Yesterday, outside of Unite HQ near Holborn in London, supporters of Len McCluskey and Gerald Coyne had a physical confrontation with each other. I don’t want to go overboard in describing this kerfuffle – it sounds like it was more handbags at midday than a riot – but it still acts as a beautiful illustration of the problems which surround the whole of the Left in Britain at the moment.
For those of you who have not been following the contest, Gerald Coyne is the moderate candidate, i.e. he actually cares about the pay, rights and conditions of the members as opposed to ineptly trying to bring about socialism in one country. Len McCluskey is, well, Len McCluskey. The Coyne brigade have been complaining about Len borrowing money from the union to pay for a house. You would have thought McCluskey’s undying support for Jeremy Corbyn, even in the face of the current Labour leader’s constant declaration of interests that are the opposite of most of Unite’s membership, would be enough. Apparently not.
The fact that it has come to this, two factions within the same trade union organisation openly fighting with one another in public, is a microcosm of why the Left is doing so badly at present. One imagines instantly that scene in “Life of Brian” when the various Judean factions start wrestling with each other while the two Roman centurions look on with wry smiles. I don’t need to tell you who the Romans are in this analogy.
Yet there is no possibility for truce at the moment because of Corbyn. You either see that he is poisonous for the Left overall, or you continue to live in denial. This isn’t really about left and right factions within the overall Left, or about policy positions: even if you were on Labour’s Left – perhaps, particularly if you are – you might see that Corbyn was immovable for the time being for various reasons relating to who’s next while still recognising that he has been a disaster as Labour leader (known now as the “Owen Jones position”). All while Momentum types have their sights set almost solely on “Blairites”; the Tories seem to be an afterthought to this bunch.
The next possible fork in the road might be the aftermath of the second Scottish independence referendum, autumn 2018. If the SNP go ahead with it, I think they may just win this time round. Should that happen, it may be another chance for the Labour rebels (i.e. the vast majority of the PLP) to try and depose Corbyn again. At this point, the membership will be tested again. And again, they will almost certainly validate Corbyn’s leadership, at which point he is a lock to go into 2020 as leader of the Labour Party. Oh dear.