South Wales Evening Post - 16th August 2016

There was once a Conservative poster that read: “If Labour is the answer then it’s a damn stupid question.”

It’s a joke that has new contemporary meaning but let there be no doubt, the party’s problems are entirely of their own making.

When the scale of the last general election defeat became apparent, the shift away from the centre ground was inevitable. What wasn’t foreseen however was the creative degree to which party apparatchiks would handle the succession process.

Being able to decide the identity of the Labour leader at £3 a pop not only made being left-wing affordable as well as fashionable, it went some way to fulfilling the Leninist axiom that capitalists are indeed capable of selling the rope that will later be used to hang them.

I suppose you could argue that any party hierarchy unable to think through the longer-term implications of these money-spinning actions should be quietly side-lined by a indisputably popular leader. Think again. The party machine has proved markedly resilient.

For all the accusations of infiltration by Trotskyites, it’s worth recounting that it was Leon himself who observed the way of things is for the bureaucracy to firstly take over the party and then replace it.

Of course, it is in parliament where Labour’s problems are most apparent. Poor performances at the dispatch box with Mao’s red book thrown around ad-lib and equivocation over policy have all managed to give MPs severe jitters.

Where most people tend to get lost though – including me - is following through the logic how all this discontent translated into en masse front-bench resignations.

Informed sources insist that what triggered a survivalist reflex among the mutineers was the prospect of a post-Brexit snap election combined with boundary changes. The best-case scenario being touted around at the time was a loss of up to 90 seats.

Why should MPs worry about deselection by disaffected constituency parties, said the briefings, when terminal electoral oblivion beckoned anyway?

As things presently stand, there is no overt Conservative appetite for another general election – nor for a quick Brexit settlement either. So where does that leave Labour?

Many describe the renewed leadership context as a struggle for the party’s future. I disagree.

This is unquestionably a battle but more like one fought over the ruins of some abandoned building whereby it is more important to the antagonists to gain ground than keep things intact. It has the squalid feel of a family quarrel that follows the reading of a will.

Labour historically grew from a mass movement into a political force. It introduced social and economic reforms that are still valued in our lifetimes. Furthermore, it was no less factionalised then than in the present day.

It is the nature of opposition parties to seek to become governments. Labour does not yet seem to have figured out how that it going to happen. It will prove to a fascinating experience to watch them try.

In the meantime, and pardon the expression, things can only get better.


The challenges and changes ahead

While internal differences continue, there is a palpable despair among Labour supporters that the party’s guns are faced in the wrong direction, so to speak.

As much as the clever set dismiss the Blair-Brown years as ‘tory-lite’, there’s no denying that the minimum wage, crime reduction, equality and devolution all happened on their watch. 

So did the Iraq invasion of course. It is probably at this point that Labour’s fortunes dipped irrevocably – which is why the election of Jeremy Corbyn has changed more than just perceptions.

Recent national and regional elections (plus the odd referendum) have spelled out even to the most optimistic comrade that the majority of the UK electorate are not yearning for inclusive, left-wing egalitarianism.

Newbie 'Corbynistas' dubbed the new Red Guard

Labour’s membership numbers have nonetheless reached the 300,000 mark and continue to climb.

Ironically, this is as much as challenge as an opportunity for rank and file party organisations.

As one disgruntled branch official confided in me, there are some tense instances where newbies without a lick of political savvy lecture hardened campaigners about solidarity. Comparisons with a modern-day Red Guard fomenting a cult of personality are fairly predictable.

An additional concern is that this influx is largely made up of individuals who think that simply the act of joining a political party is sufficient in itself to bring about significant social change.

However, if just a fraction of the new intake become committed members then the party will not only have far more boots on the ground but also the financial resources to back them up.

This will be welcome news to Labour’s poor-bloody-infantry who turn out in all weathers to deliver leaflet or help organise the socials and fund-raisers.

The first test in Wales will be next year’s council elections. History shows that the party prospers locally when Labour is in national opposition. That said, precedents seem to count for very little in politics these days.