July 21, 2015 by Nash Riggins
May’s general election was a crucible of sorts for the Labour Party – a proverbial Red Wedding. A flurry of shock defeats and inevitable resignations have since altered the entire landscape of the opposition’s front bench, decapitating the centre-left party and leaving a trail of bloodied confusion in its wake. Even the most die-hard Labour supporter would admit it’s not looking good.
And although poor Harriet Harman is doing absolute her best to lick the party’s wounds and press on, it appears as though she’s finally come to the depressing realisation that there’s not really anywhere to press on to.
Once upon a time, casting a vote for Labour meant you were in favour of a strong, social democracy. It meant you believed in the idea of a compassionate Welfare State, workers’ rights and economic equality. A vote for Labour was a vote for something radically different. Today, you might as well not vote at all.
Don’t get me wrong: a lot of Labour politicians are absolutely fantastic, and are working tirelessly to improve daily life for their constituents. But all of that hard work is unsurprisingly discounted by a question of poor leadership. The Labour Party is headed in two or three different directions simultaneously – and if leadership contenders keep up this petty infighting, the party will take at least a generation to regain any sort of traction in parliament.
Last night, the true extent of the party’s divide was exposed through an inevitable rebellion in the House of Commons. In a desperate bid to latch onto the coattails of George Osborne’s post-budget popularity boost, interim opposition leader Harman commanded Labour’s 232 MPs to abstain from voting on the government’s latest attempt to cripple the Welfare State. Just to clear things up, this piece of legislature will ensure hundreds of thousands of children are tossed below the breadline and slash benefits for the country’s working poor. It goes against everything Labour once claimed to stand for.
So, why did Harman encourage her party members to abstain from the vote? It was ultimately a case of “damned if you do, damned if you don’t”.
In fact, George Osborne’s crafting of the Welfare Reform and Work Bill was actually an act of complete and utter evil genius. Yes, it will toss poor people further still into the black hole of poverty we’ve needlessly manufactured. But the bill will also introduce a much-needed national living wage that will improve the lives of just about everybody else in the country. That’s a dream the Labour Party has been trying to implement for a dog’s age – and so they would have to be complete idiots to vote against the bill introducing it. Better to quietly condemn bits and bobs of the bill and not vote on it at all, Ms Harman reckoned.
Well, a fifth of her MPs refused to listen. Leadership candidate and all-around firebrand Jeremy Corbyn encouraged 48 Labour colleagues to vote against the bill, along with pretty much every other minority party politician in the Commons. And although the votes were a nice symbolic gesture, a Conservative majority ensured a relatively smooth passing. Before you know it, Britain will be bathing in another £12bn worth of austerity measures – and those most affected will have Labour abstentions to thank.
This is precisely the reason that the Labour Party has lost Scotland, and why things are only going to get worse from here on out.
Jeremy Corbyn probably isn’t the most qualified man to guide his party through the sharp, ideological shift it so desperately needs, but he’s clearly the only leadership candidate with any sort of backbone. After Labour’s shocking defeat in May, the bulk of its MPs are simply holding on for dear life. They don’t want to step out of line or speak their minds, lest their opinions prove unpopular. Even worse still, they could inadvertently be exposed as genuine human beings.
This has got to stop.
In September, party members are going to elect their next leader – and they’d better have a long, hard think before casting their ballots. Right now, the Labour Party is fragmented. Its members are being outfoxed at every turn, and the Tories are stealing every piece of progressive pizazz the party once held dear.
It seems like things can’t get any worse. But trust me: if the Labour Party doesn’t elect someone capable of giving them direction and demonstrating some form of ideological resolve, things are going to get a hell of a lot worse. Who knows? By the next general election, Labour could even go the way of the Liberal Democrats.