Labour rebels threaten a ‘war of attrition’

Written By: Chris McLaughlin
Published: August 8, 2016 Last modified: October 25, 2016

A “kamikaze” plot to unseat Jeremy Corbyn as the democratically elected Labour leader has entered a summer of choreographed discontent by right-wing MPs prepared to adopt the discredited Trotskyist theory of “permanent revolution”.

Amid reports of informal talks between former Labour ministers and frontbenchers with Liberal Democrat parliamentarians and political donors on the eventual formation of a new, parliamentary-rooted party, Labour MPs have suggested there is nothing in the party’s rulebook to prevent challenge after challenge to Corbyn in a war of attrition to be fought “until we get our party back”.
Faced with what they see as an inevitable endorsement of Corbyn, other rebels have anonymously issued warnings that they would elect their own leader and shadow cabinet as an “alternative”.
Both plans, said to be in “embryonic” stage, aim to take advantage of what is being perceived as a hopeless battle of the left between Corbyn and challenger Owen Smith, MP for Pontypridd. Smith, the rank outsider, is expected to hand Corbyn another resounding victory among party members, supporters and individual union members. But among some influential MPs who don’t necessary support his 20-point “socialist” programme, he is seen as a useful stalking horse, an unwitting dupe whose defeat will fan the unrequited passions of Blairites and David Miliband-supporting refuseniks.
Smith has already damaged his credibility as a potential leader with signs of cackhandedness in public comments. He was forced to apologise for saying Labour’s job should be to “smash Theresa May back [into] her high heels”.
He raised doubts over his political hinterland when, at a time when lesbian Angela Eagle MP was still in the race, he pronounced himself “normal”, citing his wife and children.
Corbyn and campaign manager, shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, have derided the leadership challenge as an unnecessary distraction from opposing the new Tory Government and have called on all MPs to unite around the election result. But they increasingly fear the mutiny and the desertion of MPs from  their frontline posts will continue.
Though some are expected to drift back the result could bring the party full-circle to a stand-off between a mass membership party in the country and one which takes its legitimacy from having been elected to the Commons, albeit on a Labour ticket.
“The notion that we all go back to happy families is nonsense,” one Corbyn critic was reported as saying. Another emphasised a desire among rebels to avoid the “nuclear” option of a full party split which would leave the leadership and membership in charge of the party’s assets and name.
“It is not a ‘we’re off to set up a new party’, it is a ‘this is our party, we’re not leaving but our current situation is intolerable’.”
Smith was urged by Corbyn supporters to condemn colleagues feeding speculation over a split or permanent revolution. As Tribune went to press, he had failed to do so, his supporters insisting instead that he would not contribute to any split and dismissing Corbyn’s calls for unity as “ironic”.

About Chris McLaughlin

Chris McLaughlin is Editor of Tribune