On a recent episode of the Guardian's Politics Weekly podcast, Nick Cohen claimed that Labour supporters were not sufficiently scared. The writer and journalist suggested that members engaged in internecine fighting were not frightened enough of prolonged Tory rule. Let me to tell you, Nick, as a Labour Party member I am very frightened right now. Probably more frightened than I have been at any point in my adult life.
I cannot see any way out of mess the party has found itself in. The Labour Party seems more divided than the country as a whole, and the prospect of a permanent split is greater than at any point in the last 30 years. Whatever path it chooses, I only see ruin in its future.
The most likely short term outcome is that Jeremy Corbyn survives the current attempt to remove him as leader (or he is replaced by someone who also does not hold the confidence of the PLP, like John McDonnell). Any leader not from the Corbyn faction would have to win over the party membership, who are firmly pro-Corbyn.
So Corbyn stays and Labour mostly likely splits into two parties directly in competition with each other for the same voters. Due to First Past The Post, they would both fare poorly in a general election and the total number of left wing MPs would fall considerably. Labour's loss is the Tories’ gain. What follows is 15-20 years of Conservative rule, as Nick Cohen suggested in his podcast. In order to get back into power Labour (or what survived of it) would probably stand on a platform similar to what David Cameron offered in 2015 as a moderate alternative.
As a Corbyn supporter, I would be willing to accept a compromise to avoid this. The last thing I want to see is permanent split in the party - remember how well that went in the early 80s? This compromise would need a clear plan of how the party is to progress towards winning an election. As I have said before, “put Dan Jarvis in charge” is not a plan.
Suppose for a moment that the less likely short term outcome does occur, and an alternative to Corbyn succeeds in becoming party leader. This new leader would have to crush the left wing of the party to secure their authority, losing thousands of party members. We would go back to the days of senior party figures saying that Labour had been too soft on disabled and unemployed people who want some kind of quality of lifeand being intensely relaxed about the rich avoiding their taxes.
Voters want politicians they view as genuine. The Labour Party does not have on their front bench any communicator as talented as David Cameron. Still, despite his obvious skill in using the media and presenting his arguments, Cameron has struggled to build a consensus behind his premiership, because he seen as inauthentic. Do the Labour moderates feel that any of their pale Cameron imitators will do any better in convincing voters that they genuinely care about their lives? The Labour Party has lost the ability to communicate with sections of its core support, and I do not see Hilary Benn or Chuka Umunna doing any better.
Would deposing Corbyn herald a change from a party of protest to a government in waiting? This overlooks the obvious lack talent on the party’s right who cannot even execute a coup properly. With Scotland out of play, any Labour leader would need to win as big in England and Wales as Tony Blair did in 1997, and I do not see any front bench Labour politician who can achieve this.
This hypothetical Labour leader would need to be both a conviction and a consensus politician; media savvy yet authentic. Able to appease the party’s left and right. Anyone who thinks that person is Dan Javis or Tristram Hunt is wildly overestimating their abilities as politicians. If the moderates take back the party we will be lucky if we return to Ed Miliband levels of competency.
Even if the Labour moderates did retake the party and unite its disparate factions, they would then have to face the Tories in a general election AND deal with the fallout from the EU referendum. They have no means of responding to Brexit’s victory; they are pro-EU but confused by elections that they do not win. They have only one analysis for defeat: we were too left wing, we must become more right wing.
The Labour Party is faced with an impossible blind, as writer and journalist Laurie Pennyrecently said, "we have a choice between riots now and riots later". A general election will be called soon and it will be fought over the Brexit vote. The Labour Party would most likely stand on a pro EU, pro freedom of movement platform and lose the election after alienating 52% of voters, many of whom are its former core supporters. UKIP would pick up a lot of former Labour voters and the country would be led by a radically right wing coalition.
Possibly even worse is the prospect Labour could win that election, keep Britain in the EU or negotiate a Norwegian form of Brexit that protects freedom of movement. This would be seen as a betrayal of the 17 million voters who voted for Brexit mainly because they opposed immigration. Many of these Brexit voters are already very alienated from mainstream politics. If even 0.5% of these people are motivated to violence by this betrayal then the country could descend into race riots, the flames fanned by ongoing austerity.
What if Labour opposes freedom of movement, and backs ‘full Brexit’ in a cynical attempt to win over those 17 million voters? This involves the party supporting a campaign based on racism and xenophobia, as well as causing a huge recession, thus making the Labour Party very unpopular and probably leading to rising violence as sudden falls in GDP are related to civil unrest. Hence as Laurie Penny said, violence now from betraying the Brexit vote or violence later from a recession.
The future for Labour looks bleak. I am really depressed about the situation Labour is in and I cannot see any way forwards. The Tories are in a complete shambles, still divided over Europe and with no plan to implement Brexit. Many senior Tories are directly responsible for a divisive and racist EU referendum campaign, but still Labour cannot find a way to capitalise on Tory woes. It is infuriating to watch.
The country needs the Labour Party to unite and become an effective opposition because this brief spell of Tory infighting will end and then they will return, united and committed to a radically right wing vision of Britain. Labour need to get their act together now for the sake of the future.
I cannot see any chance of this happening. Even if Labour survives the current spate of internecine fighting then the problems of the Brexit vote and the lack of a clear plan to win a general election means the long term future of the party is awful to contemplate. We could be looking at the end of the Labour Party as a meaningful political force. So, Nick Cohen, yes I am very scared right now. Scared, and with a pronounced sense of hopelessness.