UK Politics

Comrades No More: The Labour Party split has already happened

The Labour Party is a deeply unpleasant place to be right now. Hostility between supporters of Jeremy Corbyn and Owen Smith is rampant and routinely turns into personal abuse. Take, for example, the Labour Party Forum, a long-standing unofficial Facebook discussion group of around 30,000 Labour members. In late July, the group’s administrators felt compelled to announce a clampdown on ‘abusive behaviour/language and personal insults’ in response to a spate of ‘smearing and personal attacks.’

And yet, the same behaviour continues largely unchecked.

It goes much deeper than the well-publicised antisemitism and death threats made against Smith-supporting MPs. Corbyn supporters continue to casually call their opponents as ‘traitors’ and dismiss long-standing Labour members as ‘Tories’. People who criticise Corbyn have their motives questioned – when JK Rowling came out against the leader, she was accused of being a billionaire worried about extra taxes under Corbyn. Meanwhile, Smith’s partisans deride their opponents as delusional members of the Cult of Corbyn, whom they mockingly call ‘the Jezziah’. Both sides accuse each other of being liars, aiding the Tories and not being ‘real Labour’.

movement-machine

A pro-Corbyn poster uploaded to the Labour Party Forum

Even before the leadership contest started, online abuse was so bad that non-Corbynite members set up a secret group where they could express their doubts about the party’s leadership ‘without facing attacks of “Blairite” and “go join the Tories”’, in the words of the group’s founders. But while this group has seen measured discussion of the problems facing Labour, it has also acted as an echo chamber amplifying the unpleasantness. There are frequent posts mocking ‘the cult’ along with cartoons of turkeys voting for Christmas overlain with ‘I voted for Jeremy’ banners.

It is a similar story on the ‘Owen 4 Leader’ group, where one member has rewritten Gilbert and Sullivan’s Major-General’s song, with lyrics describing Corbyn as ‘ineffectual’ and a ‘bottom feeder’. A lot of Corbyn supporters appear to have retreated into similar echo chambers. One prolific pro-Corbyn tweeter, Eoin Clarke, seems to block everyone even mildly critical of his position. Smith supporters in turn brag about being blocked by him.

turkey-vote

The Momentum turkey votes for Christmas

And this isn’t just happening online. At a recent meeting of my local party to discuss the leadership election, Corbynites angrily denounced anti-Corbyn MPs as ‘turncoats’ and openly questioned their commitment to the party’s ideals. There was no personal abuse as such, but as a Corbyn-sceptic I decided not to get involved. The atmosphere was intimidating and it was just too much effort to fend off accusations of not being ‘real Labour’ despite my eight years of committed membership.

Later, I spoke to a councillor friend of mine who wasn’t so able to avoid confrontation. ‘They use “elected representative” as a slur,’ she said. ‘It’s demoralising. I work so hard and because I have to compromise to get things done for my constituents, I get criticised by people who have never knocked on a door, never even lifted a finger for the party.’ After years as one of our most active members, she’s now disengaging and going to as few meetings as possible. She’s not the only one either – there are many stories of previously committed members beginning to feel unwelcome in their own party and disengaging as a result.

There have always been disagreements within the party, as there are in every party. But this is different. Previous leadership contests have been intensely fought, but there has always been an understanding that we are all on the same side, that ultimately we all wanted the same thing. That kept things civil, but what we have now is civil war.

Along with the accusations of betrayal and closet conservatism, the Corbynites on the Labour Party Forum are gloating in a way more suited to a football match than a contest between comrades. Usually it is to compare the massive crowds Corbyn draws to the much smaller audiences Smith talks to, but with the release of a poll suggesting Corbyn will increase his winning margin from last year’s contest they have become triumphant in a way that supporters of previous leaders never were. In fact, both sides are talking about each other in ways that we used to reserve for discussion of other political parties. There is no sense that we all ultimately want the same thing. We are no longer all on the same side.

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2 thoughts on “Comrades No More: The Labour Party split has already happened

  1. When Corbyn came onto the scene, I’d just about had enough of the policy free vanilla platitudes spouted by various members of the PLP. Too scared to say anything truly ‘Left’ in case it frightened the Press (and by extension the floating voters) and too scared to admit to being ‘Right’ in case it frightened the membership; they ended up saying nothing.
    At least Corbyn stood for something.
    As you say ‘…there have always been disagreements within the party, but this is different.’
    True.
    This started to be different when the PLP realised to their horror that Corbyn was going to win the original election.
    From that moment, the PLP went for him.
    Rather than support him, rather than close ranks around him and help him weather the inevitable media shit storm (‘Yes he’s a bit of a naïve Lefty, but he’s our naïve Lefty’), they’ve taken every opportunity they could to whip the storm even higher.
    And although the Party gained another 100,000 members, the PLP decided not to welcome another potentially 10,000 active members (imagine if they could persuade 10% to do something helpful every month?), but felt it was better to alienate them.
    Sadly, I don’t believe there is any common ground now between the Left and the Right of the Party. The hatred between the Corbyn and Smith camps is vitriolic and is not going to disappear any day soon. This is not simply civil war, because when it’s over there will be no winners. This is suicide.

  2. Joseph Costello says:

    The football supporters analogy is quite an apt one. I support a useless team to whom for many, the quality of the support is more important than the quality of the team and a four or five goal trouncing is a moral victory if the fans have outsung their opposite numbers. (Aston Villa for the record).

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