The Labour leadership crisis has brought the deep divisions in the party out into the open—and they’re pushing it to breaking point.
Labour MP Angela Eagle finally launched her leadership challenge against left wing leader Jeremy Corbyn on Monday after almost two weeks of dithering.
She appeared to have been waiting for the outcome of talks between deputy leader Tom Watson and Unite union leader Len McCluskey before launching her challenge.
The pair had been trying to stitch up a deal that could smooth over the gaping chasm between the party’s members and MPs.
That division underpins everything that has happened inside the Labour Party since the crisis erupted last month.
Corbyn has the resounding support of the vast majority of Labour’s members and supporters.
Labour’s membership has more than doubled since Corbyn was elected—and more than 130,000 people have joined the party since 23 June, most of them to support him against the right.
Rallies across Britain in defence of Corbyn have attracted hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of people.
All those who support Corbyn are at odds with most Labour MPs, whose contempt for their members is on open display.
Corbyn’s opponents say his left wing politics mean he isn’t “credible” and is unelectable.
They believe MPs should have a veto on what the members want and so tried to make Corbyn either compromise or quit.
In the end the gap proved too wide to bridge.
MPs insisted that any deal would have to involve Corbyn stepping down. But Corbyn has so far refused to budge. Speaking at the Durham Miners’ Gala last Saturday he said the pressure he was under was nothing compared to that faced by ordinary people.
Conflict between members and MPs threatens to split the party. Labour’s ruling national executive committee was meeting as Socialist Worker went to press.
It was to decide whether Corbyn would be allowed on the ballot paper in the new election without nominations from 51 MPs and MEPs. It is unlikely that Corbyn could get enough nominations, and so could be kept off the ballot paper.
But Corbyn’s supporters say party rules mean he should automatically get on the ballot paper as only challengers need to be nominated.
Corbyn is the firm favourite to win any new leadership election so his opponents want to block him. But if they do huge numbers of Labour members could leave.
Corbyn’s strength lies in the strong support he has inside and outside the Labour Party. He has to keep standing firm and not compromise under threats and blackmail about maintaining party unity.
Trade unionists need to step up pressure on their union leaders to keep backing Corbyn.
And the support for Corbyn on the streets has to feed into a movement against austerity and racism that can strengthen him and the left more broadly.
It's crucial to build outside of Labour
Jeremy Corbyn’s “new politics” is a decisive break with an out-of-touch elite and it’s the Westminster bubble versus the rest of us.
That was the message to Labour Party members and Corbyn supporters at a London rally organised by Momentum last Wednesday.
It tapped into the mood to defend Corbyn against the orchestrated attacks of the Labour right wing. At 48 hours notice close to 2,000 supporters filled the Troxy theatre in east London.
Corbyn apologised for the horror of the Iraq war the same day. The stark divisions in the party couldn’t have been clearer.
Labour “should not be led by someone who is unrepentant about their pro-war voting record” argued shadow business secretary Jon Trickett MP.
“Leaders without popular movements cannot succeed,” he said.
Corbyn is Labour leader because of support from social movements. But the key message of Momentum’s rally was that the only struggle that really matters is inside the Labour Party.
Concretely that meant not a single speaker mentioned this Saturday’s People’s Assembly and Stand Up to Racism demonstrations.
The idea of a snap general election was rubbished–although Trickett has subsequently called for one.
The central drive is still a Labour government in 2020.
Diane Abbott argued, “This is a struggle for the soul of the Labour Party. The party’s not going to split but some MPs have to respect party democracy.”
Where Eagle dares to tread
Angela Eagle has pitched herself as a “strong” leader who could unite the Labour Party.
She describes herself as a “practical socialist”, relying on her background in the party’s soft left and her history working for trade unions.
She has emphasised her history of voting for NHS funding and the minimum wage.
But her record of voting for war in Iraq and bombing in Syria undermines this.
Eagle voted for tuition fees and is also in favour of Trident nuclear missiles.
She wants to appeal to some of Corbyn’s supporters as a leader on the left who can “reach out” to Labour’s voters and “save” the party.
The only people she would save are those on Labour’s right.