The Labour Party has subscribed to mob rule – and that’s exactly what it wants

Labour will effectively cease to be dedicated to winning power, and instead be recreated as a populist crusade in which MPs are subservient to the rank and file’s will

Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell had a heated exchange with Alastair Campbell on Question Time
Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell had a heated exchange with Alastair Campbell on Question Time

Say what you will about Labour’s End of Days, it isn’t dull. In the final hours before Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election sounds reveille for the Four Horsemen, the chaos is captivating.

In an elegant mood-setter for the Labour conference, John McDonnell and Alastair Campbell transformed Thursday’s Question Time stage into a political cage fight. They then reportedly ramped up the mayhem in the Green Room. After Campbell told the shadow Chancellor, “You and yours are going to destroy the Labour Party,” McDonnell drew heavily on Clement Attlee to counterstrike with “You’re a f******g arsehole”.

In this climate of mutual respect, it was no surprise to find rumours about the imminent deselection of anti-Corbyn MPs studiously undenied by the leader on Sunday. But Corbyn has even grander plans to allow the members to select a third of the shadow cabinet and to decide policy by “digital consultations”.

Assuming the latter refers to online chatting, and not to a proctologic procedure involving lubricant and a latex-encased finger, this is a masterly idea. If you can rely on one debating chamber to discourage spiteful idiocy in favour of quiet common sense, it’s the internet. Everyone knows that.

So there you glimpse Labour’s electoral future as a palliative patient. To what extent it hasn’t already done so, it will effectively cease to be dedicated to winning power through the parliamentary process, and be recreated as a populist crusade in which the MPs are subservient to the rank and file’s will.

Corbyn on the medias relationship with the Labour Party

One type of democracy, whereby some 50 million potential voters dictate who governs, is out. Another, in which 500,000 talk amongst themselves, is in.

One person’s mass democracy being another’s mob rule, it’s a matter of perspective whether this is a good or bad thing. If you agree with Nick Clegg, writing in The Sunday Times, that a system which gifts power to a government supported by a quarter of the electorate is a farce; if you agree with Corbyn, speaking to Robert Peston, that almost the entire media refuse him a fair hearing (which is true), and believe this dictates his unelectability; if you’re fatigued beyond endurance by politicians abandoning principle in the rapacious pursuit of power… if you subscribe to such ideas, rejecting parliamentary democracy as the means to all ends makes perfect sense.

If on the other hand you would rather not live in a one-party state, you might be willing to tolerate a shadow government which compromises its ideals to build the broad coalition needed to win power.

Between those two extremes, as ably represented on Question Time by Messrs McDonnell and Campbell, lies a vast expanse of middle ground that would once have been occupied by the Liberal Democrats.

In fact, as Nick Clegg points out, the Lib Dems are trying to profit from Labour’s demise. It’s just that no one is listening.

On the eve of his conference, nebbish leader Tim Farron tells an anecdote about a meeting being interrupted by NWA’s "F*** tha Police" (apparently, his mischievous kids had made it his ringtone) blaring from his phone. And this a few hours before he was scheduled to meet senior police officers!

Fair enough. A man with a weedy voice that cannot carry beyond his own conference hall, leading a party polling in single figures despite the Labour implosion, cannot be blamed for chasing cred. Also, with the Battle of Orgreave back in the news, "F*** tha Police" is a topically resonant message.

Yet, while you might picture John McDonnell busting moves to that, sampling Easy-E and Arabian Prince doesn’t work for Tim. He’s a rural vicar manqué, even if he is Straight Outta Blackburn. If he must reference NWA songs, more apt is their lesser known debut single, "Panic Zone".

Labour, meanwhile, is beyond panic. Precisely where the anti-Corbynites are on their journey through the five stages of grief depends on the individual. Some are still in denial. Most are angry (Alan Johnson, wittily borrowing an enemy tenet, calls for permanent rebellion against the Corbyn tyranny). A few, possibly because deselection doesn’t appeal, are bargaining. All, obviously, are depressed.

Yet the final stage is entirely beyond them. However crushing Corbyn’s defeat of Owen Smith is, there will be no acceptance of Jeremy Corbyn as their rightful leader in accord with party rules.

Those who dismiss Corbyn as laughably incompetent conveniently ignore this. As expertly as Tony Blair once did, he has seized the levers of power. So long as he controls the NEC, he is entitled to exert that power as ruthlessly as he wishes.

Call it democracy in action, a coup d’état, or victor’s justice, them’s the rules, and those who don’t like them have two options. They can shut up and show the sullen loyalty Campbell demanded on Blair’s behalf. Or they can hasten the inevitable realignment of the centre left by leaving to form a new party, and striking an electoral alliance, formal or informal, with the Lib Dems, Greens, and possibly the SNP. Even without boundary changes, there seems no other viable route to removing the Tories.

Of course, there is also the worst-of-all-worlds third option. They can stay under the Labour whip, whining incessantly about the unfairness, and practising the blame game preparatory to an unparalleled electoral catastrophe. Appreciating the fecklessness, cowardice and petulant sense of entitlement that defines so many of them, I know where I’d put my tenner.

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