By Njoki Mahiaini
30 July 2015
Call it victor’s spoils, blame it on Murdoch’s might but the in-fighting within the UK Labour party following their defeat in May has had senior Tories near-giddy with glee. Hardly a day goes by without an article dissecting Labour’s loss or critiquing Blair’s journey from Prime Ministerial dynamo to party pariah. And, with ‘West Lothian’ finally put to bed, the Corbyn Question now has the spotlight. If the Labour party has, in recent decades, prided itself on being a broad but unified church, Jeremy Corbyn is surely its pre-Reformation Henry VIII.
Talks of a Labour split have gained momentum ever since the (admittedly rather brave) publication of a YouGov poll which showed Corbyn – the candidate who scraped his way onto the ballot sheet at the nomination stage – to be the clear frontrunner in the bid for the party leadership. While many Labourites would be delighted to have Corbyn as a potential Prime Minister, according to the polls (let’s forget the 2015 Hung Parliament polling debacle for a second), a significant minority would not. Deeming him too left-wing and his policies idealistic to the point of being unworkable, this segment of the party wants to take a different path. Unfortunately for them there are no long, winding paths in party politics, just rooms with adjacent doors marked entry and exit.
History has shown us that deep divisions within established institutions are rarely resolved without a considerable degree of suffering on either side. The aforementioned King Henry VIII broke away from the Catholic Church in Rome to found the independent Church of England following the Pope’s refusal to grant him an annulment so that he could remarry. Centuries later, sectarian conflict resulted in partition of Ireland and years of bloodshed during the Troubles, more recently still, the Presbyterian Church of Scotland has been brought to the brink of collapse in the wake of the Queens Cross case. It is clear from these examples and many others besides that when deep-seated beliefs are called into question, there are never any easy answers.
Even so, the Labour party is not a nation-state, nor is it a religion with adherents. Its supporters, though doubtless devoted, would be unwilling to die to preserve its unity let alone its existence. Thankfully, there is no indication that they will have to. Ultimately, Conservative delight at Labour squabbles has less to do with schadenfreude than an acceptance of the fact that while the Red House remains divided, it is ever more likely to fall.
In seeking a way forward, it would serve the party well to assess its responsibilities to the country as an effective Opposition and credible future government and resist being defined by the outcome of its leadership contest. For true comrades, to unite does not necessarily mean to agree as demonstrated in Romans 14. Using the example of a church divided over how best to interpret the law, Paul reminds them to pick their battles: “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind” (Romans 14:5). After all, the church exists in service to and for the glory of God so it makes little sense for it to obsess and risk splitting over matters which aren’t central to its mission. In the same way the Labour party, which exists to pursue social justice and whose membership card says it “believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone”, would be wise to reflect this truth for the remainder of the leadership campaign and beyond.