Former minister warns of ‘civil war’ in Labour Party

'A bunch of old Trotskyites are not going win political power'

Kim Howells


A former minister under both Tony Blair and Gordon Brown has warned that civil war will break out within the Parliamentary Labour Party following Jeremy Corbyn’s election victory.

The comments by Kim Howells, Labour MP for Pontypridd between 1989 and 2010, come in this evening’s edition of Week In Week Out, due to air on BBC One Wales.

Asked how he would respond to the current leadership, Howells, who ran the NUM Pontypridd office which co-ordinated the South Wales miners’ efforts during the miners’ strike in the eighties, told the programme:

“I’d be bitterly opposed to the current leadership of the Labour Party.

“I’d be saying things that I believe about the need to win political power and a bunch of old Trotskyites are not going win political power.”

Arguing that the party had to “start speaking in a language people can understand and convince the electorate”, he warned:

“There is going to be a civil war inside the parliamentary Labour Party. It’s nothing new, it’s happened in the past,” he added.

“So the party’s got to make its mind up – does it really think it’s going to win again in the future, with Corbyn as the leader? I don’t think so.”

With crucial elections next year to the Welsh Assembly, the MP for Ogmore, Huw Irranca-Davies, who is co-ordinating Labour’s assembly election campaign, has insisted that in Wales the fight back will not become “the Jeremy show”. Instead, he argues that it is First Minister Carwyn Jones who will be “right at the front” of the party’s campaign.

Richard Wyn Jones, professor of Welsh Politics at Cardiff University, will warn also tonight of tensions and difficulties between an opposition Labour Party at Westminster and a governing one in Wales. He will explain:

“Welsh Labour has been running Wales since 1999 and the kinds of pressures that you face when governing are very different from ones the Jeremy Corbyn had to face as, essentially, a campaigning backbench MP. And it’s easy to envisage that leading to real tensions.

“Now this may well all end in tears. However, I think there’s a really interesting phenomenon here and we need to be very careful before we dismiss it.”

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter

42 Responses to “Former minister warns of ‘civil war’ in Labour Party”

  1. glynbeddau

    Of course Kim Howells was a member of the Communist Party before joining Labour becoming an MP and devoted Blarite so he may well hate the Trotskyites from old battels and not just from his new Red-Tory stance.

  2. RuthB

    I’m not “an old Trotskyite” but I am an old socialist fellow-traveller who has been active in the Labour Party longer than Kim Howells has been a member. I retained my belief in socialism throughout 18 years of being a Labour councillor and 13 years working for an MP during the Blair government.

    Brother Howells seems to be suffering from “Westminster syndrome” long after he left Westminster – there may well be “civil war” (whatever that means) within the PLP, though how he would know what the current PLP thinks is beyond me. Even if he were correct, the PLP consists of 232 Labour Party members out of 360,000.

    People like Kim Howells just don’t get it. The days of a few MP’s and Party apparatchiks deciding everything are on their way out. 360,000 members, 90,000 of whom have joined in the last month, are not going be told what to do by the Westminster elite.
    To quote an old poet of our generation: “get out of the way if you can’t lend a hand”, Kim.

  3. Brett Savage

    If there is an overwhelming vote for Corbyn from the membership, then Howells and the like are aggressors in a civil war against the Labour Party

  4. Cole

    The MPs were elected by over 9 million voters on Ed Miliband’s manifesto. There’s no reason why they should be bossed around by a bunch of Corbynistas – many of whom probably didn’t even vote Labour in June.

  5. Cole

    Who doesn’t hate Trots?

  6. RuthB

    What happened in June? I must have missed something!
    Very, very tiny numbers of people vote for their MP personally, which I why I say MP’s are no more important than any other member. You said it yourself – 9m people voted for the *Labour manifesto*.
    The MP’s were chosen to stand on that manifesto by 200,000 members of the Labour Party at the back end of 2014. A much smaller number of people than there are now, and any sitting MP was 99% guaranteed to have a place with no selection process at all.
    That’s what the establishment are afraid of, that they will now be replaced, and that’s why they are so much against Corbyn. By and large – I’m sure some of them must be genuinely concerned and disagree with his policies.

  7. Syzergy_Point

    Luckily, #piggate has given Corbo a bit of breather and a chance – hopefully – to think things through. I didn’t vote for Corbo, but I wish him well. He has activated a new generation. My worry though is that will he really appeal to the ‘Tory-lites’ that were so derided during the leadership campaign. Even though he may be able to get some more non-voters to vote (but this will be even harder under the new boundaries and individual voter registration) he needs to appeal beyond the boundaries of EdM’s Labour vote. (Currently, he’s not even holding on to all of them).

