Having lost the General Election in May the Labour Party entered into what was supposed to be a period of introspection. While we licked our wounds, we began to try and grapple with the electorate’s verdict and what that meant for our party. Jon Cruddas resigned his position to launch an inquiry into the reasons why we lost, and polling organisations began to survey the electorate. We were to consider the reasons why we lost, what we could learn, and where the party should go from there. Or at least that was the idea.
In reality the ‘debate’ over our party’s future has devolved into a shouting match. If I could devise a browser extension that hides all comments that use the phrase “Red Tory”, I would. Every time three of the four candidates express their views on an issue, or are otherwise mentioned, hoards of hard-left Corbyn supporters stampede into the comments sections, accusations of the candidates being traitors, “quislings”, and Red Tories abounding, spittle positively flying from their lips. And I do not accept that the abuse is equally distributed among the various Labour camps, certainly not in the same tone as that which is directed towards the three other candidates.
Liz Kendall (who, by the way, wants a living wage, greater trade union rights, an end to inequality from birth, more green jobs, the restoration of higher education grants for poorer students, and opposed the working tax-credit cuts) cannot even open her mouth before rabid Corbynites have already denounced her as a Tory and a traitor, as well as usually far more unsavoury things. Rowenna Davis MP announced her support for Kendall, praising her “guts and grit”, and last night tweeted just a short collection of screenshots of some of the comments Liz is receiving on her Facebook page from Labour members. And those are just a very small collection (you can see them any time she’s mentioned) from her Facebook page to the LabourList comments section. Andy Burnham proposes that we expand the NHS to include social care, investigate a Land Value Tax, replace student fees with a graduate tax, renationalise the rail network progressively as contracts expire, as well as bring bus networks under local authority control, and though he is subject to less bile and gendered insults, he too is denounced as being ‘Tory-Lite’ by the Corbynites; presumably they would rather we expropriate the rail network by force.
This is a horrible mistake and it is costing us. It might well be that at the end of the debate we should be having that Corbyn and his supporters win anyway, and that’s fine. But some of us do actually want to hear what other sections of the Labour Party have to say as well, and while we’re sold on some of Corbyn’s ideas maybe on others we aren’t. The other candidates do actually have a lot of good ideas and it’s important that they’re given an opportunity to express them and for the quieter, undecided members of the party to have the opportunity to express their thoughts without fear. But this witch-hunt is creating an atmosphere where people feel we cannot have an honest and open debate without being verbally attacked and abused. The atmosphere is truly poisonous right now: often lifelong party members no longer feel welcome in their own party, now accused of secretly supporting the party they’ve dedicated themselves to opposing. What was once supposed to be a debate now appears to have descended in to more of a witch-hunt. Red Tories, traitors, quislings, and entryists are all in the firing line.
And that horrible phrase again: ‘Red Tories’, the rallying cry of SNP supporters in Scotland during both the independence referendum and the General Election, is now being used by Labour members against each other. It’s a thought-terminating clichè; Just label someone a Red Tory and you no longer have to listen to what they say or give them any sort of basic level of respect. And this does remind me a lot of the SNP, and not necessarily in a positive way: The SNP’s message was very much about hope and anti-austerity, which was fine until someone found themselves on the receiving end of the SNP’s ‘hope’, which quickly becomes more sinister. What this is doing is turning the Labour Party from what was once a broad church of views into an ideological orthodoxy. And again I must stress that it is not Corbyn himself who is doing this but a significant number of his supporters. He’s perfectly happy to work with Blairites, but his supporters seem to want to string them up. It’s their way or the highway: you’re either with Corbyn or you’re a Tory in disguise, and this attitude is poisonous to our party, because it turns those who should be comrades against each other. We’re fighting each other rather than the Tories.
And I say all this as someone who is personally considering supporting Corbyn. Despite claims that he is backwards-looking, he has set out by far the broadest and most cohesive and positive vision for a Labour government of any of them. And, if nothing else, he is likely to lead the strongest opposition to the Tories. Polls also suggest he has a strong chance of winning over undecided/disinterested voters as well as some of those we lost to UKIP.
The Labour Party is not having a debate about the party’s future; it’s engaging in a witch-hunt, a reversal of the US’ ‘Reds under the bed’ scare. Traitors and Tories are seen where none or few exist, yet are nonetheless subject to horrendous abuse. And while all this is going on, the Conservatives are laughing at us: They know they’re strong in England, and now Labour are being annihilated in Scotland and slowly but surely hemorrhaging support to UKIP and Plaid Cymru in Wales.
The way in which this debate is being conducted, the tone of it, risks leading to a truly fractured and splintered Labour party. I’ve already seen dozens of Corbyn supporters positively salivating at the prospect that they might be able to force out all the ‘Blairites’ upon Corbyn’s victory, despite the fact that Corbyn himself has said no such thing is even a possibility. Where once we were a broad tent with a variety of respected views, but with a focused leadership that enabled us to win elections, we’re now risking becoming the People’s Front of Judea. And while Labour members are engaged in in-fighting, the Tories are busy wrecking our country.