So which, in this case, is the lesser of two evils? Is it ceasing to actively support Labour, despite the fact that this may help the Conservatives? Or is it carrying on supporting the party under Jeremy Corbyn, despite believing that he is a catastrophic leader incapable of mounting an effective opposition and that the party under him is fast becoming unelectable, for whatever reasons? Is it better to carry on supporting Labour and hoping that the people on the ground, the solid constituency MPs, the members of select committees, the councillors, will be able to work to mitigate at least the worst of the Conservatives austerity programme? Or is it to withdraw active support and hope that a catastrophic election result would lead to the swift demise of Corbyn and his Parliamentary allies, thus allowing Labour to rebuild itself?
I’m sure that a large number of “old” (for which read pre-May 2015 members of the party) will be making similar calculations and wondering what to do. A lot may depend upon whether or not the Corbyn camp proceeds with the idea of deselecting MPs who haven’t supported the leadership, a proposal which I believe will be electorally catastrophic, as I’ve already indicated. Many of the “old” members will be people who know those MPs well, have worked and campaigned with them, may even be personal friends with them. Will they turn out to support a ideologically approved replacement? Doubtful.
Will they turn out to support the Party under Jeremy Corbyn even if the deselection idea is quashed? I suspect that a lot of them are feeling quite alienated, particularly since the language of the newer members has been fairly triumphalist. There has been a wholesale dismissal of the Blair/Brown government, which many of the “old” members will have supported and worked for (more on this later). And there has been a “We are masters now” style approach which claims a mandate to do anything and hails the influx of new members as a triumph of democracy.
Whether or not the numbers actually support this idea that the membership now unanimously supports Jeremy Corbyn (which I don’t believe is the case), this is untactful to say the least when it comes to “old” members. Most of the media attention has been on the Corbynistas and the PLP, but one member interviewed briefly on the Today programme said that she didn’t feel it was her party anymore. Many “old” members will doubtless be going through the same calculations as me and wondering whether they want to continue to actively support the Party.
It will be tempting for the Corbynistas to point to the big increase in membership under Jeremy Corbyn and claim that the old members are no longer needed. Unfortunately this isn’t at present correct. Apart from the fact that these are the long-term committed foot-soldiers who kept the party going during the lean years, the Corbynistas are simply in the wrong place. They are in safe seats or unwinnable seats, and most of them are in the South.