New Labour’ MPs mount a coup against the democratically elected party leadership, Constituency Labour Parties around the country should take back control of the party, listen carefully to all those who put themselves forward for selection and make their own decision without any interference from the central party mechanism. There is a place for mavericks within the party, in fact it is stronger for them, but there is no place for open disloyalty.
No-one would dispute that Jeremy Corbyn was a maverick as a back bencher, voting in line with deeply held beliefs and principles but never, as far as I recall, attempting to undermine a democratically elected leadership.
There will be mavericks after Jeremy Corbyn has been overwhelmingly re-elected by the membership, people who have earned the trust and respect of their constituency parties as well as their constituents, and Labour members across the country will respect them even when we disagree with them.
Although everyone knows that the bulk of the Parliamentary Labour Party did not support Jeremy Corbyn, I believe that the vast majority of them would have adapted and fallen in line with the wishes of their Constituency Parties, had it not been for around a dozen MPs who have consistently worked to undermine his leadership and foment division in the party.
I will resist the temptation to name names even though I am listening to one of them on the radio at the moment – I am sure that a number of names spring to mind immediately.
There are some MPs, however, who do need to seriously consider the public position they take, and these are those who stood for the leadership or deputy leadership last year. Every one of them talked about how they had the future of the party and the country at heart.
Some of them accepted defeat gracefully and have supported the leadership since then: Tom Watson has been a good deputy leader; Maria Eagle has performed well; Andy Burnham has been outstanding and, in eight or ten years time when Jeremy Corbyn takes a well earned retirement, is a likely future leader; Liz Kendall has impressed me by the way she has refused to make any public criticism of the leadership and by the reasons she gave for asking not to be considered for the initial Shadow Cabinet; others have disappointed by their positions which can best be described as disappointed sulks while Ben Bradshaw who I fleetingly considered voting for, after hearing what he said at the hustings about his willingness to work with and loyally support any of the leadership candidates, has shown over recent days that he didn’t mean what he said and lacks integrity. The CLPs of these MPs must make clear to them that, as senior figures in the Party, it is incumbent on them to support the leadership as the best way of helping the party and the country move forward.
I would like to see each of these MPs, with the exception of Bradshaw, coming out today, when there are at least two vacant Shadow Cabinet Posts, and expressing their willingness to serve. They will not all be appointed but their public expressions of willingness to serve will send a loud and calming message to their parliamentary colleagues and to the wider party.
The process of completely revising the parties policies is not one which can be done overnight and is a process that we believed we had several years to complete, putting us in a strong position to win a general election in 2020. The actions of the anti-corbynites, particularly those in the Shadow Cabinet, make an early election far more likely, and far more difficult to win. MPs should think very carefully before throwing their lots in with the rebels; not only do many of them risk not being selected to fight as our candidates in an early election but, even if they are, their actions in precipitating an early general election will cost many of them their jobs and lead to an increased, even more right wing Tory majority.