Ayesha Hazarika: Fifty shades of Labour in the red room of pain

Jeremy Corbyns supporters are jubilant  and out for revenge against the doubters. Picture: Getty
Jeremy Corbyns supporters are jubilant  and out for revenge against the doubters. Picture: Getty
Share this article
2
Have your say

This will not come as a shock to you or as breaking news in any shape or form but the Labour Party is very unhappy right now. It faces such a deep existential crisis, it makes Woody Allen look pretty sorted.

Having been part of the group who feared that Labour would get smashed at the election, I was shocked and massively relieved by the exit poll and the result. I ate my humble pie like a good girl and rather naively assumed that we would all come together in a kind of kumbaya manner and focus on building on our surprising electoral results which, let’s be honest, no-one really saw coming.

But oh no. Silly me. In true Labour tradition, we have decided to do what comes best and most easily to us. Carry on hating each other. Or disengage. Or drink heavily.

Facebook forums and Whatsapp groups rage mercilessly against one side or the other and each is a black and white as the other.

The Corbynistas have a dark lusty thirst for revenge and punishment and want to see anyone who ever disagreed with the great leader be humiliated and destroyed or at least deselected.

The Blairites are so bitter that Corbyn did better than they thought they can barely breathe and rage against a lot of the rules they once held dear – like don’t slag off the voters and complain they are the wrong kind.

It’s the people who are stuck right at the middle who I feel sorry for – the poor Labour MPs.

They find themselves in a questionable moral dilemma and in so many different positions, all of which involve some pain, it’s fifty shades of Labour. Welcome to the red room of pain also known as the Parliamentary Labour Party.

I was in the House of Commons this week and saw the full range of emotion – good and bad – from Labour MPs.

The committed Corbynistas have an understandable swagger about them and are partying like it’s 1997.

It didn’t matter they didn’t win the election, they beat all expectations and feel rightly proud of what they achieved especially on a Monday night when Labour MPs gather for their weekly meeting and they see a bigger PLP with more women, more BAME representation and more MPs from all over the country – particularly the “magnificent seven” from Scotland.

By the way, these guys have so much love for them, they could actually pretend to be in a Western and turn up to Scottish questions on a horse wearing a Stetson and everyone would cheer.

The newly elected MPs are bright eyed, optimistic and still cannot believe the fact that they’ve made it to the Commons.

They understandably feel huge gratitude towards Corbyn and feel optimistic about the future.

There is a sizeable section of more seasoned members who don’t like Corbyn and probably never will but who on balance are relieved, and stunned, to be back in Parliament and would prefer to be an MP than to have been booted out. They get that something positive kind of happened, at least on a personal level, and will keep their heads down and toe the leadership whipping line for the time being.

They also appreciate that there are now easy, comfortable political lines to take on things like austerity which makes life better for them with their constituents.

They are not likely to set the world alight, but will not cause too much trouble unless provoked and will probably spend as much time on the terrace, on fun corporate events or overseas visits as is possible – this is the group I fear for most on health grounds. They can attack lots of Tory cuts and that will get them through for the time being.

Then there is a group of die-hard anti-Corbyn MPs who are ardently pro-European and who can legitimately use Brexit as a weapon to attack Corbyn.

The Chuka Umuna amendment on remaining in the Single Market and the Customs Union last week was interesting as it showed that that group mean business and will play hardball against the leadership at every available opportunity – and I guess they feel they can because let’s be honest, Mr Corbyn made it his mission in life to rebel against the whip on things he believed in passionately such as… ooh let me see… hating the European Union. While Team Chuka’s cause on the EU is admirable, their political tactics are basic and lack sophistication.

They should be a leaf out Momentum, their enemy’s playbook and go mobilise the party members and trade unions who are very pro-EU and anti-hard Brexit and whip them up to make Corbyn compromise and take the position they want – like what happened with Trident in the manifesto. Corbyn was always against renewal; the party and unions were for it and their position ended up winning.

But there is another issue. Obvs.

The “right” of the party – as well as the rest of it – is also split on Brexit tactics too.

I chaired the opening session of a conference organised by Progress, which is seen as the more-right wing of the party.

Peter Kellner, a highly regarded, former pollster (yes they exist) and political Blairite grandee declared that Labour must stop Brexit, to vast cheers in the hall.

When I asked Caroline Flint, also a Blairite MP who represents Doncaster which voted to leave the EU, what she thought of that, she replied in an unusually crisp, clear manner for a sitting politician with the word “Bollocks!” To fewer cheers it had to be said. Just to add to the complexity,

Dianne Abbot was also on that panel and she would be much closer to Kellner’s position on immigration and freedom of movement than to Flint’s and indeed Corbyn’s.

Are you keeping up with this? Good. I’ll carry on.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Last week we saw how backbench MPs could find a more positive and fulfilling way of navigating this internal Labour soap opera.

Round of applause for Stella Creasy who courageously, purposefully and skilfully used her position as an MP to score a big win for Northern Irish women who want abortions by making the UK government pay for them.

This was a great advancement for gender equality but also showed MPs that when there is a such a fragile majority, there is opportunity to work cross party, make mischief against the Government and get things done which actually makes the world better, which is what you kind of came into Parliament to do, not just get cirrhosis of the liver.

So, my strong advice to understandably frustrated Labour MPs, is don’t be bitter, be more Stella.