First published on Times Redbox
Politics is often guilty of ramping up the rhetoric beyond reality. But not this time. The existential crisis, for that’s what it is, that now grips Labour can only be solved by the parliamentary party showing a level of unity and purpose that is proportionate to the scale of the challenge.
Let’s take a step back and see how we’ve got here. Jeremy Corbyn had never enjoyed the genuine support of more than a couple of dozen of his fellow members of parliament.
The rest who ensured he was on the ballot paper last summer have already expressed buyer’s remorse, if not all as bluntly as Margaret Beckett.
But despite that, the reality is that the vast majority of the PLP respected the members’ decision and supported Jeremy Corbyn since his election. A whole range of opinions chose to serve and there was a determination to “make it work.”
But the breakdown of relations between the Leader’s office and MPs started early on. Rather than kicking-off 2016 with the fight of our lives to ensure Britain remained in the European Union, the newspapers were filled with talk of a revenge reshuffle.
And let’s look at one of the consequences of that reshuffle: the dumping of the clearly experienced and qualified Pat McFadden as our Europe spokesman for reasons that still cannot be explained.
MPs of all backgrounds had been determined to make things work. And there was a coalition willing to serve that could have worked if the Leader’s office had shown the leadership to do so.
The levels of paranoia and suspicion, not just of colleagues and party staff was brutally exposed in the Vice documentary.
The lacklustre leader’s office campaign to stay in the EU and dire result may have kicked people into action, but in reality the parliamentary party knew that the situation had become untenable.
That’s why the departure of 63 frontbenchers and even shadow cabinet members who accepted a promotion – Pat Glass and Fabian Hamilton become the shortest serving frontbenchers ever – were so significant.
It was MPs – from all wings – recognising their own individual leadership responsibility to do what they could to save the Labour party from inevitable defeat at the next election.
The PLP rowed in behind with a no confidence vote that would have caused any previous leader to fall on their sword.
The trade unions and Fabian Society founded Labour as the parliamentary route to change. That means winning elections and leading your MPs to deliver change in government.
To think that you can lead a parliamentary party without the support of your MPs is bizarre. Andrea Leadsom thought 25 per cent was not enough to be legitimate.
Since the National Executive Committee removed the need for a leader to be able to get just 20 percent – just one in five – of their parliamentary colleagues supporting them has made this situation even more untenable.
So that now puts a special responsibility on the parliamentary party to resolve this situation. This is not about one faction or one group. This is about the PLP has a whole coming together to unite behind one candidate, whoever that is.
Labour MPs need to get together, hold a hustings, have the debate, whatever process they want.
To have Corbyn and one other candidate in the race gives a clear choice between effective opposition with the possibility of government or the pressure group strategy with no chance of power.
To have three candidates – Corbyn plus two soft Left candidates – is about politics. That sort of self indulgence, whether personal or political, is a luxury we cannot afford.
This is indeed a time of crisis. The PLP are the ones who started this process because they had lost confidence in Jeremy Corbyn.
The PLP must now agree on who they do have confidence in and do it by 5pm tonight. Any later and the MPs who have the best relationship with Labour supporters will be lost to coffees in Portcullis House when they should be signing up Registered Supporters. The MPs have one chance at this. They must get it right.
Richard Angell is director of Progress