On the 24th of June 2016 I finally woke up in a foreign country. I had lived and worked in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland for twenty-eight years, up until that morning. In all those years it had never felt like an alien place but on that Friday – all of a sudden – it did.

The Brexit vote had come and gone and it seemed to me that more than half of the country had just told me to pack my bags. It felt very personal.

However, at least could I console myself with the thought that this result had badly weakened the government and provided the opposition with a fantastic opportunity to press home an advantage against a wounded and divided foe.

 

What was I thinking?

 

For all of the Tory’s blood-soaked Shakespearean tendencies, at least they managed to get their leadership issues behind them quickly. Candidates rose and fell at a rate that even our round-the-clock media had trouble coping with. Boris had barely moments to bask in his Brexit victory before his real prize was snatched away from him. Taken by the most unlikely political assassin one could imagine. Michael Gove, in turn, swiftly discovered that even his fellow travellers in the Conservative party were not prepared to hand the leadership to such a weapons-grade oddball. Andrea Leadsom rose like Icarus and burnt out just as swiftly, having proven herself to be totally out of her depth. The brass ring finally passed, almost by default, to Theresa May. One brutal reshuffle later, the Conservative Party was back in business. Brexit and its long-term consequences are still to be negotiated but the Conservative party has managed to avoid any real short-term damage to the party.

Labour on the other hand…

 

The recent weeks have shown just how badly out of touch with reality the Parliamentary Labour Party currently is. For nearly 20 years the Labour Party has been mostly split between its Blairite and Brownite wings, the so-called moderates. This has often been a division based more on personality than ideology. The left of the party, as a consequence, has been mostly reduced to the fringes.

 

However, the comprehensive defeat of Ed Miliband at the general election and the subsequent victory of Jeremy Corbyn in the ensuing leadership contest, brought the left of the party back to the fore. The PLP, which still dominates the Labour Party, has had its mandate removed twice now, once by the electorate and then by it’s own members. However, that doesn’t mean it’s going anywhere.

In December of last year I wrote…

Tactically, the PLP is in a very strong position. All that they have to do is claim Corbyn will be a disaster, and then undermine him relentlessly. This will inevitably become a self-fulfilling prophecy resulting in the current leader being replaced and the next party leadership contested by “proper” candidates only.”

This was the intent of the orchestrated resignations after the Brexit vote. The attempted coup was prepared well in advance. The co-ordination of the various resignations points inevitably to a disciplined and long planned assault. The coup also carried a great deal of malice aforethought, irrespective of the honeyed words used by the various rats as they left ship they themselves were trying to sink.

 

Indeed, this attack would have come a lot sooner if things had been different. The PLP has been waiting for any opportunity to get rid of Corbyn from the day he was elected. Hilary Benn has been at the centre of efforts to oust Corbyn from the outset and his calculated and reckless attack on his own party over Syria would have been the catalyst for an early coup if Corbyn had lost the Oldham by-election. Another opportunity came and went when Labour did not lose badly enough in the subsequent local elections.

It is no surprise that Benn is at the heart of this. He is the poster boy for the tired and disenfranchised moderates who see themselves, not the members, as the heart and soul of the party.

 

Of course, Corbyn spoiled my prediction and their hopes of an easy coup by doggedly hanging on. Irrespective of this, the moderate rebellion has only just begun and there will be victims. So far, because of Corbyn’s determination to honour his mandate, the biggest victim in all this, so far, might just be the MP who was one of the coup’s prime movers, Angela Eagle.

What follows is basically a conspiracy theory, because I am of the opinion that Ms  Eagle has been used and discarded by more savvy political animals than herself.

It’s obvious that Eagle sees herself as a smooth operator, her’s was the last of the orchestrated resignations that followed the Brexit vote and she had already informed the BBC about the upcoming departures. Staggered evenly to maximize the impact, those resignations should have led to the departure of the incumbent leader. I can only imagine that Eagle believed that she would then be swept to the top of the party without opposition.

The Wallasey MP should have known what was coming. Whenever you are busy knifing someone in the back, the space between your own shoulder blades is inevitably left exposed. Enter Owen Smith. Smith is hoping to be the man who takes advantage of one of the most powerful fallacies of our age, that of the argument towards moderation. Corbyn is too far to the left to appeal to the PLP and the country as whole, or so goes the argument. Eagle is too far right, too pro-war and to pro-austerity to appeal to the membership of the Labour party itself. But here is a compromise. That nice Mr Smith who can “unite” the party, while bringing the PLP back to the fore and returning Labour to the business of quietly aping the Tories until their time in the sun comes around again.

 

Smith must certainly know what he is doing. A lobbyist and a PR man, Smith should have enough knowledge of marketing to know that when a middle option is offered to consumers, it takes up about 80% of the market. Supermarkets have known this for a long time. This is why they offer premium goods and basic goods alongside their standard products. The very existence of these options drives more people to choose the standard good, because they see it as a sensible compromise. This allows the supermarkets to load their profit margins because they can predict where the majority of money will be spent while still offering choice.

Consumers and voters are not the same, but the natural impetus towards the “safe” middle option is deeply embedded in the human mind and the member for PontyPridd is counting on this to push him into the leader’s seat.

 Smith too, was one of the orchestrated departures in the wake of the Brexit vote, and he was as mealy-mouthed towards Corbyn as Eagle herself.

Eagles longwinded statement “It is with the greatest of sadness that, after nine months of trying to make your leadership work and despite your considerable personal qualities, I have come to the conclusion you are not the right person to lead the Party we both love.” Was echoed more economically by Smith with, “It breaks my heart to say I cannot see how he can continue as leader.”

 

It is possible that Eagle was aware of all these shenanigans and offered herself up as a sacrificial lamb in order to return the Blair/Brown axis to power. However, that doesn’t tally with her actions. It was obvious from the beginning that Eagle did not want to participate in a leadership challenge at all, but rather wanted the job handed to her on a plate. The coup itself and her increasingly desperate efforts at brinksmanship were all calculated to make Corbyn jump before he was pushed. Eagle only reluctantly challenged the leader when it was obvious that he was going nowhere by his own volition. If Eagle had simply been the right-wing side of a two horse race, one with no intention of actually winning the leadership, then she would have challenged him immediately after the vote of no confidence and waited for Smith to make his move.

 

As it is she has irreversibly tarnished her relationship with her own constituency, alienated the party’s base and barring an unforeseeable reversal of fortune, will never lead the party she claims to love and to which she has done so much damage.

 

But those are personal consequences. The bigger picture is that the Labour Party, in its current state, is finished. The American science-fiction writer, Robert Heinlein, is fond of the phrase, “nobody ever wins a family argument”, and he is right. Irrespective of who leads the Labour party after September a major schism has already occurred and the fallout from this will cripple the party. Whether the damage will be terminal remains to be seen.

 

End, Eamon Brennan 4/8/16