  8. RuthB

    I’ve lost the figures now, but I read somewhere that about 25% of the people who voted, voted Tory so there is scope to win by persuading the other 75% – probably not quite accurate, but something very like those proportions. In my ward, 1500 people voted for UKIP. Some of them, of course, would never vote Labour but I reckon maybe 1000 of them were just disillusioned and looking for a change from the “old” parties. Not to mention SNP voters, who I’m sure would predominantly vote for a left Labour Party.
    What we haven’t got is accurate information and I would like to see the Labour Party putting its new members to work straight away by doing a mass canvass on a marked-up register (i.e. only people that actually voted) to see if they have changed their minds post-Corbyn.

  9. Cole

    That doesn’t sound like a recipe for a united and tolerant Labour Partty. Maybe you just want to get rid of people who don’t like JC and have your own ideologically pure sect.

  10. Riversideboy

    Pontypridd Labour members can give him some civil war by kicking him out next time selections come around. He’s just another democracy denier, do as you are told you idiot or sod off to the Liberals and stop thinking your opinion trumps 60 percent of the Party members.

  11. RuthB

    Yes but you can only do that if we take the rules back to the way they were before Blair. At present it’s next door to impossible to change your MP, however bad s/he may be or however little they represent their local party’s views. It’s tedious and boring and bureaucratic, but it has to be done.

  12. Riversideboy

    Ruth they do not have to give him their support to stand next time. That happens a year or so before the selections in a vote of members ratifying they want him to stand again or open up the panel to others.

  13. RuthB

    Well, if you think it’s do-able, fair enough. But I don’t think it’s members, it’s organisations. I thought it was very difficult to get the required number of affiliated organisations to trigger a ballot. In the old days there was just a ballot, you didn’t have to trigger anything. You just had a selection procedure like you do for local councillors: they get nominated, you draw up a shortlist, you have a selection meeting. If the person’s doing OK, you have a shortlist of one (and I’m proud to say I was selected on a shortlist of one several times!). If not, you have a choice of people. There is a proposal to change the rules, I know.

  14. Syzergy_Point

    Maybe, maybe. But to be honest, I just don’t buy it. I’d like to believe you, but my feeling from people I’m in touch with (from quite a range of different political persuasions) is that they’re currently less likely to vote Labour than in 2010. But, I hope I’m wrong.

  15. robertcp

    If Howells is worried about a civil war, he is not exactly helping matters. Describing the elected leader of the Labour Party as a Trotskyite is just amazingly stupid.

  16. robertcp

    Labour MPs need to respect the verdict of Labour members.

  17. robertcp


  18. WhiteVanMan

    It’s alright saying get out of the way,but when the left lead labour to its worse ever defeat in 1983, did they accept the right of the party,trying to being us back to power again
    ,no they blamed everyone else,including the electoarate for not voting for us,saying it wasn’t left wing enough

  19. WhiteVanMan

    Looking for. A change for old parties,doesn’t time an they would want a far left alternative

  20. WhiteVanMan

    No they hate each other more than anyone,else,depending on which clique

  21. WhiteVanMan

    Unite maybe able to oust current Mps who you think aren’t left wing enough, or try bringing back militant?, but the Labour Party rules on such things would need to be re written to have trot deselections like in 1981

  22. WhiteVanMan

    Yes but several members have left,and.. Many have joined aren’t interested in deselecting current MPs

  23. Tony

    Howells was a foreign office minister and opposed a UN resolution on the de-alerting of nuclear missiles. De-alerting of nuclear missiles reduces the risk of accidental nuclear war and is advocated by the likes of Henry Kissinger and George Shultz. Shamefully, the Labour government joined with the Bush administration to oppose this. Before becoming president, Bush had expressed some sympathy for the idea.
    This is probably the most shameful piece of behaviour by Howells but I accept that there is much to choose from.

