Saturday, 2 July 2016

Why Hasn't The Labour Party Died Already?

Barely a week has passed since the EU referendum and the Labour Party has already been plunged itself another civil war; adding to the government's collapse, and the United Kingdom's very own existential crisis.

The Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is facing a full-blown coup, triggered following the sacking of the now-former shadow foreign secretary Hilary Ben last Sunday. As coups go, however, this is nothing short of a disaster.

Labour MPs, MEPs, consultants and associates have openly revolted against the leadership, resigning en masse from the shadow cabinet and from other roles, while a no-confidence ballot of MPs rendered a 172-to-40 result against Jeremy Corbyn.

Although the vote was definitive and the subsequent events have caused irreparable damage to Jeremy Corbyn's authority, the MPs who triggered this challenge, it now emerges, did so without a firm candidate to replace him, and without even knowing whether Corbyn may or may not be allowed to stand in a fresh leadership contest.

This detail is absolutely crucial, as he may yet win the support of the wider party membership if allowed to stand again. And what then if, as is extremely likely, he wins? The Parliamentary Labour Party will have failed to appeal to their own party members - for a second time - and they will have failed to put forward a credible alternative to a man so incredibly incompetent. Surely they will be finished.

All this, without the added dynamic of the long-awaited Chilcot Report on the Iraq War which is being published on July 6. What could possibly go wrong?


Jeremy Corbyn will not resign. Labour members may back him indefinitely. Those in power - the PLP, MEPs, etc - have abandoned him, and are actively working against him. Corbyn's survival, as many suggest, could well lead to the death of the Labour Party itself as MPs are forced to break away. 

But perhaps this was only a matter of time.

For better or for worse, social democratic parties, or the 'Establishment Left', have been falling across Europe. Yet this pattern is one the British Labour party has somehow avoided. Yes, Labour has not won an election since 2005 - but its support among the public remains far greater than the support of its counterparts across the continent.

The electoral success of Syriza in Greece marked the first major success of such a populist movement. POSAK, the established centre-left party, meanwhile has been sidelined. In the January 2015 legislative election, POSAK finished seventh with 4.7% of the vote share, a monumental collapse following their victory in October 2009 with 43.9%; its fall mirroring Syriza's rise in the intermediate six years.

Spain's June 2016 general election, the second within six months, saw PSOE, the traditional centre-left party win only 22.7% of the vote share - only a shade higher than the 22.0% it scored in December. Its collapse has been facilitated by the rise of Podemos, which received 21.1% in June 2016, and 20.7% in December, the first general election it had ever contested.

The Democratic Party of Italy led by Matteo Renzi occupies a more stable position having narrowly won the February 2013 general election with 29.5% to Silvio Berlusconi's centre-right People of Freedom with 29.1%. But the Five-Star Movement, a non-partisan anti-establishment Eurosceptic party, received 25.5% of the vote, like Podemos, in the first general election it had ever contested. Although the Democratic Party remains popular, polls show its support is falling while the Five Star Movement gains momentum, pointing to a defeat in 2018 for Italy's Establishment Left.

In France, the popularity of president Francois Hollande's Socialist Party is at its lowest it has been in some time (14%), and he is widely-expected to face defeat in 2017. In the first round of the 2015 regional elections, Hollande's party finished third on vote share with 23.12%, behind Nicolas Sarkozy's centre-right Republicans on 26.65%, and Marine Le Pen's far-right National Front on 27.73%.


While the fall of the Establishment Left has given way to a host of younger, more energetic insurgency-based movements, as Marine Le Pen's success in France has shown, this shift has ushered in the return of the far-right across Europe.

This New York Times interactive chart shows a recent rise in the support of far-right parties across Europe including Hungary, Denmark, Switzerland, Poland, and Austria.

The Austrian presidential elections in May 2016 saw the fascistic Freedom Party candidate Norbert Hofer narrowly defeated by the former Green Party candidate Alexander Van Der Bellen by only 30,863 votes.

But the election - won by 50.3% to 49.7% - will have to be re-run after the result was overturned on the basis that election rules were broken in a way that could influence the result. The prospect of Europe electing its first fascist leader since the end of World War II is once again a very real one.

While fascism is yet to enter mainstream politics in Britain, barring as an occasional source of comedy, there are a few worrying signs.

Let alone the death of Jo Cox at the hand of an alleged far-right political extremist, since the referendum result there has been a massive rise in the number of hate crimes. Latest police figures reveal the rate has risen five fold in the previous week alone, with 331 incidents reported to the national police records website against the average of 63. But the true figure may be far higher.


What would it mean if, as is increasingly likely, the Labour Party splits, or even collapses altogether? Europe shows that it could usher in a more radical movement in the mould of Podemos or Syriza. Or it could happen in conjunction with the rise of the far-right. Or both. Or neither.

If, after the 2015 general election, conventional wisdom suffered a blow, the referendum was its death knell. Where unexpected events, such as the Tory majority, the rise of the SNP, Jeremy Corbyn's Labour success, were frequent pre-Brexit, we may now begin to see wild, uncontrollable, unpredictable events hit us one after another in quick succession.

For instance, we could well see the actual death of the Labour Party. But, for better or for worse, perhaps this was long overdue.