The responses that have resonated most with me as to why friends have supported Jeremy Corbyn have been twofold. Firstly, the friend who said that the movement which has brought so many new members into the Labour Party must be allowed to run its course and play out, and not be stifled before we have had a chance to see what it might become. This seems to me to be a very fair and good point. Certainly we cannot go back to the way things were, and with Jeremy Corbyn’s increased mandate it seems likely that this new movement will be given time, either to develop, grow and mature, or to wither on the vine.
I devoutly hope that during this process the leadership and its supporters do not throw the baby out with the bathwater, which they could conceivably do in several ways. Firstly, by alienating or ejecting the “old”, ie pre-2015 members who voted mainly for Owen Smith. I’ve already rehearsed all the reasons why Labour needs to keep those members on-side. Secondly, by deselecting sitting MPs who are perceived as being disloyal to the membership. Again, I’ve already written at length about why this would be electoral suicide.
The third way that the “new” (ie post 2015) could murder the Labour Party is by falling into the trap of believing that it is sufficient for it to be a “social movement”, and that it no longer needs to worry about getting into government, as it will change society at grass-roots level upwards. This is not a bad idea, and it has succeeded in many instances, notably in the sorts of civil rights movements that result in changes in the law (although to my mind it’s arguable whether those movements actually change society, or whether they encourage and reflect changes that are already happening and force through changes in the law that reflect those changes).
I’ve already written here about some of the ways that the Corbynistas resemble a social movement more than a political party, and it’s possible that, as with many social movements, they may eventually be absorbed into more mainstream politics. The problem here is that the Labour Party is (as was pointed out clearly by Alistair Campbell on Question Time a couple of weeks ago), a party the purpose of which is to be in Parliament. The purpose of the Party, its “mission” in modern organisational speak, if you will, is “To organise and maintain in Parliament and in the country a political Labour Party”. It’s right there in the constitution, point 2, after point 1, which says that it will be called The Labour Party. Notice that the people who put the constitution together when they founded the party put Parliament first, because they felt it was so important.
The founding fathers of the United States set out the mission of their new country with a commitment to equality and the rights of the individual which has remained at the heart of America’s perception of itself ever since. Labour’s perception of itself must surely have at its heart the requirement to have “a distinct Labour group in Parliament”, to quote Keir Hardie, one of the founders of modern Labour, in his motion at the special Trades Union congress which set up the Labour Representation Committee. He didn’t want a social movement; he already had one, and it wasn’t enough. He wanted political representation.