IT took just 24 hours for Luciana Berger and Chuka Umunna’s new political formation to lose its ephemeral character as a splinter from Labour.
It now appears as a cross-party coalition not of the centre but of a vacuum. Joined now by three Tory MPs, there is some panic that a gaping hole — which in conventional politics is occupied by policies — cannot be filled with any degree of coherence.
It is a mystery quite how Sarah Wollaston, who voted against military intervention in Syria, might find common ground with Mike Gapes who has yet to find a corner of the globe where Nato might not deploy to his martial satisfaction.
By comparison with the defecting Labour rightwingers, and on some questions, these Tories are marginally more progressive.
The policy gap is occupied by clamour about Labour’s alleged anti-semitism which, in 2016, Umunna found insignificant to the point of invisibility but today has so infected the party that continued membership is impossible.
This counter-factual posturing will not work with the vast bulk of Labour members and supporters who know from their own experience that — as the home affairs select committee inquiry into anti-semitism in the UK concluded — “there exists no reliable, empirical evidence to support the notion that there is a higher prevalence of anti-semitic attitudes within the Labour Party than any other political party.”
Labour general secretary Jennie Formby’s level-headed report has had some success in defining the real extent to which anti-semitic tropes, and actual anti-semitic actions, appear in Labour’s political milieu and in disentangling this, as far as it is possible, from controversies around the policies of the Israeli state. But no-one should imagine that this offensive will end any time soon.
It is conventional political wisdom to ascribe the durability of the two-party polarity that defines the British political system to its first-past-the-post voting system. And it is true that effective entry into the electoral arena is weighted against smaller formations, especially if their support is diffused across the country.
Such is the social weight of our class of working people that representative politics is not possible without its participation.
In conditions of relative class peace our rulers are more than content to limit this to a routine electoral competition in which the choices are limited. But we are now in a situation where divisions among our rulers are forcing them to breach their class solidarity.
Marx wrote perceptively of the British ruling class that it “in all its battles sees itself compelled to appeal to the proletariat, to ask for its help, and thus to drag it into the political arena. The bourgeoisie itself, therefore, supplies the proletariat with its own elements of political and general education, in other words it furnishes the proletariat with weapons for fighting the bourgeoisie.”
David Cameron’s political “error” in permitting a referendum has brought a rupture in British politics that fissures the two main parties to lay bare the underlying class interests. In the Tory Party these represent divergent fractions of the ruling class. In Labour they reflect a mounting challenge to the reflection of such ruling-class ideas within the party.
This age-old clash will only disappear when the party governs as the voice of a British working class, whose interests are increasingly those of society as a whole. Today’s “windy indys” are born not as a political party but as a privatised corporate entity with their finances thus obscured from public scrutiny.
It may not even be conceived as a serious project but more as a wrecking operation. We can expect more attempts, perhaps more credible, to divert Labour.
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