Labour now risks splitting off into two equally ridiculous parties, fighting over a name that’s already been tarnished forever

Which entity – the one recognised as legitimate by parliament or by the members – will be legally entitled to call itself ‘Labour’? Might ‘Labour’ feature in two or more competing forms – Labour vs Continuity Labour, for instance, or Labour vs Classic Labour vs Jerry C’s Labour Show? 

Matthew Norman
Sunday 17 July 2016 15:52 BST
Owen Smith
Owen Smith (PA)

Many observers will have their own personalised bespoke soundtrack playing in the head while watching Labour’s super slo-mo disintegration. For some it might be Sinatra crooning “And now the end is near”, or that endlessly expectant father, the philosopher Mick Jagger, singing You Can’t Always Get You Want.

Let me put in a word for Bette Midler’s Wind Beneath My Wings (a favourite of both Jess Phillips MP and myself), if only for the line “I could fly higher than an eagle” which has inspired Angie’s leadership rival, Owen Smith.

You could make a case for Send In The Clowns, and for Tragedy (“With no one to love you you’re going nowhere”). But the track that really sticks in my head on a loop as Labour’s sprint to the grave speeds up is The Land of Make Believe, as recorded by an earlier bubblegum pop act than Steps.

The title’s relevance speaks for itself in the context of a political movement visibly withdrawing into a fantasy world. But its particular appeal as the death throes backing track lies in the identity of the band. If Labour has any future, after all, it is on the political Butlin’s nostalgia weekend circuit as a Bucks Fizz tribute act.

The tale of Bucks Fizz and the battle for its name would be a cautionary one had Labour the capacity to heed a warning. But both factions – the MPs who regard Corbyn as the least appealing person to keep yelling “I’m the leader” since Gary Glitter; a Tea Party-esque membership which considers electoral annihilation a bargain price for maintaining ideological purity – are on a Road To Nowhere (that’s also on my Death of Labour playlist, by the way). In homage to Tony Blair, they have no reverse gear.

In the midst of all this gloom, let me cheer you by briefly recounting the story of Bucks Fizz, the quartet of fair-haired moppets who won the Eurovision Song Contest with the skirt-snatching standard Making Your Mind Up in 1981.

That was the year, coincidentally, when another adorable quartet – Roy Jenkins, David Owen, Shirley Williams and Bill Rogers – decided they could no longer tolerate all the internecine nastiness under a left-wing Labour leadership, and broke away to form the centrist SDP.

Later that same year came The Land of Make Believe, also a number one, and other hits followed before Bucks Fizz succumbed literally to the hideous car crash (technically, coach crash) that Labour now metaphorically is. Eventually, they recovered and continued working, but the seeds of rancour planted long before eventually flowered, and they split in 1993. Then the real fun began over the question of who was entitled to the name.

To those who want the full story, I recommend the Trouble At The Top documentary which chronicles it in exquisite detail. But suffice it for now to know that Bobby G, who saw himself as the de facto leader and whom the other three couldn’t stand, started performing as Bucks Fizz with two new female singers and David “Burger” Van Day (formerly and subsequently of Dollar). He and G swiftly fell out – who’da thunk? – and VD, despite not having been in the original line-up, seized the Bucks Fizz name.

Jeremy Corbyn proved that he will always refuse to play by the rules at Cameron's last PMQs

By the time G went to the High Court to request an injunction stopping him, it was denied because Day had already spent five years calling his outfit Bucks Fizz. Not until 2002 was it settled, out of court, when Van Day agreed to call his band David Van Day’s Bucks Fizz Show, leaving G and mates to perform as Bucks Fizz.

This is the long and winding road to hell on which Labour is now embarking. If, as expected, the membership re-elects Corbyn, the rest of the band will have little choice but to leave and set up on their own. These MPs will make a Unilateral Declaration of Independence, asking the Speaker to recognise them as Her Maj’s loyal and official Opposition. Since there will be about 200 of those, against a few dozen Corbyn loyalists, there is every chance John Bercow will grant them their wish.

But which entity – the one recognised as legitimate by parliament or by the members – will be legally entitled to call itself “Labour”? This being a legal question without any political precedent, it will end up in the Supreme Court. How long it will take to get there is anyone’s guess.

And allocating ownership of the name isn’t the half of it. Who is lumbered with the party’s debts? Who owns its buildings and other assets? Could someone who was never a Labour member in the first place – Nicola Sturgeon? Michael Gove? Pam Ayres? The late Emperor Bokasa? – seize the name, Van Day-style, and take it on tour? If so, might “Labour” feature in two or more competing forms – Labour vs Continuity Labour, for instance, or Labour vs Classic Labour vs Jerry C’s Labour Show?

Most pertinently, after years of legal grappling, who in their right mind (not a major disqualifier, granted, in this context) would want the bleedin’ brand name anyway?

In this crippling miasma of uncertainty, only this feels predictable. To both the bemusement and mild amusement of a public which will view them all as equally irrelevant and imbecilic, the various splinter groups will be at legal war for a long, long time.

If either side doubts that, I direct them to a report on the Mirror website, published this very day, about a band which split up 26 years ago. Bucks Fizz Refuse To Make Up,” it read, “As Members Reject £1m Offer To Reform For TV Show”.

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