Demonstrations of Labour party disunity are ten-a-penny these days. But even so, last night’s Trident debate was still something to behold: 140 Labour MPs went against Jeremy Corbyn to back Trident renewal. Yet it wasn’t numbers but the words Labour MPs said which will have damaged Corbyn the most. Scores of backbenchers accused Corbyn of going against the party’s own manifesto policy on the vote. In one of the most damning speeches, John Woodcock said:
‘What Labour’s current front bench are doing is not principled. It shows contempt for the public, for party members and often in what they say for the truth.’
He went on to say the Trident vote showed ‘how far this once great party has fallen’. So what can Labour do now? Hilary Benn did his best to be diplomatic about Corbyn on his Today interview just now, but he was also clear that Trident renewal was the official position of the Labour party. He said:
‘No one for a second thought Jeremy would stand up and do anything other than express his long-held view but it’s not the view of the Labour party. The Labour party’s view has been that we need to maintain the deterrent, because Britain giving it up would not persuade any of the other nuclear states in the world to follow our example.’
Of course, whether this is Labour policy or not matters little whilst the party’s leader is preaching the opposite from the dispatch box. But what those opposing Corbyn will be hoping is that the Trident vote can serve as a painful symbol for just how far the party has drifted from what it was. MPs like Benn and Woodcock are trying to reach out to Labour members to persuade them that Labour and Corbyn are increasingly two different things and that the Labour leader doesn’t represent the party, its MPs, its members or its policy.