Much of the UK’s manufacturing base, smaller firms especially, had gone to the wall during a failed and painful flirtation with monetarism. Yet the Tories still won. How could it happen? Simples. There had been a split in the Labour Party.
On that occasion, it was a move to the left under Michael Foot’s leadership that had caused the schism. Many Labour moderates, led by the so-called Gang of Four, had broken with the party to form the SDP. This new party had formed an alliance with the then Liberal Party; later, the Liberals and most of the SDP would become what is now the Liberal Democrats. First Past The Post does not reward splits.
What happened many years before that to the old Liberal Party was yet worse: returned to power in a landslide victory in 1906, largest single party in the Commons in 1910, they were reduced to a mere 40 seats in 1924 after the Asquith-Lloyd George split. The lesson keeps on repeating itself. So what do disaffected Labour supporters do in 2020?
There has been talk of walkouts, a new left-wing party and lawsuits from those on the left, with those on the right, along with their allies in our free and fearless press, ratcheting up the calls for more suspensions and even expulsions, although on what grounds we are not told. All this after former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was suspended yesterday.
But here’s why walking away would be wrong: Unite’s head man Len McCluskey has been generating headlines like the Independent’s “Corbyn suspension: Unite boss Len McCluskey warns of ‘chaos’ in Labour if former leader is not reinstated”, but when you drill down into the body of the report, there it is leaping off the page. “Mr McCluskey … warned that failure to reinstate the former leader would leave a split party ‘doomed to defeat’ at the next election”. A split party would be doomed to defeat. Again.
He also told “I therefore call upon Keir [Starmer] to work across the party on a fitting and unifying way forward, to unite our party behind the implementation of the EHRC's important recommendations … I also appeal to members angered by this suspension not to leave the party but to support moves to find a better way through”.
John McDonnell is not upping sticks and leaving. Nor are Richard Burgon, Rebecca Long Bailey, Diane Abbott, Dawn Butler, or indeed any MPs on Labour’s left. Labour and its supporters must hang together, or they will surely be hung separately.
Many will remember the Tory cheering and hooting from their overmonied and uncaring fans in 2015, and especially last year. Some of us remember the same thing in 1983, and don’t want to have to hear it ever again. That means electing a Labour Government.
It means working together. It means no splits. It means calm heads must, and will, prevail.
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