Tom Watson was on the Today programme today, trying to walk his usual tightrope. The hard left had done something stupid, and Tom had to show he understood how bad it was without either going overboard and doing more damage to the Labour brand, or laying the blame at Jeremy Corbyn’s door.
He was on there discussing this “secret tape” that has Jon Lansman talking about how plans are afoot for Momentum and Unite to officially affiliate. If this should happen, it wouldn’t just mean the end of Labour as an electoral force, as Watson said this morning – that’s probably already happened. What it could mean instead would be not only the end of the Labour Party as the entity it was created to be, but the end of the organised Left as we knew it throughout the 20th century.
Momentum want to change the rules of the party to make it easier for hard left leaning candidates to get on the leadership contest ballot. They also appear to want to deselect Labour MPs who do not sign up to their vision of Labour’s future, i.e. most of them. The resources and organisational nous Unite could bring to these causes is monumental.
The Labour Party is a partnership of different factions. Throughout its 117 year history, those factions have mostly been in some sense of balance – at least, they have never been so unbalanced as to have destroyed the party, even in the 1980s. Unite in the last few years have come close to the line in this respect – the Falkirk incident is a good example – but again, it has always stayed the correct side of the line. Explicitly joining forces with Momentum would not only cross that line, but would be destroying the line altogether. The PLP as a significant force in the Labour movement will have been eradicated in a way that could never be reversed. Given that the party was founded to give the Labour movement and other affiliated movements a voice in parliament, the Labour Party as it was intended will be gone forever.
The hardest question Watson was asked on Today was regarding Corbyn himself: surely, Corbyn either knew about all this and kept it hidden from cabinet colleagues, a truly horrible thing that shows how much existential trouble Labour are really in, or he didn’t and he’s not even in the loop with the hard left forces trying to take over the party for good. Watson dodged the question skilfully, but it remains to be answered.
Bottom line: if the Momentum-Unite affiliation goes ahead, that’s the end of the Labour Party for sure. At that point, the centrists in the party face a real question as to what to do next. They may feel like Labour is “their party”, one that has been taken over by the Socialist Workers Party from seemingly nowhere, but the hard left will have definitely won at that stage. If Labour simply cannot be saved, what will they do next?
I listened to Watson as well, and it was striking how enfeebled he was: as an elected Deputy Leader, he has his own mandate, and therefore can stand up to Corbyn and his ultras. If a Unite-Momentum link up is as existential a threat to Labour as Watson appears to believe (and he may well be right), then his course of action should surely have been to throw down the gauntlet to Corbyn and McCluskey (leader of his own union, I believe) to disown this idea or face his resignation and a contest for Deputy Leader.
Watson did neither. So…. he’s either pulled his punches (though heaven knows what he’s saving them for) or he doesn’t actually believe this. Not sure which I believe – but I lean towards the former. A pity.