Labour’s post-Brexit woes and a possible solution

Updated, 30 June, 2016
It turns out that the party’s rules make my suggestion unfeasible in its present form: the leader of the party is ex officio the leader of the PLP (Chapter 1 clause vii).  However, there appears to be nothing to stop a leader delegating part of their role, maybe pending a rule change….
But my more fundamental point is that a creative solution is needed to manage the tension between the different parts of the party and their differing requirements and expectations of the leader. Maybe not this solution but a solution that maintains a left-leaning hegemony, which is to say brings together those elements of the party except for anyone still self-identifying as a Blairite neoliberal.  That really ought to be doable.  Beyond that I support the idea of a progressive electoral alliance with cross party primaries to select candidates across England and Wales.

The UK Labour Party has descended into seemingly terminal conflict after the defeat of the remain campaign by a narrow margin (52:48 – just 35% of the electorate opted to jump off the cliff and many of them are now having second thoughts) in the EU referendum.

This has been used as a pretext for a coup against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn by the right wing of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP).  This was expected but the scale of the revolt is surprising.  Corbyn has clearly lost the confidence of the majority of the PLP, including former centre-left allies.

Meanwhile in the Labour Party itself (outside parliament) he still has strong, majority support.  This was demonstrated by an almost spontaneous rally outside parliament attended by maybe 10,000 people.  Corbyn’s supporters are uncompromising, as he is, refusing to countenance his resignation.  I have a great deal of sympathy with this view: the PLP is no longer representative of the Labour Party.  Corbyn and the movement behind him represents a clear break from the neoliberal consensus and has led to some innovative policy development, particularly on the economy, that could speak directly to the left behind citizens who voted for Brexit.  But it is not so easy as that.  Like it or not the Labour leader has to lead the entire Labour Party, its members, its affiliated organisations, and its elected representatives.  For whatever reason, Corbyn has not managed to maintain hegemony over all sections of the party, although the party under his leadership has actually done better electorally than under his two predecessors.

I have a simple solution, that at the very least would buy time for the Party to heal itself and restore its credibility.  It is not necessary for the leader of a political party to be the leader of the party in parliament, nor even to be Prime Minister.  In other places this kind of arrangement is normal.

So I suggest Corbyn concedes to the vote of no confidence by Labour MPs by agreeing to stand down as leader of the PLP, but not of the party as a whole.  MPs would then elect a parliamentary leader who would work with him.  To ensure a consistent approach I suggest either giving the national leader (Corbyn) a veto on nominations, or putting nominations in the hands of the National Executive Committee.

Under this formula, Corbyn could get on with what he’s best at – building a strong national party with innovative socialist policies, and the MPs (excluding the Blairite rump) get a potentially more charismatic and combative leader who they will see as legitimate.  The big challenge of this arrangement will be to ensure a coherent, united approach between the two leaders, but an arrangement such as those suggested in the previous paragraph could help to make this possible.  Without such a compromise the party will tear itself apart just when it needs to take on a divided Tory party and win back the UKIP/Brexit voters.


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