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Labour leadership election: a split on the horizon?

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For anyone interested in British politics, the rather bemusing Labour leadership election cannot have failed to gain some attention. Jeremy Corbyn’s resounding mandate and the challenge to it has resulted in much of a resurgent ‘Old Labour’ left, up in arms. Not that either of the other candidates have been particularly Machiavellian in the way they have launched their leadership bids…

The dramatic shift towards the Left with the election of Jeremy Corbyn last year was never going to be a peaceful transition. The disenchanted Blairites are now beginning to grind their axes in preparation for war. But the ideological disparities between the two factions of the party are becoming more distinct and vehement. This taps into a wider debate for the long-term future of the party. Is it now feasible to suggest that the Labour Party has become ungovernable? Are Labour’s days numbered as a political party?

Such splits within broad ideological tents are common in Western European democracies. It is the unfortunate timing of this particular spat in the party that has been so damaging. Corbyn should be taking advantage of a divided Conservative Party struggling to get to grips with its pro-remain leader in a Brexit Britain. It has, in fact, become an equally divided party. But what is the nature of this divide, in real terms? While many argue it is a simple ideological schism, between those who argue for a restricted state against the old brigade of socialism, it has in fact become deeper. The dichotomy between these two Labour factions has in fact become ‘the establishment’ versus the ‘anti-establishment’. The left-right spectrum has become redundant to an extent within the Labour Party.

Unless these factions can unite into a cohesive party, then there is little future for Labour as an effective opposition. While it must retain its traditional values of protecting the rights of workers and being a party for the people, it equally has to be a competent and effective party fit to govern. At the moment, there is little of a positive way out for Labour to stand a chance electorally. If Corbyn loses, Labour will be perceived as an undemocratic party. They would be disregarding one of the largest popular mandates for an internal party leadership election in modern history. If Corbyn wins, Labour will still be viewed as disunited and the potential for the SDP Mark II would be on the cards.

The emergence of two parties from Labour’s fall would potentially be new ground for British politics. But in the long term it could be viewed as Britain’s democracy becoming more cosmopolitan. Germany, Spain and most of the rest of Western Europe have governments made up of broad ideological ‘rainbow’ coalitions. While this is not always a possibility within the British electoral system, it could be healthy for raising political participation. Turnout amongst young people has been abysmal since the beginning of this century; a split in the Labour Party could be the salvation that British politics needs.