LOOK at the Labour Party and an old sitcom comes to mind. The one I refer to is the most remembered episode of Steptoe and Son, that Ray Galton and Alan Simpson comedy about a mismatched father and son.
It’s all a long time ago and you don’t see rag-and-bone men nowadays; and the way things are going, Labour risks being as relevant as a horse-and-cart conveying an odd assortment of life’s debris.
You will probably know the episode in question, or you will if you have been around long enough. It is called Divided We Stand. Harold wants to redecorate but cannot agree on a colour scheme with his dirty old man of a father, so they put a partition down the living room and have their own space on either side.
This episode of the classic BBC comedy dates to 1972, almost ancient history, but some of us have memories. Incidentally, the fact that this was shown on the BBC and is now being used as a metaphor here does not indicate that the BBC is an establishment plot against Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Just thought we should clear that one up as his supporters can be touchy about such things.
I am not going to push this parallel too far. And I won’t say who is who. But let’s just say that there does seem to be a partition going up in the Labour Party. It divides those who fervently support Mr Corbyn from the very many Labour MPs who would like to see him gone. And it separates Mr Corbyn from his own deputy, Tom Watson, that once cheery Labour stalwart who now has an air of unaccustomed gloom and seriousness.
In an interview yesterday, Mr Watson expressed his frustrations about his partitioned party with a quote summed up by The Guardian as: “I want to hug him but also shout at him” – rather a nice line from the political sitcom that is the Labour Party at the moment.
He also expressed his puzzlement and exasperation with the way Mr Corbyn runs the Labour Party, and caused a headline or two by suggesting that “the Trots” had come back to the party and were influencing the young supporters of Momentum, the influential faction that lives on Mr Corbyn’s side of the partition.
In the most noted part of the interview, Mr Watson said: “There are some old hands twisting young arms in this process, and I’m under no illusions about what’s going on. They are caucusing and factionalising and putting pressure where they can, and that’s how Trotsky entryists operate. Sooner or later, that always end up in disaster.”
Naturally enough, the Momentum crew shouted from their side of the wall that this was nonsense. And so it goes on. Former leader Ed Miliband quietly added his concerns, without directly criticising Mr Corbyn. And former leadership contender Andy Burnham, who has also been careful with his criticism, delivered a caution or two as well, as he withdrew to concentrate on running for Mayor of Manchester.
At this moment I don’t even wish to get into who is right here. I am not a member of any political party and never have been. But I have almost always voted Labour, apart from a brief flirtation with the Greens. What worries me is that a divided Labour Party cannot succeed in its important role of opposing the government.
And those supporters of Mr Corbyn who sometimes say that they are not concerned about winning the next election, well they don’t seem to understand the point of politics at all. It’s not about standing on one side of the wall and hugging those you agree with: it’s about winning power and being in a position to put your ideas and beliefs into action.
Otherwise Labour risks being as relevant as one of those old rag-and-bone carts. And I honestly don’t wish to see that.
All this internal shouting and scheming leads nowhere. And all the different factions seem to have lost the plot about the task they face if they ever wish to be in power again.
Incidentally, in the episode of Steptoe and Son in question, the pair had a coin-operated turnstile installed to gain access to common areas. When a fire started, the firemen were delayed because they didn’t have any change.
There might be another metaphor for Labour in there somewhere, too.