  24. RuthB

    I don’t want to deselect my MP – he wasn’t my first choice, but he won the selection contest so I worked for him in the election. Since becoming an MP, he has called for an enquiry into Orgreave, he’s asked about maths and science apprenticeships, he voted against cuts to social security benefits, he nominated Jeremy Corbyn – what’s not to like?
    But if I wasn’t happy with him, under the current rules that’s tough, it would be very difficult to prevent him being the candidate in 2020. That’s as I understand it – but Riversideboy thinks it would be possible, so maybe he’s right.
    Why are you so bothered about MP’s having a job for life? Why does it worry you so much that they might be sacked like anybody else? What’s wrong with having a normal selection procedure? Or do you think Councillors should have a job for life as well? Is it just any elected representative? Parish councillors? Police and Crime Commissioners? I can’t work out what your problem is…

  25. Lamia

    People like Kim Howells just don’t get it. The days of a few MP’s and
    Party apparatchiks deciding everything are on their way out. 360,000
    members, 90,000 of whom have joined in the last month, are not going be
    told what to do by the Westminster elite.

    I’m afraid it’s you who don’t get it, Ruth. Howells sees what polls have already confirmed, but which Corbynistas are refusing to face: namely that while Corbyn is very popular within the Labour party, he’s not going to win over the wider public. He’s just managed to become the first ever Labour leader to start with a negative public rating. It is the tens of millions of voters who are not, on current showing, going to listen to 250,000 delusional Corbynites, who really matter.

    Labour are on course to lose the next GE by an even wider margin than the last one. How exactly does that fit in with your plan of Corbyn winning it?

  26. WhiteVanMan

    Didn’t Kim Howells admit in 2004 that n hearing that miners had killed Taxi driver David Wilkie in the strike he’d gone back to his office shredded evidence that he’d sent them to that bridge,of course he wasn’t to know what they did,but he was arrested for attempting to pervert the course of justice,maybe sir should be an inquiry into him,like oRgreave, as for not having jobs for life, Scargill was happy to have. A job for life as NUM boss it was trade unions fighting to keep jobs for life at the dockers,strike too.

  27. RuthB

    Labour aren’t going to win the next GE whoever’s the leader, if they get the boundary changes through (and there’s no reason to think they won’t). Sadly, I may never live to see another Labour government.
    But be that as it may, we don’t have any concrete evidence either way as to whether people generally support Corbyn or not. We’ll see at the next elections – I can’t remember what they are – is it the PCC elections?
    I can’t understand two things, though – firstly, as the more moderate Labour policies have lost us two GE’s so far, why would you think a continuation of those policies would be any more successful now? and secondly, what is the point of having a Labour government if it pursues the same policies as the Tories?

  28. Lamia

    I can’t understand two things, though – firstly, as the more moderate Labour policies have lost us two GE’s so far, why would you think a continuation of those policies would be any more successful now?

    I don’t believe that “more moderate Labour policies” lost Labour the past two GEs. Realistically, the 2010 election was lost for a variety of reasons, including a wide public feeling that they had lost the plot and made some big mistakes.

    One can argue about the justice of that charge, but it is a fact that from time to time the electorate tends to ditch governments that have been in for a long time – it happened to the Tories in 1997 – and give the other side a go. Also, catastrophes aside, I think there is now a feeling after the long period of Tory rule and a long period of Labour rule that the government of the day probably deserves two cracks of the whip. Not everyone thinks that, of course, but there is a section of floating voters who seem to think that. So I suspect that counted against Labour even at the last GE.

    On top of that, Ed Miliband just never quite clicked with the wider public. I don’t think it had so much to do with the policies on offer – you consider them moderate and I would broadly agree, but of course there were many who thought them too left wing. Now whether those people were objectively right or not, it’s objectively more true to say that that perception counted more against Miliband than the (supposed) perception that people went over to UKIP and even the Tories because they didn’t think Labour was left wing enough.

    Labour could possibly have won the last election with a much stronger/more convincing leader than Ed Miliband, and I think the actual policies would have been a lesser matter.

    I don’t believe the Tories got in this time on the appeal of their policies so much as the perception that Cameron would on the whole make a better (or if you prefer, less bad) prime minister than Ed Miliband.

    I have noticed that when this kind of point is made, the response of a lot of Corbynistas misses the point completely: they angrily protest that of course Ed Miliband would have made a better prime minister, and the Tories are dreadful etcetera. But what they have failed to do is to persuade the broad public. It hasn’t helped that a lot of the reaction after the GE was to fume that the wider public are just selfish/stupid/evil Tories. Well, again that may or may not be the case but it sure as hell is not the attitude needed in a party that would like the public to elect it again. The Tories went into a ‘the public just weren’t listening properly to our message’ bubble and it kept them out of power for years. Many Labour supporters are being much more open in their contempt – in some cases outright hatred – for the electorate than those Tories were. It is suicidally stupid and arrogant. Telling someone they are hideously ugly and nasty… and then expecting them to go out with you, is not a clever approach.

    and secondly, what is the point of having a Labour government if it pursues the same policies as the Tories?

