There are plenty of signs in the wind that we may have a General Election not far off and yet the Labour Party seem to be in a mess, riven by accusations of anti-semitism and bunker-mentality denials by its leadership clique. It seems stuck in intra-party conflict at the very point when one might imagine unity is needed against a very militant right wing that poses a major threat, on Brexit, the neo-liberal changes that are being promised on the back of Brexit and to Labour themselves. A hard right-wing victory at the polls could clear the way for the removal of the last of the post-war collectivist and social-solidarity reforms.
Is Labour being its own worst enemy?
There is a promising mix of ideas and aspirations for change within Labour, and yet obscuring such promise there are forces that inhibit coherence. The party seems unable to shake off the accusation of anti-semitism and the denials lack conviction when seemingly contradicted by statements by people within the party that complaints and investigations are being hindered. There seems to be a long-standing culture of an acceptance on the left of a thin dividing line between anti-imperialism, sympathy for the old Soviet Russia and support for the Palestinians on the one hand and an apparent anti-Jewish stance, a support for dictators and a tendency to be almost pro-Putin.
Big efforts are made to try to defend their leader, Jeremy Corbyn, against what are seen as “Blairite” remnants in the party. Corbyn has been accused of procrastination and yet has made big attempts to cater also for the Leave-voting areas of the old Labour working class heartlands. At the same time there is an old eurosceptic tendency within Labour that date back to the Bennite struggles of the 1980’s, against which the younger, more recent adherents such as Momentum supporters who struggle to gain a clear stand opposing Brexit and in favour of a second referendum.
Arguably it is Labour’s stance on Brexit that has also contributed to the current situation, since it has at crucial points voted in Parliament in favour of Brexit and confusingly tried to argue in favour of a “workers’ Brexit”. “The midwife of Brexit” has been a telling criticism.
Moreover it has failed to function as the dynamic opposition that is needed. Many commentators have observed that it is partly the weakeness of the opposition that has allowed a divided government with a poor showing in the polls to survive as long as it has.
An opportunity for the Right there to be taken
Thus the Hard Right could be well-positioned to take advantage of Labour’s energy-sapping divisions, as Thatcher did so successfully in 1979. Moreover Labour could be hit in an election by the splitting of the left-wing votes that can occur under the First Past the Post electoral system in the constituencies where there are multiple challengers, and thus the right could perhaps come out the victors.
Boris Johnson could be about to pull off a major coup. After all, all he really wants is power. Many people who have been commenting on him who have known him in the past say that how he presents is an act and he is primarily motivated by self-seeking ambition. He is not really a bumbling, joking buffoon, but an aggressive though erratic operator in his own interests. He might be able to ruthlessly exploit the current weakness of his opponents, emerge as the victor and thus impose a pro-US neo-liberal revolution on the back of Brexit.
There’s a big crunch point coming up, and there should be a clear choice between at least two alternative visions of Britain’s future presented to voters, but right now it seems that there is only one.