Alastair Meeks looks at the options
As Leonard Cohen once crooned, everybody knows the war is over, everybody knows the good guys lost. With Labour’s surprisingly good performance in the recent election round, even the faint hope of a challenge to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership this year has evaporated. This will give him the time and space to effect the necessary reforms of the party to ensure that he cannot be ousted by a Parliamentary coup.
So the Labour right are facing defeat in the face. They will be unable to oust Jeremy Corbyn before the next general election and even if he falls under a political battle bus he will be replaced by someone more or less as hardline.
So decision time approaches. They have the following options:
1) Sit down and shut up
That is the Corbynites’ preferred choice for them. It presupposes that the Labour right would prefer a Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn to win as compared with the practical alternatives. Do Labour rightwingers oppose Jeremy Corbyn because they disagree with his ideas or because they think the British public won’t vote for them? If it is the second, the time has come to shut up. That argument can be revisited after the general election but not before.
Labour rightwingers can also present this to themselves as the Mr Micawber option. In practice, however, there is no particular reason why anything should turn up. If they would prefer the current Labour leadership to lose in preference to the practical alternatives, what would they do in the run-up to a general election if as seems highly likely Jeremy Corbyn is still in situ?
2) Challenge the leadership head on
This would be a re-enactment of the Charge of the Light Brigade. It would be magnificent, but it wouldn’t be politics. The Labour right would fight and it would lose. It would then be destroyed by the cannon to the left of them. If this option were chosen, it would be hard to avoid the conclusion that someone had blundered.
This option presupposes that the Labour right would prefer one of the practical alternatives to Labour success under the programme that Jeremy Corbyn put forward. For many on the right of the Labour party, combating poverty was what got them into politics. That is not going to be met by joining the Conservative party. The Lib Dems might aspire to meet that objective but right now they don’t look like a practical alternative to Labour success, not unless they allow themselves effectively to be taken over by the Labour right (and even then the SDP does not offer an encouraging precedent for this).
4) Break away and form a new party
Again, this option presupposes that the Labour right would prefer not to see Jeremy Corbyn’s programme succeed for Labour. The idea’s prospects of success are bleaker even than linking up with the Lib Dems, unless the Labour right seeks to form some kind of non-aggression pact with the Conservatives in return for policy concessions. This would take extraordinary amounts of statesmanship and trust on both sides. Neither side has so far shown much of either quality.
One point to note: key figures from the Labour right are going to be spending quite a bit of time in the company of the Conservative leadership in the next few weeks. If the EU referendum can be negotiated with a Remain victory, lines of communication may have been opened up that might prove of some use in future. After all, the Conservative leadership might be grateful for a new source of support, given how unreliable its own right flank has proved. There may be the makings of a deal.
5) Give up and leave politics
Relatively lowly rightwing Labour supporters have been stopping their direct debits without much fuss. Should more senior Labour rightwingers do the same thing? It would be an admission of defeat and a decision that a substantial strand of British political thought would go unrepresented for the medium term.
None of these options look at all appealing. The likely outcomes vary between disastrous for the country, disastrous for the Labour party, disastrous for the careers of Labour rightwingers or all three. Sooner or later, the Labour dissidents are going to have to choose their own quietus.
Me, I expect a little of option 1 and a little of option 5. The others require courage, principle and vision. If the Labour right had that, they wouldn’t be in the mess they are already in.