Dan Hodges’ article last weekend was about how twenty or so Labour MPs were finally ready to walk away. What shape this would take, the article was unclear about. New party? Resign the whip and sit as independents, hoping to one day return to planet Red? The Hodges piece wouldn’t specify. It makes me wonder if this amounts to another false dawn, having heard all this sort of thing many times before. However, this time feels different.
The anti-semitism thing is spiralling way out of control. Further, the Labour leader’s office seems to be trying very, very lightly to control it all, treating it as if it were a minor issue. Corbyn issued a limp-wristed apology this morning for having appeared on panels in the past with anti-Semites, but this seems to be an example of extraordinarily too little, too late. It must be clear after this week that the Labour Party isn’t one day going to return to “normal”; that the party of Hardie, Attlee and Gaitskell is for all intents and purposes, dead.
Splitting is still scary, regardless of these facts. The failure of the SDP inevitably looms large in the background of the thinking around any such venture. I’ve often said that the moderates need to take the majority of the PLP with them to make any split effective. Perhaps though, the situation has become serious enough for more drastic measures. Even if moderates within the PLP could stomach the reaction to the anti-Semitism scandal and bring themselves to half-heartedly campaign for a Corbyn government next time out, they are likely facing mass deselections. If you’re going to be pushed anyhow, why not jump at a time when you can rightfully claim the moral high ground?
The crucial elements to any breakaway portion of the PLP’s success comes down to elements they can take with them outside the Commons. If they could get a large portion of Labour peers to break away with them, this would add greatly to their heft. This should be doable given the political leanings of most of them. Even bigger would be if one of the large unions disaffiliated from Labour and joined the moderates. GMB have been in a quiet war with Unite for several years now so this isn’t as far fetched as it might sound.
To summarise, if the Labour moderates really are going ahead with this, I hope they have thought long and hard about strategy. Simply stomping off in a huff might feel good, but will ultimately achieve nothing. If it doesn’t work, it could even make things even worse by acting a bit like the 2017 general election did, validating the extremism of the far left. There needs to be a plan, in other words. If they do decide to jump, I can only applaud them; better late than never. It would also make me excited and, dare I say it, hopeful about politics for the first time in a while.