A house divided cannot stand. Can all these new groups help Labour win?

Thom Brooks


Over one hundred days has passed since Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party. There are some real achievements to show for it already – not least Labour’s victory on tax credit cuts to working families. This was a welcome holiday treat and not least for everyone that benefited.

But being Her Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition is no fairy tale. It’s often more, well, ‘Grimm’, where the only happy ending is to form a government – and the pathway to power can often become a road to oblivion. No party has the right to govern if only it waits its turn in the queue. Any such opportunity must be won – and there are costs.

We will soon see some significant, long-term consequences decided by this Parliament that we need to be ready for. While both the UK’s population and Cameron’s appointments to the House of Lords continues to rise and rise, the government is committed to cutting 50 of 650 MPs from the House of Commons. That’s a reduction of roughly nine percent. All in the name of making constituencies more ‘fair’ by their catchment areas becoming more equitable in population sizes.

But this isn’t only about redrawing constituency boundaries, but rewriting the political map altogether – and in a way that will favour Tory election victories. The upshot is that Labour will need to up its game should these changes go through. Only can Tories confuse ‘fairness’ with an election system designed to make Labour governments less likely.

The Labour Party’s team in Parliament has done well – perhaps surprisingly well – given its being an Opposition and not in power. A key success story has been Labour’s especially effective front bench team in the House of Lords led by Baroness Angela Smith.

Factionalism has been a problem for the Left for some time. And the media loves to exploit any divisions it can conjure up. First it was the Blairites versus the Brownites. Then attention turned to the Miliband brothers. Now all eyes are on Corbyn’s supporters and their critics.

And now there are the new groups. We have Momentum and most recently Open Labour to join Blue Labour, Labour First, Labour Together and Progress. (These groups only seem to grow in number – and there may well be more at this rate by 2020.) That’s a lot of emails and voices clamouring to be heard.

We hear things about what Labour is really supposed to be about ‘in its DNA’ and so forth that undoubtedly contribute to a healthy debate, but many party members may well get confused on what is Labour’s positions on policies versus what any of these other groups endorse. And the more members and the public become confused, the more difficult success at the ballot box may become over time.

The early poll numbers are in and they need to improve – although we should all now be wary about what they really tell us. But the signs thus far strongly suggest adopting a clearer message – especially on some issues like the economy.

A house divided cannot stand, as Abraham Lincoln once warned. Nor can a fractured political party take on the herculean task of moving from opposition to 10 Downing Street. It’s about more than simply winning votes, but public confidence – it is much easier to say than do.

So let me come out in favour of a different group – the Labour Party. There is much of value in our new and existing groups for reinvigorating our party that makes for a healthy democracy. I think it’s great for people to come together to help plan how we can build a progressive future – it will take all the people power we can muster because the Tories aren’t going to hand over the keys to 10 Downing Street on a plate.

But it is also easy to lose sight of the main prize. I’m not a party member to see a faction or two score well. I’m in this to see a Labour government. If I wanted to only protest but not contribute to governing, then perhaps never joining a party the way to go. But I’m not willing to stand by and let the Tories make Britain less great when so many today need Labour in power.

If our growing number of pro-Labour groups helps us achieve a Labour government, then that’s brilliant. I’m a member of most of these groups and don’t discourage others from doing likewise. We’re all on the same side however sometimes this can be overlooked. But the end game is not the promotion of one group to the detriment of the party – the Labour Party must come first and not only some ideologically pure vision of when it is or is not ‘Labour’, whatever that happens to mean.

This Christmas all I want is to build a foundation for a future Labour victory. Not by taking Labour ‘back’ or backward, but by moving us all forward together. The challenges we face today are different and will continue to evolve. Our strength is in our shared determination to build Labour and our growing membership. It’s time to start planning to create the best government that Britain needs to have.

This isn’t something Old Saint Nick could have left in any stocking last week, but sometimes the best gifts are the ones we forge by our own hands. Rebuilding a Labour Party that can reclaim government is no easy task and we need to keep the debate about how we can collectively achieve this goal without collapsing into a thousand factions.

Thom Brooks is Professor of Law and Government at Durham University, Visiting Fellow at Yale University and Communications Lead for Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson.

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