Libertarian Party candidate for President Gary Johnson is fast becoming the most mocked candidate in this Presidential debate on account of some of his mistakes during the campaign. Quite an achievement in an election featuring Donald Trump.
Johnson’s latest misstep brings back memories of the candidacies of Sarah Palin and Rick Perry for sheer idiocy.
When being interviewed on Wednesday on MSNBC, Johnson was asked the question, “Who is your favourite foreign leader?”
Johnson sighed and took a deep breath, clearly struggling to answer the question, before saying, “I guess I’m having an Aleppo moment.” This refers to Johnson’s now infamous television appearance in which he answered a question about Aleppo, the epicentre of the Syrian Civil War with, “What is a leppo?”
After putting his difficulty in answering the question down to ‘brain freeze’, Johnson then quickly stated that his favourite foreign leader was the former President of Mexico. But he still didn’t know his name. His Vice-Presidential running mate Bill Weld then had to step in and put him out of his misery with the name of Vicente Fox.
Johnson’s original ‘Aleppo moment’ suggested that he was severely lacking in basic foreign policy skills, and this latest misstep only proves it further. This won’t impress traditional Republicans amongst whom Johnson has proved relatively popular due to their concerns over Donald Trump’s foreign policy credentials. Could Johnson’s mistakes therefore prove beneficial to Hillary Clinton’s candidacy?
Johnson’s inability to remember a single world leader who he admired, brings back memories of similar mistakes during previous Presidential campaigns.
For example Sarah Palin’s (when running as John McCain’s running mate in 2008) failure to name a single newspaper or magazine that she had read, instead answering: “Um, all of ’em, any of ’em that, um, have, have been in front of me over all these years.”
Similarly, during the 2012 Republican Primary debates, Rick Perry could only remember two of the three federal government departments that he was pledging to scrap, one of his keynote policies.
So Gary Johnson’s ‘brain freeze’ is just the latest in a long line of similar moments during Presidential campaign.
Both the Palin and Perry incidents were famously satirised on Saturday Night Live, and one would expect that comedians will have similar fun at the expense of Gary Johnson over the next few weeks.
For Sarah Palin, the interview in question proved to be the spark for her loss of public support and descent into caricature, whilst for Perry it signalled the beginning of the end for his Presidential ambitions. What is interesting in the case of Johnson though, is that his poll numbers haven’t yet been hit as a result of his latest mistake. This perhaps points to the strangeness of this Presidential race. We’ve seen it time and time again with Donald Trump, candidates seem to be given far more leeway to make mistakes (unless you’re considered to be part of the Washington elite of course), and perhaps this is why Johnson is yet to haemorrhage support. Either way, this election just gets stranger and stranger.
Examining the similarities between the rise of Donald Trump and Jeremy Corbyn.
On Wednesday, Jeremy Corbyn gave his keynote address at the 2016 Labour Party Conference. Generally it was quite well received, the consensus being that it was a stark improvement on the speech he gave this time last year. However, what struck me most was the similarities between Corbyn’s speech on Wednesday, and the speech given by Donald Trump after his acceptance of the Republican nomination at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland in July.
Given that Corbyn is ostensibly left-wing, and Trump ostensibly right-wing, this is rather weird. But, oddly it does seem to be the case, and just adds to the list of similarities between the two.
Take these two passages for example:
“…a conviction that the old way of running the economy and the country, isn’t delivering for more and more people.
It’s not about me of course, or unique to Britain but across Europe, North America and elsewhere, people are fed up with a so-called free market system, that has produced grotesque inequality stagnating living standards for the many calamitous foreign wars without end and a political stitch-up which leaves the vast majority of people shut out of power.”
“I have visited the laid-off factory workers, and the communities crushed by our horrible and unfair trade deals. These are the forgotten men and women of our country. People who work hard but no longer have a voice.
I AM YOUR VOICE.
I have embraced crying mothers who have lost their children because our politicians put their personal agendas before the national good. I have no patience for injustice, no tolerance for government incompetence, no sympathy for leaders who fail their citizens.”
