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  • Published in Opinion
Pro-Corbyn protesters in Westminster, June 2016. Photo: Flickr/ Jim Aindow

Pro-Corbyn protesters in Westminster, June 2016. Photo: Flickr/ Jim Aindow

The appeal of Labour's 'broad church' must be taken on and called out for what it is, argues Brian Heron

The bitterness apparent among many Labour's MPs at the Labour Party's national conference is accompanied by constant references to the need for the Labour Party to be a 'broad church' - if it hopes to win enough voters to form a government. Labour's conference has been lectured on this matter, most recently by the 'ever so 'umble' Sadiq Khan, who has managed to forget the huge numbers of Corbyn supporters who battled for his Mayoral victory in London. After his success, Sadiq Khan then supported Owen, Corbyn's opponent in the Labour leadership contest, who failed dismally to conquer the broadest church of members that the Labour Party has ever assembled. For the ex Blairite, frustrated and angry Labour MPs, who think they have lost their birthright, Labour's expansion into the largest party in Western Europe is, for them, part of the reason that they have less and less of a 'broad church' appeal across the nation!

Of course at the height of his pomp Blair et al had anything but a 'broad church' approach to either the Labour Party he led, or to the country. His most important act (the one that ended up killing half a million people and provoking a new wave of war across the Middle East) was based on a small cabal of ministers and civil servants that thought the American connection was more important than the truth, than human life, than the huge opposition, leading to the biggest demonstration in Britain that there has ever been, and certainly more important than the future of the petty Labour Party, which has subsequently failed to recover its base in society.

The Corbyn leadership on the other hand has taken the first step towards a renewal of left politics in Britain by bringing together the largest number of politically active people who want radical change since 1984 and the great Miners Strike. This is already a 'broad church' (although taken together with the Peoples Assembly, the initiatives to defend refugees and the many industrial actions and campaigns now bubbling away, the term 'church' might be more accurately be replaced by 'movement.')

But right wing Labour MPs regard Corbyn's' and the wider movements' efforts as a barrier to the 'broad church' they hanker after. Their 'broad church' is one that embraces the class enemy. In practise it is a very narrow affair indeed. 24% of the electorate will do. Parliament's business should be narrowed down to those issues that line up with the City of London and the multinationals' interests, or dealt with elsewhere. Labour MPs should largely follow a national consensus, created by leading financiers and industrialists and the media they own, as with the 'need' for austerity since 2008, the 'need' for Trident, and the 'need' to involve private interests in public services etc. This consensus, with spats on the margins, has been the application of the 'broad church' policy by Labour (with a few honourable exceptions) since 1997.

The battle inside the Labour Party today is a class battle. It will not go away or be peacefully reconciled. One or other side will win. If the right wing Labour MPs win, it will be at the cost of the Labour Party itself. Because the Labour Party, long before Corbyn won his leadership victory, had already seen the sliding away of its social base, in Scotland, towards UKIP and now with the Constituency boundary changes. The Party itself was emptying fast. Corbyn's leadership therefore emerged because the traditional Labour Party was facing extinction.

Corbyn's battle to build up Labour again and remove the domination of Labour's right wing, is nothing less that a key lynch stone in the construction of a new consensus, a new class consensus that faces up to and then challenges the existing political and economic consensus. Regrouping and then gathering those who have suffered most in the tempests of an economic and political system that works for fewer and fewer people, is only to make clear the deep divisions long hidden (for reasons of ego, greed, stupidity or malice) by the 'broad churchers'.

Building up a broad movement of all those prepared to fight the status quo will involve meeting face to face with the fear of immigrants, or of Russia's military intentions, or of the threat of international terrorism, as millions are endlessly told no other story. But moving millions, starts with hundreds of thousands standing together with all those in society who have been left to rot. It is nothing less than the task of constructing a new consensus, based on the lives and experiences of millions, to counter the 'broad church' so loved by Labour's uncomfortable right wing MPs.

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