Whoever wins Labour's 2016 leadership election, there is no immediate prospect of its civil war being settled anytime soon. Hostilities were opened almost immediately after Jeremy Corbyn was declared winner nearly a year ago. Intermittent skirmishing occurred. An 8-month phoney peace was shattered in the wake of the EU referendum with the collapse of the broad-church shadow cabinet and that overwhelming vote of no confidence by the PLP in Corbyn. Sources close to Corbyn insist there was a plot orchestrated by Deputy Leader Tom Watson. Whatever, Watson will still be deputy leader after the result is declared on or around 24 September.
Worthy pleas are being made for everyone to accept the result whoever wins. I made mine in this blog three weeks ago with Operation Sweetness and Light. My blog concluded:
The only way Labour's electability can be restored is through unity and comradeship. To achieve that the planning has to start now throughout the Party.
Paul Mason chronicling the Blairite silence five days ago was decidedly more caustic concluding in effect that there are some who will never be reconciled to a second Corbyn win and would quit!. He suggested:
The price for Corbyn should be — again, now not later — to offer them specific posts in a unity shadow cabinet, clear input into the leader’s office and the HQ, and a Labour policy agenda that compromises between what Corbyn’s supporters want, and what Smith’s want. The result would be to negate Blairism and speed its exit from the party.
Maybe, but unlikely.
Former Labour Party National Executive Committee (NEC) Centre Left Grassroots Alliance (CLGA) slate member, Mark Seddon, writing in the Guardian yesterday wishfully concluded:
Let’s hope that the parliamentary Labour party calms down, sees sense, and gets behind whoever is elected in September.
Sorry Mark, I just can't see that happening either.
What's tragic is that those opposed to Corbyn just don't seem to realise what led to his victory last year, or triggered a flood of membership applications in the immediate wake of the EU referendum result. As Ellie Mae O'Hagan reminded Guardian readers two weeks ago:
There are simply not enough delusional Leninists in Britain to make up the entirety of Corbyn’s support – these are ordinary British voters who want radical solutions to a growing number of crises. And until they are listened to and taken seriously, Corbyn and the movement keeping him in power is not going anywhere.
So what if anything can be done to encourage calm and campaigning to win a General Election with Corbyn (assuming he wins the leadership again)?
Changing rules in the Labour Party is like pulling proverbial teeth, unless there is a majority on the NEC so inclined, in which case it can be done almost at will, as that recent High Court case lost on Appeal proved. What has emerged is that the Labour 'brand' is wide-open to abuse, damage and ridicule by members of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). It started arguably with a private warning last Autumn from m'lord Mandelson revealed in the Guardian on 25 September 2015 by Nicholas Watt:
The former minister and adviser to Tony Blair offers his view in a private paper that circulated to political associates last week in which he urges them to dig in for the “long haul”.
In his paper, Lord Mandelson writes: “In choosing Corbyn instead of Ed Miliband, the general public now feel we are just putting two fingers up to them, exchanging one loser for an even worse one. We cannot be elected with Corbyn as leader.
“Nobody will replace him, though, until he demonstrates to the party his unelectability at the polls. In this sense, the public will decide Labour’s future and it would be wrong to try and force this issue from within before the public have moved to a clear verdict.”
So the civil war was scripted. More importantly, with no sign (at the time of writing) of Conference Papers for either delegates or party units is what, if any, ideas the Party's NEC have for tackling ill-discipline in the PLP. Could party units be mobilised to table contemporary resolutions to address this and related matters to encourage a rebuilding of party unity? Previous experience says no. While Party meetings have been banned, the NEC has accepted such gatherings can take place to prepare for conference. Thus there is a window of opportunity. However, the composition of the NEC remains unchanged until after Conference, so the election of six CLGA members to the Constituency section of the NEC will not shift the balance of power in time (even if might afterwards).
Careful political positioning by Corbyn in the pre-Conference parliamentary session starting on Monday 5 September could set the scene for rebuilding a broad-church Shadow Cabinet. I personally favour a reinstitution of Shadow Cabinet elections as in the Rule Book before Blair, which could have been revived by Ed Miliband in 2010. That would enable Corbyn to say to the PLP you elect the people whom I have to work with and I will change how the Leader's Office functions to make sure we work together to defeat the Tories. It would challenge the 'refuseniks' to put up or shut up.
In policy terms, the Tories are wide open to ridicule over Brexit, and the state of the economy and those should be the issues that Conference debates to ensure clear policy lines with which to drive wedges between the Remainers and the Leavers in the Conservative Party.
As we learned during the most nerve-wracking day in the on-going civil war - a couple of hours is a long-time in politics. Corbyn delivering headline catching lines to confound Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May in Prime Minister's Questions in early September would be an essential tonic to both the PLP and rank-and-file members ahead of Conference. It will not silence Corbyn's most vociferous critics, but it could help isolate the naysayers.