Jamie Reed: "I’ll never stand on a manifesto which doesn’t support Trident renewal"
With his party already in civil war, Jamie Reed tells James Millar why a free vote in Monday’s ballot on the future of Trident would be a ‘self-inflicted’ and ‘deeply damaging wound’ to Labour’s future prospects.
Anyone who thought that Labour’s current woes couldn’t get any more tortuous may need to think again. There’s the small matter of a vote on renewing Trident next week which will bring on another internal party breakdown.
And the current leadership election will likely trigger only more civil war for a party that seems to currently thrive on uncertainty and ambiguity.
While the Tories found a new prime minister within a week of the first vote in their leadership election, Labour bigwigs spent hours pondering their own rules on who the members can and will actually have to choose between.
Jamie Reed, MP for Copeland, is clear. “Jeremy Corbyn cannot lead the Parliamentary Labour Party, that’s entirely unambiguous.
“There is a responsibility upon the leader of the Labour party to lead the party in parliament and command the confidence of Labour MPs. And Jeremy has, to be fair, never been able to do that.”
However, Reed concedes that Corbyn is likely to emerge victorious again at the end of the current leadership challenge.
“It would seem more likely that not that he’ll win again” he admits. “It’s the worst possible outcome for the Labour party if he does. I can’t see any circumstance in which people would say let’s give him another go, let’s go back into the shadow cabinet.”
And so the party will plunge further into confusion with Reed foreseeing more leadership challenges in the months and years to come and a messy outcome should Corbyn survive.
He rules out any formal split. “I don’t think threatening to split the Labour party is in any way wise,” he warns. “I’m certain that the Labour party won’t split.
“I think we’ve learned our lesson of the 1980s. Too much store is put in the creation of the SDP in the rise of Thatcherism. I actually think it was the trade union movement and the Labour movement generally and its failure to understand what was happening in society at that time that created Thatcherism.
“Nonetheless the lesson about breaking the progressive vote has been learned and there’s no need to do that.”
But if Corbyn should survive to fight a general election he predicts a split in all but name.
“If Jeremy wins a leadership contest again, if I’m selected to be a candidate at the 2020 election or whenever that election comes, I find it hard to see how people like me would stand on Jeremy’s manifesto.
“So I can clearly see a situation where you have Labour candidates going for election under a Labour banner but not going for election beneath Jeremy Corbyn’s manifesto.
“I point to Trident specifically on that. I’ll never stand on a manifesto which doesn’t support the retention and renewal of Trident.”
It was Corbyn’s stance on nuclear weapons that triggered Reed’s rapid resignation from the Labour front bench team last year.
While Labour MPs who’ve quit under Corbyn are ten-a-penny in Westminster these days Reed has the unique distinction of having been the first. Literally just seconds after Corbyn won last year’s contest Reed published a letter announcing he couldn’t serve under the new leadership.
He explained: “I knew Jeremy was going to win and I knew I had to distance myself from his project as soon as I could to let my constituents know why I was in politics, to remind them who I was in politics for and to remind them what I stand for.
“In all things and all times I want to be straight with the people I’m in politics to serve and I know that sounds pious and I know that sounds high-minded but it’s the truth and I’ve always placed the interests of my constituents above the conveniences of the Labour leadership and I always will.”
With a big vote on renewing the Trident nuclear deterrent due on Monday the party will once again go into meltdown. Reed’s Copeland seat includes the Sellafield nuclear site and many of his constituents have jobs connected to the nearby Barrow-in-Furness nuclear submarine yard.
With Corbyn a lifelong CND member, but the party still officially backing Trident renewal, Reed explains: “We have the prospect right now of a leader of the Labour party voting against his own party’s policy in a matter of national security, that’s uncharted territory.”
Labour MPs could be offered a free vote as they were over Syria.
“I think if we have a free vote then that is a self-inflicted incredibly deeply damaging wound,” says Reed.
“If you look at the internal research and polling which suggest Labour could lose up to three million of the people that voted for us at the last general election, that same research shows that one of their principal concerns is security and the nuclear deterrent and the party’s attitude towards it – to know that and to knowingly go and worsen the perception of the party in the eyes of the voting public will precipitate a response which will not help the Labour party not just for this election but the for general election after that and for who knows how many elections after that.
“This vote will have serious implications for the Labour party for some years to come.”
Reed’s been described as one of Corbyn’s harshest critics and he’s had some high profile tangle with Corbynistas on social media.
He claims he doesn’t spend that long on the likes of Twitter but he adds: “Social media is the front line. That’s where the argument is had, that’s where the Corbyn movement took flight, that’s the appropriate place to carry on having the debate.”
Despite his distaste for the current leader Reed insists there’s no animosity between the two men. “I think his leadership poses the biggest single threat to the future existence of the Labour party far more than any other factor, but it’s not personal.
“I think the litmus test for so much of this is that because I believe the Labour party is a broad church I would always consider people like Jeremy and his supporters to be in a party that I’m a member of the difference is that they would never see me as being in a party that they would want to be members of.”
It’s foolish to try predict the next turn in politics but for Labour at least the future is very clear – it’s going to be messy.