Corbyn and the Ghost of Blair Past

In the lead-up to the Labour leadership elections, the plague of division spread throughout the party. This was initially of no concern however, and was merely attributed to the fierce rivalry between the candidates. It was expected that when the new leader was elected, the party would naturally once again unite under their common cause against a common enemy. However, when Corbyn was elected, a new cause was elected too. The reins handed to Corbyn resulted in a sharp turn to the left and a rejection of New Labour unseen by his most recent predecessors, and worryingly, many were left lagging behind. Indeed, it appears that although Corbyn won the heart of the people, he has yet to win the heart of the party.

On Wednesday, Parliament voted on military intervention in Syria. Corbyn insisted that he was a “leader, not a dictator”, and refused to subject the MPs to the party whip. In reality, this set a major test for the Labour Party, and a test that failed miserably. Not only did 66 MPs vote against the party leader and in line with the Tories, but some of these were shadow ministers, including the son of the renowned anti-war campaigner and MP, Hilary Benn, who was hailed for his ‘extraordinary’ substance-less speech.

Labour members lobbied their representatives furiously, appealing for them to vote against the strikes. However, what became apparent after Wednesday’s vote is that there remains no guarantee that the representatives we elect in Parliament will represent us, at least from the Labour Party. Gisella Stuart stood rather proudly in Parliament and revealed that her constituency had led a powerful e-mail campaign telling her to stand against the strikes, but as the matter at hand was in the ‘national interest’, she would vote with the Conservatives. What Gisella and the 66 other MPs have forgotten is that their job is to represent, and not dictate. What was once the party of the people is now the party of the ‘we-know-best’; reminiscent of Sir Humphrey Appleby’s famous response to the idea of the will of the people: You give Brandy to an alcoholic?

On Friday, senior MP Caroline Flint came out and strongly criticised Corbyn, stating his pressure group Momentum could end up destroying the Labour party. She went so far as to compare its strategy to the Militant Tendency in the 1980s. Two weeks ago, Corbyn was again openly criticised by his own shadow ministers following a less-than-rousing speech in response to the strategic defence review. According to a shadow minister, there “wasn’t exactly a ringing endorsement of ‘hear hears’ from his own benches”. These incidents in the past two weeks are not the only, nor are they the last, open acts of defiance from the Labour party against their leader. It appears that members, senior and junior, now take no shame in airing the Party’s dirty laundry and showing that the Labour Party is becoming more like a playground by the minute. Corbyn has been leader since 12 September, and is yet to display any real assertion of dominance over his party. Faith from the public is dwindling, and as each day goes by, the Labour party is further presenting itself as a party broken. Whether or not the damage is beyond repair is too soon to determine.

Corbyn’s values are all traditionally and painfully Labourite, and advocates perhaps the nearest to what the Labour Party’s core policies are, whether we like it or not. The strong victory in the Oldham by-election was an endorsement of Corbyn’s leadership, rather than of the Labour Party. Popular support of Corbyn on social media networks always seem to be distinguished from support of Labour. He has almost certainly won over the hearts of the constituents, however the hearts of the senior figures in the party are yet to be claimed. Sadiq Khan, the Labour candidate for Mayor of London, has been openly criticising Corbyn in the belief that a close association with Corbyn will lose him the vote. If the vote he is concerned about is the Tory vote, then he is indeed correct.

The Labour party figures linger from the Blair era, and until Corbyn removes or reclaims them, Labour will remain ‘broken’. And without any act displaying decisive leadership from Corbyn, it seems we will be left waiting for an answer for a while yet.