So, here we are. The Labour Party has reached equilibrium. One side wanted a leader who could gain them seats. The others wanted Jeremy Corbyn. Over the space of one night, that went from being an impossible conundrum into a beautiful alignment of political desires. Peace blossoms like a Kinnock-era red rose. Of course, it was never going to be that simple; you don’t forget two years of Homer Simpson-esque mutual throat-throttling that easily. But this is a good opportunity to stop and think.
Although, on the face of it, Labour was ‘united’ before the votes were counted last week, factionalism was building up under the surface like the Yellowstone Caldera, waiting to explode with plumes of self-righteous indignation, filling our earthly atmosphere with angry hashtags and meta-analyses of Virgin Train CCTV images that nobody normal cares about. Let’s not pretend that battle lines weren’t being drawn.
On one side, replacement leaders were being pre-selected. Secret (sort of) debates about when the best moment to launch the challenge were being conducted. Meanwhile, the McDonnell Amendment was being prepared, the foot-soldiers being primed for that long push through the summer months in order to see it ratified at the September Conference. Union leaders, journalists, left-wing politicians were announcing in advance that a defeat in terms of seats was still a victory if vote share held up, in order to stave off that challenge for long enough.
If it wasn’t for this rather splendid election result, the Party’s almost endemic factional warfare would have intensified into something really quite unbearable this summer. We would have all stuck it out like stubborn children but we’d have all been the worse for it. Theresa May has done what no Labour politician could have: she’s given us a brief moment of unity. And honestly, so far it’s been quite pleasant.
As well as this, though, we simply can’t afford another period of infighting. We need to win the next election, it’s still a mountain for us to climb and the odds are still very much stacked against us. That means every last cannon needs to be pointing outwards at the other side, not towards one another like a masochistic white-knuckle early 2000s amateur stunt troupe. Here are three meagre steps that each of us might take to help avert such a ridiculous scenario.
1. Hold our MPs to higher professional standards
For the last two years, the PLP has been operating on two levels. Not between the Shadow Cabinet and the backbenches, but a broader ‘inner circle’ which excludes many of Britain most inspirational and successful left wing change-makers. Two entirely separate groupings, leading entirely separate parts of the membership. There is fault for this on all sides of the PLP, I’m sure. I would plea with everyone from McDonnell to Ummuna to actively work to bring this childish situation to an end now. It’s their responsibility as political leaders to set the best example, and we should make it clear that it’s what the whole membership demands.
2. Challenge factionalism in those we agree with
Groups like Progress, Momentum, Labour First, Open Labour, the Fabian Society, are all important in their own ways. But anyone who is a member of these groups should endeavour to make them positive places which focus on refining and advocating their visions of the society they want, not places to attack and demean other similar groups. Calling out factionalism in any of these organisations is key to building a better Labour. As JK Rowling wrote: “It takes a great deal of bravery to stand up to our enemies, but just as much to stand up to our friends.”
3. Start assuming the best in each other again
We all have to acknowledge and appreciate that everyone is on their own political journey. We should assume the best of each other, instead of the worst as has become customary in this last year. Accept that people who voted Owen Smith did so for valid reasons. Accept that people who joined Momentum did so purely out of optimism and hope unless you have any valid reason to think otherwise.
Just to set out my stall: I voted against Corbyn twice. Campaigned against him the second time. I missed most of the first year of Corbynism because I lived abroad. The party I left behind in 2015 was a place where I had made many friends over many years, had incredible experiences and learned perhaps more than I did at university (arts degrees, lol). The party I came back to in 2016 seemed to deliver little but unnecessary judgements and animosity, which ultimately made me quite deeply unhappy.
At the first event I returned to, someone drunkenly (but quite seriously) called me a c-word because I’d expressed my admiration for Ed Balls (and boy, do I admire Ed Balls). At first I laughed it off, but this kind of stupendously overblown level factional arguing only seemed to snowball from those days onward. My part in the Owen Smith campaign was, as much as anything else, an attempt to claim back the party that had once been such a friendly place. But ultimately, it was largely circumstantial that I’d ended up on this ‘side.’
If I was 19 when Jeremy Corbyn became the leader and not 23, I might well have voted for him. I might well have stuck with him throughout. I might well too have thought that the anti-Semitism crisis was ‘manufactured by the MSM and Blairites.’ I might well have regarded all those MPs who have done such fundamental and transformative work over the years as ‘traitors.’ Had circumstances been different I could very well have been a Trotskyist, hard left, entryist, cult-worshipping dogmatist with no common sense.
But I wasn’t 19, I was 23. I’d worked with Holocaust survivors for a year of my life. I’d delivered workshops on racism and anti-Semitism across the country and had a sense of how to identify it. I’d completed my degree in economic history, and developed scepticism towards grand, ideological solutions to human economic problems. I’d lived through the Ed Miliband defeat and seen how brutally effective a cynical Tory character assassination could be. Everyone is on a different journey and draws upon entirely unique experiences. Mine meant that I played the role of Tory-lite Blairite war-mongering neoliberal capitalist wrecker instead. With the blood of Iraqi children on my hands. Even if I was 10 at the time, and have never remotely supported it.
So that’s factionalism. It’s a funny thing, and I hope one day very soon we’ll look back, with a Labour Prime Minister, and laugh at how adolescent it all was. Like how I now look back at my lip piercing. More than that though, factionalism is incredibly boring. If you feel the same, if you too have already lost far more energy to it than you had ever wanted to, then declare yourself an anti-factionalist today.
Oh, and for closure’s sake: nobody is a c-word for thinking that Ed Balls is great.