The Labour party should be experiencing its best time in recent politics with victory very much expected at the next election. Yet it’s not all plain sailing at Labour HQ. Not only does the party still lack a convincing agenda, there is disquiet about the nature of the Starmer leadership, in terms of what it believes in, how it does politics inside the party and how it manages dissent.
Discontent has been bubbling away for a while, with the left accusing the leadership of a plan to oust Corbynistas to create a new loyal Labour party. But now the internal fallout has burst into the open with the potential expulsion of Neal Lawson, head of the centre-left Compass pressure group for the past two decades and party member for 44 years. Lawson has been threatened with expulsion for daring to support greater co-operation with the Lib Dems and the Greens.
From its limited policy agenda, the lack of intellectual engagement to shift the political debate, the narrow group of people it talks to and the veil of defensiveness around the leadership, there is a growing anxiety about the party’s leadership. Combine all this with the unforgiving attitude of party discipline to anyone who deviates from the official Starmer orthodoxy and many Labour activists are getting worried.
Fine, the above behaviour could lead to electoral success — but there is no guarantee the success could continue in office if things don’t change. There are lessons to be learned from the past. Some internal critics are eulogising the New Labour era as one of tolerance within the party, but the more accurate story of the Blair period in government was of the rise of its ‘Stabian (Fabian and Stalinist) tendencies’ which equipped it in opposition to be a vote-winning machine, while proving inadequate in office.