Outside the marginals

a commentary on the politics that followed the UK 2010 & 2015 elections

Labour “split the atom” policy

“Renewed Labour” is going through growing pains:

No doubt the UK Conservative party will try and make hay with these developments – but then they tend to go for the “easy” short-term debating-club win rather than look at the strategic picture and the danger these developments could present.

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader is a seismic change – if the membership are able to make it stick. Real change is hard – because you have an “Unreformed Labour” parliamentary party seriously out of step with the membership.

When the leadership of any other organisation changes, there is often restructuring and those who don’t fit in “ship out” either by choosing to go elsewhere or through being made redundant. Labour MPs seem to think that they are different – yet fight hard to say that “their positions” should be protected. They seem to have a veto over the members. And hence we seem the rise of Momentum.

To an extent this situation is new (in the UK) and there is no mechanism for managing this change. Corbyn’s standing for the leadership seems to have electrified many “socialists” to join or rejoin the party and make their wishes felt in that election. If policy and candidates for the next general elections (for Holyrood and for Westminster) do not follow this change there will be significant disenchantment.

Possibly that is what the “refusnik” MPs want:

  • “See off” Momentum and sit tight,
  • “Their” leader’s supporters will be disillusioned and leave the party,
  • Corbyn will be stranded so that he throws in the towel,
  • The MPs will pick up the pieces and re-assemble a Blairite party to put up against the Conservatives at the next Westminster election.

The current Labour MPs think they can probably risk substantial numbers of supporters staying at home.

The assumption behind that belief is that their English seats are safe from an “SNP effect”, where an insurgent party almost obliterates them. But of course the situation where an insurgent party loses a referendum on its key policy position and yet goes on to win a near wipe-out can’t happen again – can it?


The immediate policy split is relatively easily handled – if the Labour Party is serious about granting to the Scottish Party a level of autonomy and does not lose its nerve.

There is an existing model for successfully handling this situation – but Labour may not want to draw attention to it. The model is the German centre-right CDU/CSU “permanent” coalition where the CDU operates across all of Germany except Bavaria, and the CSU operates only in Bavaria.

So we have “CSU” Labour committed to non-renewal of Trident, whilst “CDU” Labour is currently committed to renewal. Does it matter if that is still the situation at the next Westminster election? Either:

  • the Conservatives win (most likely) in which case the question is irrelevant, or,
  • the “CDU/CSU” Labour coalition gains power (with a substantial Conservative opposition). It would then be unthinkable that the Conservatives would put “party before nation” and refuse to support “CDU” Labour in renewing Trident.

In this case Trident policy is the “supporting act”; the main act is still if and how the Corbyn revolution rolls out.

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