As I See It
Corbyn may split Labour. Good, it’s just what it needs
The Labour party is today being warned by one of its biggest business donors that if Jeremy Corbyn wins the leadership election it “risks” an SDP-style split. Well, bring it on. Surely it is just what it needs.
In its current form, the party is a busted flush, a rag-bag of right and left wing ideals that has left it trying simultaneously to support aspiration while being instinctively driven to pursue policies that stifle ambition. It told voters in the election campaign it would fight Tory cuts, only for its interim leader to support the government’s welfare bill.
Labour, frankly, no longer knows what it represents. It was unable this week to unite around a consensual view so that the voters are confused about where it is positioned on even this most basic of leftist principles: standing up for the disadvantaged.
Mr Corbyn at least knows what he believes in and, after all, it is the policies that the party was built on. Surveys reveal that he has some sympathy among the populace for his demands for renationalising the railways, raising the higher rate of income tax, and the non-renewal of Trident nuclear weapons.
There, that’s the left wing sorted out. As for the right, it wants a party that encourages enterprise, is agnostic about privatisation and believes in the nuclear deterrent. The problem with this latter positioning of Labour is that it does not distinguish the party sufficiently from the Tories who have, in turn, raided the left’s larder, committing themselves to very un-Tory policies such as the living wage. To those on the left this is not so much Tory-lite Labour, it is just Tory.
As for the real Tories, by ascribing them as the party for “working people”, Chancellor George Osborne has cleverly delivered a hammer blow to Labour which has already seen its traditional support in Scotland switch to the Scottish National Party. Not only has the SNP stolen Labour’s working class credentials north of the border, it has capitalised on what many Scots saw as Labour’s betrayal of Scotland in the independence referendum. This Tory-SNP pincer movement has left Labour in a blind alley.
Not that British politics is still defined simply around crude left-right divisions. It has become more complex and now embraces nationalism, consumerism and the impact of technology, not least social media which has empowered the individual more than at any time in history. This was the “change” alluded to by Tony Blair.
Blairism, for good or ill, first of all revived a party that was near defunct and then redefined it as New Labour, a party that continued to support meritocracy over privilege, but was prepared to work with big business, even private education.
Labour’s inability to find a new common purpose around which the membership can unite means it is becoming irrelevant. If Mr Corbyn wins it may at least help give it a final opportunity to draw a line under its role in history and start again.