With their crackdown on party democracy, Labour’s reformers have become entrenched

If members cannot sit in the same room with each other without resorting to violence then the party is finished anyway

Image: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

As the opposing sides in the Labour Leadership battle settle down into an increasingly hostile verbal face off,  a brick through the window of Angela Eagle’s Wallasey constituency office has only increased the tension once more.

The fury of the response it’s triggered suggests that at this rate we’ll surely reach JEZCON1 on the finger-pointing escalation scale long before the leadership campaign ends in around 10 weeks time.

Though Jeremy Corbyn condemned all acts of violence and threats and called on members and supporters to ‘act with calm and treat each other with respect’, the next day his critics insisted that wasn’t enough.

Angela Eagle said he needed to get control of his supporters to make it stop. The implication isn’t just that Corbyn’s supporters are responsible, but that to be able to control them he must have knowledge or a way of finding out who has committed these crimes.

Ben Bradshaw went further, not even bothering with implications but directly accusing the people around Corbyn of controlling the ‘Momentum thugs he seemed sure were the culprits.

Of course Corbyn’s opponents are suffering abuse. Where the people responsible can be identified, perhaps by tracing the sender of a tweet for instance, they should be considered for expulsion from the party and criminal charges where it’s appropriate.

John McDonnell, Corbyn’s Shadow Chancellor was unwise to comment ‘as plotters, they were fucking useless about his fellow MPs. Not because he’s wrong but because it’s premature triumphalism, and mostly because his tone coarsens the level of the debate.

We certainly do need calming words from both sides right now.

Having said that, Corbyn’s statement mentioned he too has received death threats. The question arises, why if he is responsible for his supporters are Eagle et al not responsible for theirs?

There was no sense that Eagle felt she had to get control of her supporters and stop whatever excesses they were involved in. It’s clear Corbyn is expected to satisfy a more stringent standard of behaviour than the self-styled moderates are prepared to apply to themselves.

Similarly in the previous insistence he should resign because of his defeat in the PLP vote of no confidence, I don’t expect any of his opponents will feel duty-bound to resign their seats if their CLP pass a vote of no confidence in them either.

This last point has become a hypothetical one in the last couple of days. The NEC have of course now suspended CLP meetings until the campaign is over, ostensibly to ensure the safety of all concerned. I suspect there’s more to it.

For all the evident bad blood, if members cannot sit in the same room with each other without resorting to violence then the party is finished anyway.

It does have the happy side effect for some of guaranteeing none of the CLPs can vote no confidence in their MP.

The decision was taken in an NEC session which contained another vote Robert Peston compared to  ‘gerrymandering‘ by Corbyn’s opponents. That vote was not on the agenda and was taken after Corbyn and a couple of his supporters had left, resulting in party members who had joined in the last six months being ineligible to vote in the leadership election.

This is a clue to the attitudes of those insisting on the removal of Corbyn. It’s striking that those supporting the challenger MPs don’t view Corbyn supporters as real Labour at all.

New members, registered supporters and affiliates are commonly regarded as entryists, probably not acting in the interests of the party. Therefore it’s a good thing to exclude them from the vote.

Their enthusiasm and drive isn’t viewed as an opportunity to energise the party but as a threat, to be feared. Perhaps they may change the party’s focus, they might change its outlook.

Change is to be feared too, despite the increasingly thinner electoral gruel in recent years from sticking to the same old playbook, and here is the nub of it. This is about ownership.

Labour belongs to these people personally and more generally to the views they hold and policies they espouse. Their objection is that only they hold the route to victory. No other way can succeed.

Their old truths are unchangeable, even in a world changing so fast it’s currently impossible to predict what will happen even from one day to the next.

The modernisers have become the ones stuck in the past. The reformers have become entrenched.

Mark Brophy is a writer and blogger who lives in Newcastle upon Tyne

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