Labour moderates, it’s now or never. Forget Angela Eagle and fight for yourselves

by Stephen Tall on July 12, 2016

In happier, boringer days I once wrote: ‘election results are usually a lot more dull than the speculation which precedes them’. With that kind of prophetic insight, it’s little wonder I ended up running naked down Whitehall.

The Lib Dem collapse, the SNP surge, Jeremy Corbyn’s triumph, Brexit: I predicted none of it because I assumed business as usual would, well, continue as usual.

So I hesitate even to try and imagine what might now happen to Labour, with Corbyn confirmed in his incumbent place on the leadership ballot. It seems likely he will win again. If he does that poses big questions for the 172+ Labour MPs who no-conned him last week.

Can they seriously continue to sit on the benches behind him? If they do, how can they possibly fight an election urging the public to vote for Corbyn as PM? If they don’t, do they go for the nuclear option (an apt choice for Labour moderates fighting the hard-left) and set up a new centre-left party, Progressive Labour, and elect someone plausible as Leader of the Opposition?

I know what would have happened in the old, happy, boring realm of politics: nothing much. New parties go up like rockets and fall like sticks, sage commentators agree. I’ve already seen folk dismiss the chance of a new Labour party as a dead-cert failure “like the SDP was” — seemingly forgetting that the SDP won in the end, it’s just that it was called New Labour.

The political space clearly exists currently, though the signs are that Theresa May has every intention of closing it down. Which means sensible Labour needs to act now if it’s to stand a chance.

But the first step is not to break away. It is simpler than that. Moderate Labour MPs need to choose a leader who can inspire, help him/her put together a post-Brexit platform rooted in progressive values, and stand against Corbyn to fight for it.

They’ll probably still lose, just as the Gang of Four felt they had in 1981. But at least they’ll go down with their heads held high — and, more importantly, demonstrate they’re willing to stand up for their beliefs. They’ll feel a whole lot better doing that than spending the next three months devising the question to which Angela Eagle is the answer.