Joseph Perry’s News Crunch: Divided We Stand, United We Fall
Joseph Perry crunches the news of Jeremy Corbyn's divided party
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On Monday, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership was the centre of sustained attacks from Labour MPs during a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) in the House of Commons.
Each Monday, Parliamentary Parties meet to discuss the week ahead. It is a chance for party leaders to explain to their MPs the policies they will be announcing over the next seven days, and to get their feedback on them. It is also a chance for backbench MPs (ones without official job titles) to voice their concerns or praises to the people at the top.
This week’s meeting was very different for Jeremy Corbyn and the PLP. Earlier in the day, the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell announced that Labour would be voting against the Chancellor George Osborne’s plans to criminalise running a budget deficit during ‘normal times’.
In brief, this means that governments would be forced by law to spend less than they receive in taxes. Over the past 10 years, this has rarely, if ever, happened.
Labour’s problem arose as McDonnell has previously announced that the party would be voting for it.
For many, this showed a lack of leadership at the top of the party, and a lack of clear direction. In addition to the various scandals to have engulfed Jeremy Corbyn since becoming leader of the party last month, this led to a fiery meeting on Monday.
The MP for Exeter and former Deputy Leadership Candidate, Ben Bradshaw, described the meeting as a “total f****** shambles”, while an unnamed MP said it was the worse PLP meeting in living memory. Another MP described it as “absolutely mental”.
It is claimed that John McDonnell was blasted for his political naivety over the budget surplus U-turn, being labelled “a huge joke” by his own MPs.
While Diane Abbott, the Shadow International Development Secretary, was confronted over ‘online trolling’ against her own backbench MPs.
Another item up for discussion was ‘Momentum’. ‘Momentum’ is a new campaign group launched by MP and Corbyn ally Richard Burgeon as an extension of the new leader’s popular campaign. However, some have suggested that it is really a left-wing faction which has been set up to intimidate more moderate Labour MPs.
When Burgeon defended the new group to the PLP, he was told to “sit down and shut up”.
Corbyn’s camp described the meeting as “warm”, but the words of another unnamed backbench MP seem to be more accurate; “it was completely feral”.
Why does this matter?
Well, these events show the difference in position between the Labour members who still support Corbyn almost unanimously, and the Labour MPs who have very vocal criticisms of the new leadership.
It was a sign that the MPs are giving Corbyn very little room for error and are intent to hold him to account as much as is possible. Some may go as far as saying it was a sign of the low esteem they hold him in.
It also showed how MPs have been affected by the formation of the ‘Momentum’ group. Clearly, some feel very threatened by it and believe it could be a vehicle used by Corbyn to purge centre-left MPs from the party.
This is particularly poignant as boundary changes at the next election may mean lots of Labour MPs have to campaign for reselection by their local parties. These compose of grassroots activists - they are exactly the type of people Momentum is trying to attract.
The meeting on Monday also diverted attention away from the government’s own in-fighting. During a recent meeting of David Cameron’s Cabinet team (the most important government ministers), the Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, and the Justice Secretary Michael Gove were locked in a dispute about supplying prison services to Saudi Arabia.
In the end, Gove won the argument and it was decided that the government would remove its support for the Saudi prison regime.
However, this story was not covered by lots of the media as they were busy reporting on the more public and more shambolic PLP meeting.
If Jeremy Corbyn thought he was in for an easy first few months, he can think again.
Monday was an absolute disaster.
The name ‘Momentum’ is incredibly ironic, because Jeremy Corbyn seems to have lost all of his political driving force. During the summer, he was all-conquering and, from nowhere, won the leadership contest - bringing hundreds of thousands of people with him.
At the moment Labour are a divided party. But, if they stay this way, they will all fall together.
The next 6 months are vital for Corbyn. He must make some political gains, be they in the polls, by-elections or in the newspaper editorials.
But if he really wants to survive until the 2020 election, he will need to win over the 230-odd PLP members. If not, his they will draw up his exit plan faster than you can say ‘back to the backbenches’.
To hear Joseph breakdown more of the week’s biggest stories, listen to TeenScope this Sunday at 9pm UK time.