ANALYSIS: If Labour are on course for power, why are they all falling out with each other?

Posted On: 
12th March 2018

An opinion poll by Survation - the company which correctly called the result of last year's election - gave Labour a seven-point lead over the Conservatives.

Are there tensions between Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell?
PA Images

The good news for Jeremy Corbyn and his troops came just a day after the Labour leader had told its Scottish conference: "We are no longer just an opposition, we are a party preparing to go into government."

But if that is truly the case, why is Labour giving the impression of being anything but a place of harmony, united in its determination to evict Theresa May from Downing Street?

EXCL Jennie Formby condemns 'anti-Semitic' attacks on Labour rival Jon Lansman

Debbie Abrahams blasts Corbyn office as she stands aside over bullying claims

Jeremy Corbyn rejects John McDonnell suggestion Labour should boycott Russia Today

Jeremy Corbyn dismisses John McDonnell claim over anti-Semitic posts in Facebook group

Every day seems to bring a fresh row, slapdown or disagreement, and not just along the usual Corbynite/moderate faultlines.

The recent in-fighting can be traced back to last month when Iain McNicol - a hate figure to many for his role in barring thousands from taking part in the 2016 leadership contest - stunned party staff by announcing he was standing down as Labour's general secretary.

Within hours, the race to succeed him was in full swing, with Unite's Jennie Formby quickly emerging as the candidate to beat, not least because she has the backing of Jeremy Corbyn, his closest aides and John McDonnell. It then emerged that Momentum boss Jon Lansman was being encouraged to run against her, prompting one comrade to describe him witheringly as "a white, privileged bloke of a certain age".

Lansman did indeed throw his hat into the ring, claiming he wanted to rip up the old, trade union-endorsed command and control system of party management, and instead give ultimate power to Labour members. This approach won the backing of high-profile left-winger Aaron Bastani, who quickly fell victim to the 21st century equivalent of being dispatched to the gulag: Jeremy Corbyn unfollowed him on Twitter.

For Lansman, his reward for daring to challenge the will of the leader's office was to suffer the opprobrium of numerous keyboard warriors, prompting Formby to hit out at those mounting online anti-Semitic attacks on him. Yesterday, he announced he was no longer running.

A further disturbance in the Force came last week when PolHome revealed that Christine Shawcroft, a Labour NEC member, Momentum bigwig and Lansman supporter, had called for the party to disaffiliate from the trade unions in a Facebook post. Predictably, this led to a furious response from union leaders, Jeremy Corbyn's office, Labour MPs and party members. Bizarrely, it also led to the leader's spokesman claiming that even Shawcroft - who had been forced to delete the offending online message - no longer agreed with herself.


Perhaps most intriguingly, the last few days have even hinted at splits emerging between Corbyn and McDonnell themselves.

It emerged last week that Corbyn had been a member of, and engaged with, the closed Facebook group Palestine Live, which had featured numerous examples of anti-Semitism.

The official party line was that he had left the group shortly after becoming Labour leader, and had never seen any of the offending material himself. What's more, any party members found to have taken part in this behaviour would be punished.

But appearing on Sky News on Friday, the Shadow Chancellor insisted his long-standing colleague had actually left the group after seeing some of the anti-Semitic content it was hosting. In a highly-unusual move, Corbyn's office wasted no time in making it clear that McDonnell was wrong.

Of course, these mistakes can happen. But adding to the suspicion that all is not well at the top of the party, Corbyn's office again moved to distance themselves from McDonnell yesterday when he suggested that Labour MPs should no longer appear on Kremlin-backed TV station Russia Today. This was not party policy, sources in the leader's office insisted, and there was no prospect of a formal boycott.


Adding to the atmosphere of distrust, it emerged last night that Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams had stepped down from her role after allegations of bullying were made against her. Unwilling to go quietly, the MP - who denies the allegations against her - hit back: "I have had no details about the complaint, who it is from, the process or timescales. I have not agreed to stand aside.

"My treatment by certain individuals in the leader's office over the last 10 months has been aggressive, intimidating and wholly unprofessional. My treatment in the last week has shown a bullying culture of the worst kind."

Jeremy Corbyn's office deny her allegations, but Abrahams has won the backing of former Labour frontbencher and now the party's mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham.


In a timely intervention, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott this morning made a plea for party unity in an article for LabourList, which she is guest editing this week, arguing that there is "no alternative" but to get behind Jeremy Corbyn and take on the Tories.

But even this welcome intervention contained a sting in the tail, in the form of an attack on Tony Blair.

"The addition of 3.5 million votes in 2017 was such a huge advance for Labour, for Jeremy and for Corbynism," she wrote. "To put this in context, no Labour leader added so many votes at a general election since Clement Attlee in 1945. Tony Blair certainly didn’t. His gain of 2 million new votes in 1997 was the basis for Labour’s landslide. But he lost 4 million votes over the next two elections. Public spending restraint followed by illegal wars is not electorally popular."

This was a curious argument, suggesting as it did that winning 2001 and 2005 elections was no longer an indicator of electoral popularity.

It is clear that while Labour continues to poll well, it is very far from being a party at ease with itself.

Indeed, at a pub quiz at last weekend's Scottish Labour conference in Dundee - an event traditionally seen as an opportunity for party colleagues to relax and have a laugh - one MP was told that he was "a cancerous Tory".

One long-standing MP summed the situation up in the following terms: "It'll all end in tears, of course. The only question is whose."