The upcoming Labour leadership election is looking more and more like Groundhog Day for the political party. In the ‘sink or swim’ situation, the party can choose to be either a serious electoral force or a mere political movement. If they choose the latter, the party risks the biggest political split since the creation of the SDP. What will this new creation look like? And who would help lead the split?
In the event of a Corbyn re-election, there will likely be huge political consequences. However, the talk of a new political party will likely fall apart. A completely new, major political party is often a once in a lifetime event and would mark one of the biggest ever upheavals in UK politics. It is likely that the PLP will see this as one step too far, knowing that it could lock them out of power forever. A much more likely solution would be to create a party within a party, with a large section of the PLP electing their own leader and voting the way they decide, not Corbyn. This new section of the party would likely have a fresh new name and would attempt to outmuscle the Corbynistas. The large rump of Labour moderates would practically be the official Opposition, most probably taking every chance to undermine Corbyn. Would they refuse to attend PMQ’s? Create a new brand for the section? Even launch their own manifesto? All of this would obviously be explosive and completely divide the party until the 2020 General Election, where they would most likely be trounced. Expect mass deselections, civil war and the episode to restart again in 2020. I’m sure you can’t wait.
On the other hand, if the Labour moderates are feeling in an adventurous and risky mood, they could consider creating their own party. Labour moderates, the Liberal Democrats and a handful of Conservatives could be the third force in British politics, likely taking over from Labour as Her Majesty’s Opposition. The new party would likely be Blairite in approach, just without the Iraq baggage. A new centrist force in politics could help create a new force that is a bigger and better version of the SDP, possibly even winning power in decades to come. However, the Labour moderates will be well aware that this could all end up in tears. Just as new parties popularity goes up like a bird, it comes down like a stick. The left would loath them for ruining their socialist dream, the right for being too wishy washy. They could potentially flop at the 2020 General Election and face never having power again. Would leaving their beloved party be worth the risk?
In the case of a party split, you can expect the same Labour struggle that is playing out within the moderates. Both Smith and Eagle will likely run for the top job although currently it looks like Smith will edge it on MP’s nominations. MP’s such as Chuka Umunna and other highly regarded Blairites may also fancy leadership, most probably encouraged by not having to take on the hard left of the Labour Party. It is unlikely that we will see all the 174 anti-Corbyn MP’s defect, with some most likely not wanting to destroy the Labour Party. Expect high-profile figures like Andy Burnham and Harriet Harman to stay put with the Labour Party and attempt to fight for another day. However, there are rumours that the Labour MP’s will not be alone in their new party, with the Liberal Democrats and a small group of Conservative MP’s joining them. This would signal a huge political realignment, with the new party having forces from all sides of the political spectrum. It is likely Tim Farron would accept a lesser position within the new party as he would be grateful for the opportunity for the Liberal Democrats to have a chance of power once again. However, the party must find funding from somewhere, and are likely to give full voting rights to new members. If an unlikely figure stands, will the Corbynistas strike again and attempt to bring the down the ‘traitors?’
If Corbyn is re-elected as Labour leader, there is only certainty; the Labour party will never be the same again. The course that the Labour MP’s takes depends on what they want out of the venture. If they only care about self-interest, they will stay within the Labour Party and preside over its slow downfall. This will lead them to having no influence over the political debate, although they can relish in the thought of taking no risks, craving the power that they used to have. Whatever any commentator says, the SDP did make an impact on the political stage. The political debate is rooted firmly in the centre and this can be partly accredited to the SDP, who have seem many of their original aims implemented. The breakaway Labour party can do exactly the same and have huge influence on the political system, although they will have to compromise any real hope of power. It depends what the Labour moderates care most about; their party or their nation. I will hand it over to the MP’s to see where their loyalty truly lies.