It used to be said that the Labour Party owes more to Methodism than to Marx. In fact the risk debt is to Fred Karno the man who designed its constitution. Who else but Fred could have created a system in which the rank and file members hate the MPs, the MPs hate the leader and he hates the national organisation. It all seems specially designed to ensure that Labour stays in opposition forever.
Indeed I think my D.Phil thesis "The Whigs in Opposition 1812 to 1830" was the best possible preparation for being in today's Labour Party. Of course my Whigs were very different to today's Labour Party They weren't as fractious.They were a party of aristocrats and gentlemen in politics out of duty,not a desire to get their snouts in the trough.It's not even that they didn't have good leaders .In Fox,Brougham and Grey they had some of the best men around.
The comparison is apt because the Whigs were small,weak, divided on policy and totally unable to bring the government down,or even defeat any of its measures.The result was two decades of bad Tory government, political repression and economic depression until the Tory hegemony was broken, not by the efforts of the Whigs but by a people's revolt for parliamentary reform.
That's the perfect illustration of the consequences of a weak opposition in our two party system. Political history abounds with others. An unelectable opposition under Michael Foot allowed Margaret Thatcher to get away with anything she wanted,thus permitting the neoliberal revolution,the crushing of the miners and the selling off of assets.
The more divided the opposition the longer the hegemony of the other side, like the eighteen years of Tory rule from 1979 to 1997 and as for a split of the opposition destabilises politics as the death throes of the Liberals did after the First World War, leading to the three party confusion of the twenties and thirties.
So, Labour's problems aren't just the problem of those of us in the party. Civil war as a system of party management is a crisis for the whole political system. Good opposition is essential for good government,which needs an effective opposition to keep it accountable and moderate. The weaker the opposition, the stronger the government, the more it can get away with, and the less need it has to cleave to the centre ground. Like it or not, a great deal depends on Labour's prospects. There are three possible scenarios offer.
Labour's civil war could continue. Both sides would rather fight each other than the Tories, making Labour unelectable because at the very least voters expect the opposition to be able to form a viable alternative government not offer a bag of hyperactive ferrets fighting in a sack.Alternatively,one side wins and destabilises the party by purging the other.
The left would concentrate on making Labour the perfect leftist party,ideologically pure and totally unelectable. If it's the Blairite right, they'd go for a makeover and lobotomy, watering policy down so far Labour's hardly worth electing.As a worst case, Labour could break up. Then both sections are impotent,unless the electoral system is changed to proportional representation.Which it won't be.We'd have recreated the nineteen twenties.
With Labour self screwed it's all down to Theresa May..She must either be her own opposition and steel enough of Labour's clothes to stay in the centre Alternatively, she can veer right and dole out more neoliberalism with tax cuts for the wealthy. That would mean talking the talk of fairness but not walking the walk,rather like Cameron, the PR PM.
Her opening speech,which was almost New Labour,indicated that she'll do the first.That would be sensible and is what I'd hope. But then Mrs Thatcher began by expressing her desire to "bring harmony where there is strife" and look how that finished up.
So, with Labour in default,much depends on Theresa May.She leads a more right wing Tory party than Margaret Thatcher came in with so it won't be easy.Yet with Labour in its present state the best,indeed only, hope is that she really meant what she said and that the sentiments of her first speech came from the heart, not the Tory Party PR department trying to make a dishonest woman of her.