Effectively, these two passages are pushing the same message: that the old way of doing things is no longer working for the common man, with the current system involving the privileged few making all the decisions and then sharing out the wealth between them. In short, the central message running through both extracts is something along the line of: “the world is broken”. This is how both Corbyn and Trump have gained most of their support, by using people’s mistrust of the political elite and capitalising on it, by putting themselves forward as a voice of those who are ignored by the political elite. Both push the message of inequality caused by the perceived inequities of the free-market economic system.
As well as this speech, there are a great many more shared characteristics between the pair.
Both rose to the helm of their respective parties against the wishes of most of the party grandees, doing so after their parties had electorally imploded.
Both have built their success upon a group of supporters which are more of a social movement than a political party.
Both rely upon populist sentiment.
Perhaps most similar, is the tendency of both to diagnose the problems faced by their respective nations, but to not put forward any real solutions.
Trump did this throughout his first presidential debate with Hillary Clinton on Monday, constantly talking about what was wrong with the economy, trade deals, and foreign policy; but not really putting forward any realistic policies with which to solve these problems. Despite this, Trump continues to garner huge support. His supporters don’t seem to care whether he offers any realistic policy.
The same is true of Corbyn and his supporters. Corbyn regularly talks about the problems with the policy of the current government, the previous Cameron government, and the policy of the Blair and Brown governments; but, he never really puts forward real solutions to the problems which he has identified. Despite this his supporters continue to support him, seemingly caring little about the electability (or lack of electability) of their party leader.
These similarities between Corbyn and Trump are evidence of a growing trend in politics all around the world, the trend for populist candidates who are seen to be speaking for the common man. We saw this properly begin with the election of Syriza in Greece, whilst the trend continued to manifest itself with many other events: Trump, Corbyn, Brexit, UKIP, Le Pen, Sanders, and many more. Whether on the left or the right, there is a trend for populist leaders who are seen to speak for the common man rather than corporate interests.
Ultimately, it is difficult to see many of these populist leaders winning elections outright. However, whether they win or lose, what is clear is that they are changing world politics exponentially. With the vote for Brexit we have already seen that these populist forces can shock the political establishment, and we may yet see it again with Trump, and with Corbyn (although this seems very unlikely to me).
Whatever the results in their respective elections, the similarities between Corbyn and Trump show just how much politics has changed in the years since the banking crisis, particularly in the last couple of years. With populism bedding itself in on both the left and right of the political spectrum, it seems unlikely to go away any time soon.
When Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia died on 13 February, no one quite expected just how bloody the battle to choose his replacement would come. However, given that Scalia was one of the most conservative members of the Supreme Court, and the Republicans hold a majority in both houses of Congress it was, in hindsight, rather predictable.
Nonetheless, it is rather rare for the majority party in Congress to not even consider a nomination made by the sitting president, as was the case when the Republicans in the Senate made clear that they would not be considering Barack Obama’s nomination of Merrick Garland under any circumstances.
On the face of it Garland was a consensus pick. There is little doubt that Obama could have chosen a far more overtly liberal justice in order to fill the vacancy left by Scalia. However, he recognised that with his party in the minority in the Senate, he would have to appease Senate Republicans somewhat. What he didn’t count on however, was that the GOP would have no inclination whatsoever to even consider his nominee.
The rationale of Senate Republicans was that withholding confirmation for Garland was necessary in order to, “protect the will of the American people”.Suggesting that with the Presidential election ongoing, the new President should be the one who is allowed to pick the next justice. However, this was somewhat undermined by the comments of two Republican Senators.Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona suggested that Garland should only be confirmed if Hillary Clinton wins the Presidency, because Garland is less liberal than any nominee Clinton is likely to put forward, suggesting that if Clinton win then, “we ought to approve him quickly.” Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah concurred with Flake’s view. Comments such as this suggest that Senate Republicans were motivated far less by democracy than by partisan concerns regarding the direction of future legislation.
Realistically, the reason for the unwillingness of Senate Republicans to give Garland a confirmation hearing was due to his significance to the future direction of the court.
Following the death of Scalia, the court is locked 4–4 between Democratic and Republican appointees. If Garland were to be confirmed then there would be majority of Democratic appointees for the first time since 1969. This has serious significance for the direction of future legislation.
However, Merrick Garland is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how significant this Presidential election is to the future make-up of the Supreme Court.
It has been suggested that the next President might be able to appoint up to four Supreme Court justices, with Donald Trump even suggesting that they might be able to appoint five if Garland hasn’t been confirmed prior to the inauguration.
The reason for this is that many of the Supreme Court justices are now getting to the point where they might consider retirement. The left-wing justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is now 83, whilst centre-left justice Stephen Breyer is 78. If Clinton is elected come November, then expect these two to retire. Likewise, the relatively centrist Anthony Kennedy is now 80, and surely nearing the end of his career.
Each of the last four Presidents has had the opportunity to appoint two Supreme Court Justices. This means that already it is looking as though the next President is going to have a outsize influence on the makeup of the court, meaning a sizeable influence on policy for a generation.
Earlier in this election, Donald Trump took the slightly unusual step of releasing a list of prospective Supreme Court justices, who he would look to appoint were he elected in November. Unsurprisingly, most of the list had impeccable conservative credentials. Trump’s reasoning for this is that he wants to appeal to Republicans who want to protect recent Supreme Court decisions such as Citizens United which prohibits the government from restricting the election spending of corporations; and District of Columbia v. Heller which further protected the right to bear arms. Whilst the also wants to attract voters who are keen to see the rolling back of Roe v. Wade and Obamacare. Conversely, Hillary Clinton and the Democrats are on the complete opposite of this debate.
Both candidates clearly understand the importance of this election in terms of the direction of legislation in the future. Given that Supreme Court Justices are given a lifetime appointment to the court, these decisions will affect the direction of legislation well beyond the presidencies of either Trump or Clinton.
This only serves to make this election even stranger: the fact that the two most unpopular presidential candidates in history, will have perhaps more impact on legislation than any of their predecessors.
A comfortable win for Hillary, but does it matter?
Yesterday night, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump finally collided in the first Presidential debate of the 2016 campaign.
For each candidate, what would have constituted a successful debate was rather different. For Trump, arguably the most important thing was to show that he had some depth of policy knowledge which stretched beyond the soundbites and freewheeling style he employed to great effect during the Republican primary debates. For Clinton, there was always going to be a focus on her stamina, after the recent scrutiny regarding her health.
In this debate, it is fair to say that Trump started brightly. He did well to bring up Clinton’s praise of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal as the “gold standard” of trade deals; whilst his criticism of Clinton’s near thirty years spent in Washington may resonate well with blue collar workers in important swing states such as Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania. Trump also got cheers from the audience following his early exclamation that he was “going to cut taxes bigly”, whilst Clinton was planning to “raise taxes bigly”. As is often the way with Trump, the choice of language was strange, but it seemed to resonate with the audience nonetheless.
However, for Trump that was about as good as it got. When the debate moved onto law and order and foreign policy, his lack of policy knowledge was exposed. He suggested that murder rates in New York City are rising following less use of stop-and-frisk, when in fact they are on the decline. He also stated that Clinton had been “fighting ISIS her entire adult life”, slightly odd given that Clinton was born in 1947 and ISIS only properly formed in 2006. He also struggled to convince with his ‘secret plan to fight ISIS’, which realistically seems to amount to having no plan at all.
Earlier in the debate Trump came close to admitting he didn’t pay federal income tax. When pressed by Clinton about why he wouldn’t release his tax returns, he offered to do so if Clinton released her deleted e-mails. A good response, and in keeping with the Trump campaign’s aim of making Clinton look as untrustworthy as possible. However, when Clinton suggested that Trump wasn’t releasing his tax returns because he hadn’t paid income tax, he took the bait and said that not paying tax, “makes me smart”, and that it didn’t matter “because the money would be squandered”. Unsurprisingly, after the debate the Trump campaign denied that Trump had failed to pay income tax. Nonetheless, Trump suggesting what he did was a huge mistake, particularly when he is attempting to pitch himself as a man of the people.
Although Clinton performed solidly, it has to be said that there were several occasions when she should have capitalised. When Trump responded with relish to a question on the profits he made during the banking crisis with “that’s called business, by the way”, Clinton simply ignored it. A better debater would have made it a moment, creating a soundbite which could lead news bulletins. In addition, as expected Clinton came across well-prepared. But, at times some of her answers appeared overly scripted. However, this was in any case better than Trump’s improvisational approach which saw him rambling, along with several instances of him tripping over his words.
One thing Trump did manage was the best soundbite of the debate. In events such as these, one of the most important things can be to create a soundbite which can be played over and over again. In describing Clinton as having “experience but it’s bad experience,” Trump managed this.
But what he failed to do, was control the debate and push his agenda. There was scant mention of immigration, Trump’s keynote policy. Far too often, he seemed to focus on prescribing America’s problems, rather than suggesting policies which could solve these. In addition, he allowed himself to be dragged into a ridiculous discussion on his previous claims regarding Obama’s nationality, and even suggested that these rumours had been started by people close to Clinton.
In contrast, Clinton provided some relatively assured (albeit unexciting) policy proposals. This is something that Trump seriously needs to work on if he is to improve in the next debate.
But, whilst Hillary Clinton was clearly the victor in this first debate, does her victory really matter?
To those voters who have already decided which candidate to vote for, the answer is not really.
Throughout the campaign it has been clear that there is little that will turn Trump supporters away from their chosen candidate. As such, Trump’s clear lack of foreign policy knowledge, brutally exposed during this debate, seems unlikely to have affected his overall popularity. Likewise, those who began the debate with the view that Trump is not qualified to serve as President, and who want to see Hillary Clinton continue President Obama’s legacy, will not have changed their mind.
In short, for decided voters, this debate told them nothing that they didn’t already know.
However, where this debate might have had an effect is in those voters who are still undecided, or who are supporting third-party candidates.
Undecided candidates will have seen one candidate, who despite not being particularly exciting, was solid and well prepared. Whilst her opponent’s rambling answers betrayed a lack of preparedness for the foreign policy challenges which will be faced by the next President.
For those backing third-party candidates, such as the thirteen percent of voters in Colorado who back Libertarian Gary Johnson, this will have been a wake-up call. Many of those backing Johnson are traditional Republican voters dissatisfied with their party’s nominee. As traditional Republicans, ensuring the White House is occupied by someone with strong national security credentials is extremely important. Seeing Trump’s rambling answers on this topic may persuade them to forgo casting a protest vote for Gary Johnson, and instead swallow their pride and vote for Clinton, simply in order to keep Trump out of the White House.
As such, it would be relatively unsurprising for Clinton to gain a small bounce in the polls as a result of this debate. But in this weird election, don’t count on it lasting long.
Tonight, the first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will take place at Hofstra University, New York.
For the candidates, this will be one of the most important moments of the campaign thus far. Polling by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News has found that 34 percent of voters consider the debate very important in deciding who they support, whilst it has been estimated that the television audience could reach 120 million.
For Trump this debate is a step into the unknown. During the Republican Primary campaign, he took part in eleven debates. However, the smallest of these contained four candidates. Contrast this with Monday’s debate, which will be head-to-head between just Trump and Clinton, after Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein failed to qualify. The significance of this is that Trump will be forced to speak for considerably longer than he had to during the Republican primary debates.
In the Republican Primary debates, Trump relied upon an improvisational style, and proved to be strong in terms of soundbites and withering putdowns, with his labelling of Ted Cruz as ‘Lyin’ Ted’, and Marco Rubio as ‘Little Marco’. However, in this head-to-head debate, that won’t be enough. Trump will be required to speak for around 40 minutes, and will have to display a strong grasp of policy, something which wasn’t really required during the primaries. How well he manages this, may well decide the outcome of this debate.
For Hillary Clinton, she faces a very different task in this debate. During the primary campaign, she took part in a string of head-to-head debates with Bernie Sanders, whilst she also took part in many during the mammoth 2008 Democratic primary campaign. In short, she has always been considered to be a confident debater. But in this debate, the scrutiny on Clinton will be regarding something very different: her health.
Presidential debates can be a very superficial way of judging who is the best candidate for the job of President. Typically, the candidate judged to have won the debate is the candidate who people feel looks the most presidential whilst on stage, rather than the candidate who displays the best grasp of policy. Take the example of the 1960 Presidential campaign, the first to feature televised debates between the candidates. In these debates, the television viewers judged John F. Kennedy to have comprehensively defeated Richard Nixon, in large part because Nixon appeared nervous and sweaty on stage. However, those listening to the debate on the radio, felt that Nixon had won because of his better grasp of policy. This shows just how important appearance and confidence can be in deciding the victor in a televised debate.
In fact, campaign staffers have been known to say that the best way of knowing who will be judged the winner in a televised debate, is to watch it with the sound on mute, as it will be the candidate who appears most confident who wins.
For Hillary Clinton to be considered to have performed well, she will need to demonstrate that she has fully recovered from the bout of pneumonia that she was struggling with earlier this month. Any repeat of the coughing fit she suffered when addressing a campaign rally earlier this month, could be hugely damaging during a televised debate. Given her experience, it is clear that her knowledge of policy will be up to the task of debating Trump. However, for Clinton, the important thing is to try and show the country that she is physically fit for office.
Generally, candidates don’t manage to win a presidential race as a result of a good performance in a debate. However a bad performance in a debate, can certainly go a long way towards losing the presidency. For example, the aforementioned incident of Nixon’s severe sweating on stage. Whilst George H.W. Bush checking his watch during a 1992 debate with Bill Clinton and Ross Perot, gave the impression of someone who didn’t want to be there, and was taking victory for granted.
In the 2000 Presidential Election, during debates between Al Gore and George W. Bush, Gore was heard to sigh when Bush gave answers, giving the impression of being condescending, whilst he was also accused of invading Bush’s personal space by walking over to him as if about to start a fight. Gore’s debate performances were said to have severely damaged his chances of winning the presidency.
It is from the debates in the 2000 election that Clinton can learn the most. If she acts like Gore and reacts condescendingly to Trump’s answers, then she will likely be punished for it. For Trump, not having debated on this scale before is perhaps an advantage. As a result, there will be relatively low expectations regarding his performance, and he is likely to get away with more mistakes than his rival.
Overall, for these two unpopular candidates this debate is very important. Whilst it may not decide the outcome of this presidential race, it will certainly decide who has the momentum going forward.
In such a close race, a big mistake could be absolutely fatal to either of the candidates’ chances. Trump must appear to have a strong grasp on policy, whilst for Clinton it will be vitally important that she appears physically fit for the office of President.
For both, this could be a defining moment of the campaign.
On Saturday, Jeremy Corbyn will be announced as having retained the leadership of the Labour Party. I strongly expect that he will have achieved a higher percentage of the vote than in 2015. This is little to do with Owen Smith, rather a reflection of the extent to which the membership of the party has changed since Corbyn’s election as leader.
Once Corbyn is announced as having retained the leadership, talk will invariably return to whether the party will reunite or whether it will split.
For many months, there have been suggestions that the moderates (or Blairites) in the Parliamentary Labour Party are planning to split off if Corbyn continues as leader. Many moderate Labour MPs have been vocal in their concerns about Labour’s electability under Corbyn, and it is clear that they want things to change.
However, up to now one thing that they have all been unequivocal about, is that they don’t wish to see the party split. Generally, when asked the standard question regarding the prospect of a split, Labour MPs have responded by citing the example of the Labour MPs who split from the party in 1981 and formed the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
The SDP was founded by four senior Labour Party members known collectively as the ‘Gang of Four’: David Owen, Roy Jenkins, Shirley Williams, and Bill Rodgers. They were joined by twenty-eight other defecting MPs from the Labour Party, and one MP who defected from the Conservatives. However, despite their early success in attracting MPs, the SDP would struggle to retain them in general elections. In the 1983 General Election, the First-Past-The-Post system meant that just six SDP MPs were elected. It is clear today that this failure still haunts Labour MPs who might otherwise consider a split.
Writing in the i on Wednesday, Labour MP and former Shadow Business Secretary Chuka Umunna, suggested that in the event of a split, any new party would simply suffer the same fate as the SDP.
Twenty-eight MPs defected from Labour to the SDP back then but just 6 SDP MPs were elected in the 1983 election that followed. That split of the Left was a gift to the Right, which saw 18 years of Tory rule as the consequence. This is why I know of no Labour MP now who wants to repeat the same mistake and doom our country to the same fate.
From this, it would seem abundantly clear that Umunna believes that any split would be unsuccessful, and that this view is backed up by the evidence from 1981, as well as evidence that the First-Past-The-Post electoral system tends to discriminate against third-parties.
However, the political landscape is much changed since then. Nowadays, it would definitely be possible to make a success of a similar sort of split.
One of the main reasons for this is the advent of the internet, in particular social media, and its use in political campaigning.
The 24-hour news cycle which exists primarily as a result of the internet, means that any new political movement can gain instant traction all around the country, and indeed all around the world. Recently, we have seen abundant examples of how internet savvy campaigning has brought success to campaigns which experts dismissed as having little chance. Take the example of Donald Trump’s campaign for the Republican nomination for President. Trump recognised the power of social media and the internet in order to build his own political movement, and managed to build something which differed hugely from the campaigns being run by his opponents, most of whom were firmly part of the political establishment.
Similarly, Labour rebels can take inspiration from inside their own party. Jeremy Corbyn’s unlikely rise to the leadership of the Labour Party was characterised by his use of social media to draw young people to his rallies and build a movement in support of his candidacy.
Overall, although it is still desirable to able to call upon a party machine of volunteers to roam the streets and knock on doors when campaigning, it is no longer the only way to gain support. Online advertising and fundraising can reach out to potential voters like never before.
Trump and Corbyn show the way to go. Both attracted the votes of people who wouldn’t normally be voting in their respective elections. Now Corbyn has as good as populated the membership of the Labour Party with these supporters gained during the first leadership campaign. Rebel MPs need to do a similar thing. There will be millions of available voters who want a credible alternative to the main parties, and it is these people who can be targeted when creating a new party. This targeting can be done in a way that wasn’t possible in 1981, and means that a split today could be significantly more successful than the SDP debacle.
Potential rebel MPs also tend to cite our First-Past-The-Post electoral system as cause for concern, by stating that it discriminates against third-parties, and that as such any new party would be doomed to failure. However, although FPTP has historically been difficult for third-parties, it doesn’t have to be. In the 2015 Canadian Federal Election, Justin Trudeau and the Liberal Party showed that it is possible for a third-party to win an election under FPTP. The Liberal Party began the campaign in third place in the polls with only 26% support, but when the campaign concluded, they had won 39.5% of the popular vote, which equated to a parliamentary majority. In Canada, The Liberal Party proved that it was possible for a third-party to win under FPTP if they were able to appeal beyond their usual base of support, whilst also campaigning on a platform distinctively different from other parties in the election. If a new party formed of rebel Labour MPs were able to follow the blueprint set by the successful Canadian Liberal Party, then they could be successful regardless of our electoral system.
With the Conservative Party having shifted to the right under Theresa May and Labour having lurched to the left under Jeremy Corbyn, their is a large enough space in the political centre for a new party. With such a large gap in the centre, it would easy for a new party to campaign on a platform reasonably distinctive from the offering of the two main parties, and as such they could be successful regardless of FPTP.
In any case, Labour MPs would have absolutely nothing to lose by splitting off and forming a new party. Although they may feel a great degree of loyalty to their current party, they certainly won’t feel the same degree of loyalty to Corbyn. As such, it is hard to see many of the moderate, centrist Labour MPs will be willing to pledge allegiance to a Labour Party run by Corbyn and John McDonnell. It increasingly sounds as though any Labour MPs who chooses not to support the leadership will be deselected at the next election, whilst many more could lose seats through a combination of the boundary review and Corbyn’s unpopular policies.
As a result, many of these Labour MPs could lose their seats anyway. Therefore, why not split off and try and save themselves, and their ideals, from extinction. With the political landscape in such a state of flux, there should be little to fear from splitting off. Rebel MPs should take the plunge and give it a go, because the way their party is heading it could be just about the last chance they get to ensure their values continue to be represented in the House of Commons.
With the reelection of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party we have reached a crucial juncture in the future of UK politics. One way or another, it is hard not to foresee a significant restructuring of the political landscape in the UK.
Corbyn and others of a similar ideological ilk have spent the duration of this leadership campaign tightening their grip upon the Labour Party, and look set to move the party’s policy platform even further leftwards. Given that Corbyn & Co were already on a different planet ideologically to much of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP), it is hard to see how normal service can possibly be resumed following the conclusion of the leadership campaign.
