So, you’re a Labour MP. You were elected last year, or maybe in 2010, or maybe at some point in the Blair era. It’s fairly immaterial. You are an MP. That is what you are. You’ve always dreamed big. You love Labour but you can’t help but think that maybe, just maybe, the problem with it all along has been that it’s lacking a strong, competent leader at its head. A strong, competent leader who is you. But then last summer, what do the spud-brained ignoramuses who constitute the party’s membership go and do? They elect some crusty old barnacle of a beardy, peace-loving socialist to lead the party and things are looking bleak. You feel deeply apprehensive about the prospect of winning the next election, and even if you did, what’s to say winning on a traditional left-wing platform would be the right thing for the country?
Sure, the new comrade-in-chief recruits a few of your “moderate” buddies to his shadow cabinet, but you know he and his hard-left associates – so saturated in sinister collectivist ideology that they are somehow simultaneously both Marxist-Leninists and anarcho-syndicalists – are prepared to purge them at any minute with the utmost brutality. You’ve already heard ominous rumblings of deselection coming from the extreme leftists of Momentum, a sinister new organisation that seems to be a party within a party, and not even one of the good ones funded by Lord Sainsbury like Progress. On Twitter, when you verbally sigh at the futility of your party’s new direction, the Corbynistas call you rude names, which is literally as bad as actual fascism.
And now Britain has left the European Union. You despair at how your leader seemed hesitant, equivocal in his arguments for remaining within the EU. You were not a “reluctant remainer.” The EU is your lifeblood. Sure, you could do without free movement of labour (bloody immigrants…strong controls are your desiderata), but it’s a worthwhile enough sacrifice in exchange for free movement of capital – to inhibit business would be an unspeakable aberration. When the EU imposes limits on state ownership, that’s just common sense stuff – who’d want to go back to the dark days of the 1970s, when Labour were in power with a leader other than Tony Blair? Furthermore, you think Greece had it coming and, frankly, when your leader starts attacking the supposed pitfalls of TTIP, you don’t see much not to like.
All this proves that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership is untenable, and 171 of your parliamentary colleagues concur. You’ve submitted your vote of no confidence and everyone seems to be in agreement. Just about everyone. The problem remains that it was only nine months ago that he won the Labour leadership by a margin of 59.5%, and the membership (which has grown exponentially to increasingly reflect its leader’s politics) still overwhelmingly supports him. Labour’s membership swelled last summer too, during the contest, and in the end Corbyn won more than 250,000 votes from members, registered supporters and trade union affiliates – the quarters in which he still commands great loyalty, whereas the majority of MPs had always held great misgivings about his leadership. Due to the sheer number of people who voted and the way the One Member, One Vote system weighted votes by members and MPs alike equally, Corbyn won a bigger mandate than any leader in British political history. John Smith may have won a bigger percentage in 1992, but the system was still rigged in the MPs’ favour. In terms of today’s politicians, only Sadiq Khan could be said to command a greater personal mandate than Corbyn, with over a million people having voted for him to be mayor of London.
You don’t mind Sadiq because he’s a sensible, moderate kind of chap but, really, you’d rather he had lost to racist Zac Goldsmith the (alleged) Croydon Cat Killer, for what a nice nail in the coffin for the Corbyn programme that would have been; to be proved unelectable even in the face of British politics’ most nakedly race-baiting mainstream campaign in years. But it didn’t happen. You told the media Sadiq won because he distanced himself from Corbyn, even though his results were of a trend with Labour’s excellent performance in the London Assembly. A million people can’t possibly support a Corbynista party, you thought. Large numbers of people only vote for moderate, sensible Labour. And then you remembered Labour won more than 9 million votes in the 2015 General Election.
This is your mandate. One man is not a movement unto himself. You and your 171 honourable colleagues speak for the 9 million. The progressive wing of the nation. Its burning hope. Its beating heart. You are the only ones who can #SaveLabour, and save the country, because you are Labour, you are the country. You are in touch with the people. You represent what they think. Forget a measly 250,000. You are the nine million.
Except you’re not really, are you?
- Many of Labour’s 9 million votes were in constituencies they didn’t win – therefore these voters are not represented by any Labour MP.
- Conversely, many voters in Labour constituencies would not have voted for their MPs. MPs do not just represent and endeavour to help the constituents who voted for them but the totality of their area’s residents – in this regard, their role as an elected representative is not exclusively party-political.
- Look, I’m not going to use my own laziness and pre-Corbyn disenchantment with party politics to excuse a sweeping brush-stroke over the majority of society here, but actually I am totally going to do that; even as a boring fuck who reads about politics (albeit autodidactically), I’m not sure I knew a great deal about Leicester South MP Jonathan Ashworth when I voted for him at GE2015. Especially as UK politics gets increasingly Americanised and presidential, people think during a general election more in terms of rival party leaderships than their local MPs as a personality; Cameron vs. Miliband, as per the televised debates. People vote for the values they perceive the party in a collective sense to hold. If Labour MPs think their mandate is so specific to them as an individual, they should resign the Labour whip and try and win the seat without the red rosette on their lapel. Go on, try it. I’d like to see how big your personal mandate would be in that case.
- As a democratic organisation, Labour should resist being overtly hierarchical and recognise that any one of their members with the same passion for public service could be an MP one day. To say that our MPs are MPs because they are more qualified than all the members is to say that there are very few BAME MPs because BAME politicians are not as qualified as white ones. Society is not fair; nor is it meritocratic. There are great potential MPs who circumstance has held back from attaining the position. No politician should be entitled to “a job for life.”
- This point effectively concedes that the “9 million votes” point is worth anything in the first place, but here goes, anyway. A number of those votes would have gone to Jeremy Corbyn, who increased his majority in Islington North (as he so often does), and to the forty-odd MPs who support him. Unless, of course, it’s only right-wing Labour MPs who win seats through the personal adulation of their constituents, and ones from the left only ever win due to the red rosette.
- Polling has consistently shown that a sizeable percentage of those who voted Labour in 2015 still support Corbyn staying on as leader and, although many don’t, this would certainly lop the PLP’s precious nine million approximately down the middle.
In conclusion, someone who’s more mathematically gifted than myself is welcome to give it a shot, but it would surely be difficult to quantify the actual number of people the 172 “rebel” (which makes them sound a lot more radical and subversive than they actually are, unless you count subverting democracy as radicalism) Labour MPs represent. The 9 million figure will include those who voted for Labour in areas where they lost, those who voted for Corbyn or his left-wing allies in parliament, or those constituencies who lean to the left and support the current leadership but voted for an MP who doesn’t so much (Angela Eagle’s Constituency Labour Party has overwhelmingly voted to condemn her vote of no confidence in Corbyn.) It may be a larger number than the 250,000 that gave Corbyn his mandate, but it is not a direct vote on the matter and thus contains no legitimate bearing on it, unless our party never wants to be able to point out how unrepresentative First Past the Post is again. The leadership election by which Corbyn became leader was open enough that the widest possible cross-section of the population (unless Labour want to make membership totally free of charge) registered their vote; and still MPs complain that new joiners don’t have a sufficient enough history of tribalistic commitment to the party for their vote to really count. This coup is a joke on every level, apart from the deadly seriousness it poses to the most vulnerable and oppressed in its potential to rid them of a genuinely committed opposition. Keep comrade Corbyn!