Todays decision by the appeal court in favour of the NEC, to block some 130,000 Party members from voting in the Labour leadership election, left me, along with many others, angry and surprised. It seems to be an attack on the democratic process of the Labour Party.
But my next reaction has been to try to figure out what had been achieved, and indeed what the aim had been of the whole process.
From the point of view of the five new members who brought the case, I guess their motives were twofold; first, to establish their right (and the right of others) to vote in the leadership election, but second, to make a point of democratic principle.
On the first objective, unless they choose to take the case to a higher court, they have failed. On the second point, in the eyes of the world at large I believe they have succeeded.
Now, from the point of view of the NEC, what was their objective and what have they achieved?
Their objective had little to do with either Owen Smith or Jeremy Corbyn, but was about control of the Party, and in this respect, poor old Owen Smith is just a pawn! They are hoping, I believe, for an early election, before the leadership issue has been resolved, in the conviction that after a disastrous loss, Jeremy Corbyn would be forced to resign and all would ‘go back to normal’. The new leader would then be someone like Hilary Benn, and we would be able to settle back into the neoliberal narrative.
What have they achieved? Well, first a massive disillusionment among the Party membership, who are unlikely to trust any of the so-called rebels again, in particular, Tom Watson and the NEC members responsible for all this. Secondly, they have demonstrated to a very wide chunk of the electorate a degree of incompetence probably only equalled by Britain First, and which we would not wish to see in a Party of Government!
Should our brave five take this to a higher court? I don’t believe so. It costs money, which most of us are short of. If they won, there would be some satisfaction in the knowledge that democracy prevailed. However the evidence is strong that even if they lost there would be no difference in the result of the leadership election, which we are confident Jeremy Corbyn will win. The NEC in its present form is discredited beyond redemption, and their actions will not be forgotten. Those new members who will have been unable to cast a vote would and should feel slighted, but should also feel satisfied that a democratic result to the election will have been achieved, albeit with reduced eligible membership.
Where next, then? It is increasingly clear that there are elements in the PLP who would prefer a split to a Labour victory under Jeremy Corbyn, a sentiment already famously voiced by Tony Blair. Against this, there are many CLPs who clearly support Corbyn, against the inclination of their MPs. So even disregarding the prospect of mandatory reselection, which nobody is so far advocating as a policy, there are a number of MPs who may find themselves with these options; to back the leadership, unless they are to lose completely any support from their CLPs; to resign from the party, in which case they would be under considerable pressure to trigger a by-election, when a new candidate might well be selected; or to sit, disgruntled, on the back benches, just being a nuisance, and suffering discontent from all sides – not a good position from which to discharge the duties of a constituency MP.
I believe that, important though this court case has been in exposing the leanings and prejudices of the parties involved, it has now become an irrelevance. The process, organized by a group of incredibly incompetent rebels against the leadership and the membership, has immeasurably strengthened Corbyn’s position as well as enhancing his stature in the Labour movement. From here, when the dust has settled, I believe that a Labour Party united under Corbyn is very well set up to campaign for, and win, the opportunity to govern after the next general election. My feeling is that there will be no snap election – Teresa May perceives that she has too much to lose and little to gain (she too wants to leave a legacy!) and she, at least, does not underestimate the strength of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn.