For six months now I’ve been misreading what is happening in the party. So it’s time I fessed up to what I know I don’t know.
Until a few months ago I thought I got the Labour Party. I’d spent the best part of a decade fighting elections against it and therefore had by necessity developed pretty good instincts about what it would do. Then Jeremy Corbyn was elected its leader.
That I’m not such a great Labour watcher is with hindsight not much of a surprise. I don’t know that many Labour Party members and those I do are a rather unrepresentative subset. And while I’ve made a habit of reading Conservative Home, I don’t do the same with any media specifically targeting Labour supporters. Which is I suppose a gap I should probably fill.
Given my limited sources of information I have found it hard to get a read on how things are going to pan out within the Labour Party next. In particular, I have no real sense of the following:
1) How different are the new members of the Labour Party from the old ones?
If I got talking to a random person at a Labour event, what if anything would let me know whether they had recently joined the party? Assuming their views differ from those of old-timers, is that simply because they are new or are the new members joining post-GE2015 noticeably different from the people who joined before?
2) Are these new members becoming activists?
My prejudice is that people who join parties when something exciting happens to that party are disproportionately likely to stay grassroots members. Does that apply in this case? Are lots of these new members going to start showing up on local party execs, in council groups and ultimately as MPs?
3) Is Momentum a big deal?
Or is it a modest deal the media is getting excited about because it’s new?
4) Are issues of foreign and defence policy as divisive in the wider Party as they appear to be in the PLP?
5) How cohesive are the Labour right?
If Simon Danczuk thinks something is it safe to assume Tristram Hunt agrees? Do Alan Johnson and an armchair who dislikes Corbyn have a similar viewpoint? To what extent are the various actors who are seen as being on the right of the Labour Party actively co-ordinating with each other?
6) When anti-Corbynites dream of replacing Corbyn, who do they dream of replacing him with?
I tend to assume Chuka Umunna or Alan Johnson but I fear that means I’m a bit like the journalists who used to tout Danny Alexander as a potential future Lib Dem leader: I think of them because they are the people I know about rather than because they are the most likely candidates.
7) Could Corbyn continue as leader after a General Election defeat?
The normal rule seems to be that if a party loses a General Election, its leader will either step down or be forced out. But many of the normal rules seem to no longer apply. Is this one of them?
8) Is there a potential Corbynite leader besides Corbyn himself?
Can he pass the leadership onto someone with a similar ideology? Might that person appear more primeministerial?
9) Does all this stuff affect the ability and willingness of the Labour Party to campaign to stay in the EU?
Should I be worried that Corbyn seems so equivocal on the subject? Are supporters of withdrawal anymore than a fringe within the Party? Will the increase in Labour Party membership translate into more activists for the ‘remain’ campaign? Can I stop worrying about my nightmare scenario of Corbyn being deposed and then campaigning to leave?
10) Has the Labour Party permanently changed?
One could look at what’s happening and conclude that Labour is turning into a British Podemos. Or one could conclude the situation is more like the Tories electing IDS and then thinking better of it shortly thereafter. The fact I can’t decide which comparison is more apt is what has driven all my other questions. I am trying to work out if Corbyn’s election indicates that something fundamental in the nature of the Labour Party has changed? Or is it just a freak event the effects of which will progressively dissipate?
I’m not qualified to answer that question, so am looking to you dear readers for guidance.