openDemocracyUK

Labour MPs putting internal politics ahead of international politics at a time like this is a disgrace

Half the shadow cabinet has resigned in the middle of the biggest national crisis in decades, abdicating national leadership just when it was needed.

Adam Ramsay
Adam Ramsay
26 June 2016
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Hilary Benn arriving home. Daniel Leal-Olivas / PA images. All rights reserved.Migrants are frightened. The prime minister has resigned. The Chancellor is in hiding. The pound has collapsed. The UK is literally falling apart. Britain’s international allies are struggling to come to terms with what has happened. This is the biggest national crisis since perhaps Suez, and maybe world war two.

In this context many Labour MPs, including the half of the shadow cabinet which has resigned, seem to think that the number one priority for the constituents they are supposed to represent is not to reassure worried migrants, reach out to the world, provide a clear path forward, or calmly reassure, but rather to focus on their own internal leadership problems. 

I don’t care what you think about Jeremy Corbyn. This inability among key MPs to see beyond the corridors of Westminster at a time when we need international scale visionaries renders their party unelectable. Until Labour’s shadow cabinet can put the problems of the country and the world ahead of their leadership questions, they have no right to govern.

Hilary Benn, in particular, has stepped aside from history just when he was needed. As shadow foreign secretary, it was his role to speak for the opposition to the world; to show that our country is more than divided Tories and bigoted UKIPers; to describe a path forward and gently herd the country down it, and to bring people together at a time when the governing party is missing in action. What did he do instead? He was plotting against his own party leader.  

I’ve never taken a wholly uncritical stance towards Jeremy Corbyn. His politics are much closer to mine than any other Labour leader in my lifetime and I think the party needed a break with its past. But I also recognise that he probably never really wanted to be leader, never mind prime minister. And he probably isn’t the best person to take them into the next election. On the other hand, neither are those who are putting the boot in. It’s not clear who is.

But more importantly, Labour’s problem in the referendum was that, for the start of the campaign at least, they felt like they had stood aside from history. Rather than finding a voice in which to address the country, they seemed to many to have decided that a major question for the future of the nation and our continent was really just a squabble between two factions of the Tory party and was best ignored. If the strategy was ‘let the Tories destroy themselves and step into the vacuum’, then the reality is that, without clear momentum, Labour too has been sucked into the vortex.

Corbyn probably is at least in part to blame for that error. But the worst possible thing to do in this context is to use it once more for internal party battles; to treat a vast and all-consuming national crisis as an opportunity to sort out some perceived problems in your own political party. Not now. Not this weekend.

The UK faces unprecedented challenges which are global in scale. The governing party has cut itself adrift. And the leader of the opposition has had to sack a shadow foreign secretary who was more concerned with internal games than international politics. What a dire state of affairs.

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