There has always been the potential, bubbling under the surface, for serious conflict between the different factions of the Labour Party. But the fissures which have opened up during the first year of Corbyn’s leadership now look as though they cannot be fixed. Anyone who witnessed the back and forth between John McDonnell and Alastair Campbell on Question Time last week (which allegedly almost ended with a punch-up!) can testify to this. These two individuals illustrate just how diametrically opposed the different parts of the Labour Party are, and it is difficult to see how this will be salvageable as Corbyn continues to lead the party.
So where do the moderates go from here?
There will be many who argue that they should simply stay on and serve their party, whether that means accepting a role in Corbyn’s new Shadow Cabinet or remaining on the back benches. However, it is hard to see how this can be sustainable. Rumour has it that Corbyn and his team are preparing to deselect any MPs who don’t pledge allegiance to Corbyn. Given that many of these moderates differ so greatly from Corbyn in terms of ideology, it is hard to see how they would be able to bring themselves to do this. Contrary to popular opinion, not all politicians have the Andy Burnham-esque quality of being able to completely disregard their principles for the purposes of retaining a high-flying career.
Given that these MPs won’t pledge allegiance to Corbyn, by remaining part of the Labour Party they would effectively be putting themselves out to pasture until being deselected and replaced with a fervent Corbynite prior to the next general election. This could be as soon as next May, or as far away as 2020, but there is little doubt that it is coming. Therefore, if moderate Labour MPs want to stay and fight for what they believe in, then they have little choice but to leave their party.
To many of them, this may seem like a huge jump, which carries huge inherent risks. Most MPs (of any party) feel intrinsically connected to the parties which they represent, and so leaving can feel somewhat like voluntarily cutting off a limb. But, in this case, there is little choice but to take the risk. Corbyn’s ideology has permeated the party to such an extent that there is little or no chance of it returning to its previous state in the next twenty to thirty years. For many of the current crop of moderate Labour MPs, their careers will be over by then. So if they want to have a chance to actively influence political debate in this country, then they have no choice but to leave.
The bigger question, even bigger than ‘should they leave?’, is where would they go?
Realistically, there are three options here.
One, Labour MPs could leave their party but continue to serve their constituents as independent MPs. However, independents often struggle to exert influence in the House of Commons, and rarely win elections. Therefore, it seems unlikely that Labour moderates would be able to find success in this way.
Secondly, Labour MPs could split and form a brand new party. Depending on how many MPs choose to leave, their is a chance that the Speaker of the House of Commons would declare this new party to be the official opposition. There have also been indications that several key Labour Party donors such as Lord Sainsbury and Assem Allam would be willing to fund a new party comprised of moderate Labour MPs. However, even with this funding, any new party would lack the infrastructure and name recognition enjoyed by the existing Labour Party. As a result, they would likely struggle to make any sort of electoral inroads in Labour heartlands. Therefore, this idea could also be a non-starter, although having said this, in our currently fractured political climate there is definitely an opening for a new party.
Thirdly, Labour MPs could leave their party and join the Liberal Democrats. Leader Tim Farron has invited moderates from both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party to join the Lib Dems. Given that the Lib Dems have just eight MPs, this would also effectively be the formation of a new party. In order to make a success of such a plan, it may be the case that a name change is required, in order to move away from a Liberal Democrat brand which was rendered rather toxic by their time spent in government. Overall, this option would likely be the most successful. It would provide the benefits of starting afresh with a new party, whilst also being able to benefit from the existing infrastructure provided by the Lib Dem party machine.
However, it may prove unpalatable to both Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs to share a party. Years of bloody by-election battles between the two parties promoted a general feeling of antipathy, which may be hard to overcome. In addition, with their current roster of just eight MPs, there are many Liberal Democrats who feel that defections from Labour could represent a take-over rather than a merger, which isn’t something they would be overly keen on. But, both groups recognise the need to be electable, and so surely some sort of accommodation could be reached.
Ultimately, it is difficult to see how the Labour Party will be able to reunite after Jeremy Corbyn’s reelection as party leader. The political viewpoints of the so-called Blairites are so diametrically opposed to the views of Corbyn and the wider party membership, that continuing in the same party seems unlikely. These moderates aren’t going to be able to bring themselves to sign up for some of Corbyn’s more outlandish policies (nuclear submarines without the warheads anyone?), and so it hard to see how the conflict will be resolved without a split.