It’s shocking really. Shocking in the sense that actually it isn’t that shocking at all. 31% of Labour voters believe that Theresa May will make a better Prime-Minister than Jeremy Corbyn would, that is the finding of a recent YouGov poll (46% believed the opposite with the remainder not knowing).
This comes just days after one of many long-running disputes within the party finally came to an end. Jeremy Corbyn will be automatically on the ballot when members vote in the leadership election, that is the decision of the party’s National Executive Committee which voted 18-14 in favour of the motion this week. Yet even this failed to proceed without some form of controversy or malaise.
There was initial disagreement over whether Corbyn should be allowed to vote in the vote to determine if people could vote for him and even after that was decided there was more disparity to come. When the leader came out to triumphantly announce his victory to the nation’s press, a second decision was made to disenfranchise party members who joined after 12 January unless they were willing to pay a fee of £25. This, claimed Corbynistas, would seriously hamper the incumbent’s chances of being re-elected; a slap in the face for democracy, a desertion of Labour’s values they cried.
This is not to say those suggestions are unfounded, simply that the very fact so much hysteria and animosity can be generated over a simple legal vote speaks volumes about the current state of the party. Labour has been forced unceremoniously into a period of self-reflection and as it turns out, it’s not been doing brilliantly.
In fact, this neuroticism runs to its very core. An article in the New Statesman this week rumoured that a member of the Shadow Cabinet suspects another of being an MI5 informant. Remarkable really that in 2016 the official Opposition are apparently playing Cloak and Dagger with one another. To be honest though, such is the frenzy of British politics at the moment it would be rather fitting if awkward-looking Tom Watson, the man who seemingly doesn’t know if he’s coming nor going, announced via Twitter that he was really a Russian double agent before flying to Moscow and living out the rest of his days in the Kremlin’s shadow.
On a more serious note, the rancour that has come to define the Labour Party manifested itself this week in the shape of a brick – a brick hurled through the window of leadership candidate Angela Eagle’s constituency office. A shaken Eagle appealed to her leader to denounce the display of intimidation from his supporters to which he duly obliged. Yet this is just about the highest level of communication the pair are likely to have at the moment. A former high-level Shadow Cabinet Minister Eagle sat in for her leader at Prime-Minister’s Questions on many occasions, yet during the period of mass resignations from the frontbench it was she who denounced some of the major flaws of the regime. Organisational and Communicational issues had come to define the leadership she claimed. From that moment on, it was obvious who the first challenger for Labour’s top job would be.
This initial disagreement has now festered into a cavernous schism between Corbyn supporters and those they denounce as ‘Blairites’ of which Eagle is apparently the leader. The level of animosity this has given rise to is actually extraordinary really. On Thursday, John McDonnell labelled Corbyn’s enemies within as “f****ing useless”, a slur not even reserved for the blue lot on the other side of the dispatch box. To make it all the more remarkable such a claim is actually relatively unfounded. It is hard to see what more the Shadow Chancellor could expect from the so-called ‘plotters’; they have organised a mass exodus from the font-bench, destroyed Corbyn in a vote of no confidence and forced a leadership battle.
This isn’t the first time in recent days that McDonnell has produced a rather incendiary statement though. During what can only be presumed as a rather tense meeting between Labour MPs last week, he is accused by Owen Smith, when questioning weather he was prepared to split the party, of shrugging his shoulders and affirming “if that’s what it takes”. Of course he denied the claim, but was rebuffed by Kate Green, another Labour MP who confirmed Smith’s accusation.
Yet is easy to see where McDonnell gets such brazen confidence from. A staunch loyalist of Corbyn, he can now sit tight in the knowledge that the incumbent leader will probably remain in his post for a while yet. Corbyn’s proponents are so fervent and so large in number that the decision made by the NEC this week to allow his name on the ballot paper could effectively be classed as the victory itself.
But what then? If the status quo does remain how will Labour form an effective opposition whatsoever with so many MPs opposed to their leader? The answer is they probably won’t be able to and that in itself is a catastrophe. In such vitriolic times the country needs Parliament to function properly, especially with a newly-formed government just entering its infancy, something it will not be able to do without a unified opposition. Labour needs to sort itself out and quickly, for the sake of us all.