    Milibands policies were not just the same as the Tories’. Nor were Brown’s, nor Blair’s. They may not have been your ideal of Labour policies but they were not the same. It is deluded self-comforting purism to imagine that people chose the Tories because they really wanted to vote Labour but just considered Labour to be just fake Tories. It just does not stand up.

    The advice I would give – which Labour activists will ignore or angrily dismiss – is this: first get out of the mindset that:

    1. you have a right to be in power and wwre somehow cheated

    2. that the general public is dep down crying out for a left wing government and has either become stupid or brainwashed or deceived (by the media of course; they don’t actually live in the country and experience the effects, good or bad, of government.

    What the public wants is good government, and it a large section of it will accept a Labour or a Tory government depending on how they measure its competence and sanity compared to the opposition. If you can persuade them that you’ve actually listened, then you may get there, and in office parties have more freedom to develop and extend their vision.

    But to be really convincing would probably entail genuinely pausing to reflect on whether maybe for various reasons Labour just didn’t deserve to be in government, and that these reasons may not have been – or at least not all have been – connected to Labour not being left wing enough. i.e. maybe admit you cocked some things up – and apologise for them and show you have learned your lesson. You have to earn that trust again.

    I don’t think Labour is capable of that for a few years yet – too many of its members are too proud and delusional to think they have the slightest thing to apologise for you. And so you will lose the next GE and possibly the one after that. You don’t have to, but the way you are going, you will.

    PS, for what it’s worth, I’m sure you will see another Labour government in your lifetime, Ruth. The time will come when the Tories seem utterly incompetent to the public and Labour looks a much safer pair of hands. And so on.

  29. robertcp

    Lol! They even hate each other!

  30. RuthB

    We must agree to differ. As I said earlier, there is no evidence as to what the public think until the next set of elections. But it is nice to have a reasoned response from you rather than gloating about the deaths of “Islamists” and British soldiers as you have done elsewhere.

  31. Lamia

    I have never gloated about the deaths of British soldiers. On the contrary, I have expressed nothing but contempt for those – mostly on the left – who do so.

    As for Islamists, they don’t need to be in quote marks. People who advocate that LGBT people such as myself and Jews be murdered, that non-Muslims be persecuted and enslaved, that women be covered up and treated as second class citizens, etcetera… of course I am pleased whenever they are killed.

    And if Labour wants a shred of hope of getting back into power, it needs to learn that consorting with and excusing such evil creatures, and even calling them friends, as Corbyn and a number of his Labour colleagues has done, is not the way to go about things. It’s not just tactically stupid, it’s also extremely morally wrong. But again, that’s something that Corbyn’s fanclub are not currently intellectually equipped to understand.

  32. Lamia

    The ‘rightly’ refers to ‘rightly aiding’ the US, not to ‘rightly dying’, and that is perfectly obvious from both the word order and the context. That is a really disgusting smear.

  33. I am Bob

    MPs need to respect the verdict of their constituents.

  34. I am Bob

    Ordinary voters were just given the chance to vote for the Labour manifesto and the MPs personally.
    Who knows what combination decided their vote.

    But the idea that an internal process inside the party gives a “mandate” to simply assume that these voters don’t matter is staggering.

    Just change the manifesto and the MP they voted for – Corbyn knows better.

    Here’s the thing Very, very tiny numbers of people who voted Labour in the last had even heard of Corbyn let alone voted for his policy positions.

  35. mightymark

    Might I just say that this is one of the best btl pieces I have read on a blog site in years.

  36. WhiteVanMan

    The civil war will be if labour start losing hundreds of councillors, by the public voting in national issues,and the hard left refusing to accept it’ll be their fault,

  37. WhiteVanMan

    The 33% of those who didn’t vote aren’t going to vote labour, the sat time the turnout was 10% than 2015 was 1992′ when the Tories win, and of those who didn’t vote Tory 12.9% voted Ukip, 5% DUP, Ukip, and 7.8% LibDems who are all well to the right of labour,

  38. Lamia

    Thank you very much. It was possibly quite pointless posting it on here in 2015, though.

  39. robertcp

    They need to do both as it happens.

  40. Brett Savage

    That’s nonsense. I suggested no purge. – just a coming together of the party who’s leader was selected by a huge majority. It speaks volumes about your views though

  41. Brett Savage

    But that hasn’t happened. Labour have been steadily deflating for the last ten years. The party has swelled in numbers since JC suggesting that at least some will be returning. You’re argument is completely baseless

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