By Will Barber Taylor
The ultimate problems that beset the Labour party do not lie solely on the shoulders of Jeremy Corbyn. The deep seated issues that currently beset the Labour party stretch back further than the lives of most members.
In 1931 Ramsay MacDonald, Labour’s first Prime Minister, was decried as a traitor for forming National Labour – a splinter from the main Labour party aimed at taking it into government with the Conservatives. MacDonald’s name is still seen as mud in the circles of Labour activists who remember him (few do) because of his great betrayal. Yet, MacDonald did this not out of spite to a party he loved but simply because he had no choice. The British economy was in a mess following The Wall Street Crash and the majority of the Labour government refused to take part in any measures to make cuts to public spending as they felt it was a betrayal of their members. In their own way, they were right; many of the people who had voted for Labour in 1924 expected a Labour government to help them, not to cut public money that helped them. Yet the situation was dire and MacDonald, faced with a cabinet that could not endorse, nor dare to endorse his policies left Labour. Though he helped steady Britain from falling into a bottomless pit of economic undernourishment, he was seen as the enemy. This is the battle that has played out ever since and continues to play out.
Corbyn and his followers, in this perpetual loop of squabbling, represent the majority of PLP in 1931 when they forced MacDonald out. It isn’t that they are bad people – far from it, many Corbynites see themselves as the savours of Britain and are passionate about issues we should be passionate about. Yet, they are, like the 1931 PLP, reluctant to do what they would consider immoral, even if it is for the greater good. I’ve seen various comments from Corbynites stating things like “The Labour party should never appeal to anyone who has previously voted Tory”. This is the same attitude in 1931- compromise is not an option. Rather than seeing that to make Labour come into government, to govern for the British people as it should, we need to be both pro-business and pro welfare state is seen as a dereliction of duty. Rather than trying to help both, as both are needed, we must only stick to one and thus be “pure”.
Well why not? As the followers of Corbyn surely know, the events of 1931 played out well for the PLP that disregarded MacDonald. Yes, it may have lost 225 seats, contributing to Labour’s greatest electoral defeat yet but why should that matter? What is power without principle, as the old saying goes? Yet this saying forgets something – being principled doesn’t mean that you have to stand in the rain, nursing a warm beer whilst shouting outside the corridors of power about cuts. It means doing the right thing, even when it isn’t something the you might like. Courage lies in this – doing what is right for Britain and what is right for Labour are not always the same thing but one must surely trump the other.
And this is why the moment must end. Because ultimately, it’s stated objective of turning Labour from a political party into a “social movement”, inept at winning elections but great at getting Facebook likes doesn’t help people. It may help the egos and the “social conscious” of those who subscribe to it but at its root it can’t work. Not simply because Corbyn is a bad leader, or entryism but because it is a direct descendant of the line of thought that expelled Ramsay MacDonald from the Labour Party -simply for doing the right thing for his country. Until Corbyn accepts defeat or leaves the Labour leadership, then Labour will exist in name only.