When one surveys the landscape of the current Labour Party, the fact that a split doesn’t loom larger in a lot of the PLP’s thinking could baffle some with a less than voluminous knowledge of British political history. The membership seems to have turned to or been infiltrated completely by the far-left; given the way Labour now elects its leaders, this is an impossible obstacle to get round. Sure, the PLP still nominates those who are able to run – for now. But any route back looks hard to manage from where things currently sit. The “Corbyn way” seems set to dominate Labour politics for years to come.
So why then is talk of a split so completely and utterly non-existent? Think about it another way: Labour has 231 MPs. Which means that only 116 Labour MPs would need to split off and create a new entity for said new entity to become the new official opposition, with all that entails (short money, etc). I realise 116 is a large number of MPs, but when you think about how much of the PLP is not enamoured with Corbyn’s leadership, it doesn’t seem out of the question.
“The Labour brand, despite Corbyn, despite Ed, is still incredibly strong,” one former shadow cabinet member told me recently. “That was why the SDP couldn’t make it in the 80s – however bad the policies, people still voted Labour in droves.”
I was going to say “fear” is the thing that prevents the split for the time being. But while fear does play a role in the underlying psychology of it all, that isn’t the real reason for the split being off the menu entirely. It comes down to what my former shadow cabinet friend alluded to in the quote above: the thing that drives voters to vote Labour no matter what is the same thing that ultimately keeps the PLP in one piece, regardless. There is something about Labour that keeps people glued to it. It’s more than a party in many ways – it’s a quasi-religion. Giving something like that up, just because if you sat down and did a pros and cons list of sticking around you’d find the cons outweighed the pros, isn’t human nature. The hope will burn until it is obvious to absolutely every sane individual that the Labour Party being resurrected as an electoral force capable of winning a general election has become totally impossible.
That will almost certainly require Labour to be crushed at the next general election to come to fruition. Which is one of the reasons we live in such arid political times: we all know what’s going to happen next, so we’re all waiting around for it to happen so we can get on with the next bit.
So I suppose the question to conclude on is this: will a Labour split be possible after 2020? It’s hard to say, but one supposes it may become more possible. There is a lot of time between now and then, and even though we know roughly how the plot will go, the incidentals could be important. The problem, however, is that when the split may be deemed necessary at long last, it could be right at the point at which it is no longer logically possible for a variety of reasons.