James Barge, a former advisor to Ed Miliband and one of our Specialist Partners examines the perilous state of the Labour Party and the desperate need for new leadership
“For Heaven’s sake man, go”. That’s how the Prime Minister ended what could possibly be Jeremy Corbyn’s last PMQs. It had already been an extraordinary event. The House of Commons is rarely silent. But as Corbyn rose to his feet for the first of a straight set of six questions, it was. He asked….well, actually it doesn’t matter what he asked. It’s all about the context of today.
In many ways Corbyn’s resistance is extraordinary. 80% of his parliamentary party – including some who supported his nomination as leader – have lost confidence in him. Former Leaders and Deputy Leaders have called for him to go. Labour MEPs, council leaders and PPCs have called for him to go. But it’s their rationale that is compelling.
The Labour Party has no right to exist. Like any political party it has its license to exist renewed at the time of a General Election. It is the prospect of having that license revoked under his leadership that has caused the situation Corbyn finds himself in. It is rubbish to say that this is the result of a Blairite coup. It’s rubbish to say this comes as a result of a “small handful” of MPs who have never reconciled themselves to Corbyn’s leadership. This comes because Labour MPs – honourable and decent people – are putting the Labour Party before themselves. And they do so from across the party. The debate is fundamentally whether the Labour Party is a pressure group or a party of power.
And that’s where the hypocrisy of those gathering outside Parliament yesterday exists. Many of whom have never and will never be Labour Party members. They would sacrifice the Party for their cause. Rendering the Party out of government and out of power and unable to support those that need it most. It stands idle. Corbyn may point to Government u-turns as a mark of success but most of these came about as a result of the excellent Labour leadership in the House of Lords, or simply by the Government’s own overreach.
I, like those MPs who have taken the difficult choice this week to take a stand, care about the future of the Labour Party. Having worked for a Leader of the Opposition I understand how difficult that role is. But the Prime Minister was right to say today that it is simply not in the national interest for Jeremy Corbyn to remain in post. The opening sentence of this blog was delivered – I believe – genuinely and without party political calculation. He acknowledged keeping Corbyn in post was in the interest of the Conservative Party; and he called for him to go regardless.
This is about more than simply the future of the Labour Party, it is about the future of parliamentary democracy. And after last Thursday, that is currently more important than anything.