In Depth

Is there a future for centrist Labour?

Tony Blair fears it may be too late for ‘moderates’ to take back control of the party from Corbyn

Tony Blair has spoken of his concerns that “moderates” may never be able to take back control of Labour, following the “profound change” in the party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership.

The former prime minister told the BBC’s Political Thinking with Nick Robinson podcast that he believed the party may be irredeemably “lost”.

His comments have prompted a backlash from Corbyn supporters including Jon Lansman, founder of the Momentum movement, who tweeted that Labour would “never” return to Blair’s policies.

With Labour now weathering a storm of schisms, factions and disunity over its stances on everything from Brexit to anti-Semitism, what does the party’s future hold? Here are three possible scenarios for the future of the opposition:

Labour becomes a fully Corbynite party

In this scenario, Corbynite MPs and ministers hold fast in a “civil war” within the party, consolidating their power through a purge of dissenters.

This war is arguably under way already, with “an influx of new members demanding more of a say over policy and election candidates, and agitating to remove some MPs” deemed insufficiently pro-Corbyn, says the BBC’s Susana Mendonca.

In recent weeks, constituency no confidence votes have been levelled against a series of anti-Corbyn MPs, including Frank Field, who quit the parliamentary party last week over its handling of the ongoing anti-Semitism scandal.

But where can chased-out Labour centrists turn? Writing in The Daily Telegraph, former Scottish Labour MP Tom Harris notes that Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable, who is due to step down next year, has said that he wants his successor to transform his party into “a movement for moderates”.

Harris asks: “Could this have been any more blatantly aimed at those Labour MPs who have made very little secret of their plans to depart their party in the next few months?”

He suggests that Cable may be attempting to “persuade a serving Labour MP to pick up the gauntlet and lead a new, revitalised – perhaps even renamed – version of the Lib Dems.”

The moderates take back control

The  i news site reported last month that around 12 Labour MPs were believed “to have met in a Sussex farmhouse to discuss policy and prepare to ‘step in’ after the leadership’s ‘collapse’”. A source was quoted as saying: “We are getting together regularly to discuss how to take back control of the party.”

However, overwhelming grass-roots support for Corbyn seems an insurmountable obstacle to a successful coup. “A poll showing that 80% of Labour members think he’s doing a good job as leader highlights how impossible it would be to remove him,” says The Spectator.

The Times’ Philip Collins suggests that some moderate Labour MPs instead “hope that the Tories choose their next leader wisely”, in the belief that a Conservative landslide would end the Corbyn era.

The party splits

This would be the most devastating scenario for Labour: Blairites and moderates leaving Labour entirely to form a new party.

But many commentators suggest that a splinter movement would fight an uphill battle from the start.

The Guardian’s Owen Jones writes that “if a split ever happens, we know what it will be: a Blairite tribute act, a roadshow for the discredited politicians whose ideology helped plunge Britain into its current mess”. Blairism “belongs to a completely different political epoch”, Jones adds.

Meanwhile, The Spectator’s James Forsyth says that any breakaway movement would probably form a “classic social democratic party”, but notes that “across Europe, these parties are in crisis”.

“The French Socialists came fifth in the 2017 presidential election, the German Social Democrats have just recorded their worst result since the formation of the Federal Republic, and in Italy earlier this year, the Partito Democratico received less than 20% of the vote,” he says.

“Those hoping for a realignment of the British political system a la Macron will be disappointed,” Forsyth concludes.


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