THE sight of Labour party members squabbling over who has the right to vote in the current leadership election is most unedifying. The party’s decision to give voting rights to “supporters” paying as little as £3 was meant to engage people who’d abandoned Labour. Instead, it has caused a rift between moderates and those who look set to elect the unreconstructed left-wing MP Jeremy Corbyn as the next leader of the opposition.
There are echoes of the chaotic 1980s past as those on the right and in the centre of the party complain that entryism is to blame for Corbyn’s soaring success, and that their party has been taken over by activists who don’t have Labour’s best interests at heart.
If Dugdale is seen as more right-wing, the SNP will make hay
The internal machinations of the Labour party are, of course, a matter for the Labour party, but we would point out that the decision to allow “supporters” the right to vote in the leadership election was backed, democratically, by existing members. Those now crying foul don’t have much of a case against anyone who has taken advantage of a system the party agreed.
Corbyn supporters report being told they were ineligible to vote because, among other reasons, they had previously backed other parties.
This seems an especially peculiar reason. After all, surely the purpose of offering people the chance to become involved with the Labour party for just £3 was to attract back those who had left, perhaps over the Iraq war?
Despite allegations of entryism from some, there can be no denying that the rise in support for Corbyn is real and cannot be blamed on a sinister plot.
Corbyn is unlikely to help Labour begin winning elections again, but it seems clear that a great many Labour party members do want his unreconstructed version of socialism.
There is little doubt that elections, whether to Westminster or Holyrood, are won on the centre ground. Ed Miliband’s defeat in May to the Conservatives illustrated this perfectly, while – despite the party’s leftist rhetoric – the SNP dominates Scottish politics with a set of policies aimed at moderate but self-interested Scots.
Those in Labour complaining about the Corbyn phenomenon have, to a great degree, themselves to blame. The party’s centrists have not, in recent years, argued their case forcefully.
David Miliband’s decision not to stand against Gordon Brown when Tony Blair resigned in 2007 as party leader – and thus Prime Minister – signalled a complacency among Labour modernisers.
Ed Miliband’s subsequent leadership of the party was a disaster that unfurled in front of the eyes of the party’s centrists who responded by saying nothing.
The election of Corbyn as Labour leader looks inevitable. Bookmakers have already begun paying out to those who took a punt on him and Labour insiders say he is on course to take a majority of votes in the first round of the ballot.
This will be music to the ears of Prime Minister David Cameron who, as Labour lurches to the left and then, inevitably, becomes consumed by in-fighting, will consolidate the Conservatives’ position as the party of the centre.
Scottish Labour’s new leader, Kezia Dugdale, has said she looks forward to working with whichever candidate emerges next month as the victor of the UK contest.
But a Corbyn victory will bring with it certain difficulties. The SNP has successfully persuaded people – rightly or wrongly – that it represents the values of “old Labour”. If Dugdale is seen as more right-wing than Corbyn, the SNP will make hay with that.
A Corbyn leadership has the potential to damage Labour both north and south of the Border. But those looking to blame entryists for this are wrong. Labour is entirely responsible for the circumstances in which it now finds itself.