The Labour Party currently appears to be in the process of tearing itself apart, with the left-wing leader Jeremy Corbyn being challenged by a more right-wing candidate in the form of Owen Smith. This battle is the culmination of a year of conflict in the Labour Party, caused by a huge split between the party’s grass-roots membership (who overwhelmingly voted for Jeremy Corbyn) and the Labour MP’s in parliament (many of whom are veterans of Tony Blair’s days as leader and want to pursue a more right-wing pro-business agenda).
Now, there are genuine concerns about the competence of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and his capability of leading the Labour Party to victory in a General Election. However that is a relatively minor part of the debate, which is essentially about the future direction of the Labour Party, and whether it should be a Left Wing (Socialist) Party or some sort of Centrist Party.
The problem the Labour Party has is that if it swings right it will continue losing support from its core vote, as ordinary working people become ever-more disillusioned with the pro-business policies from which they see no benefit. (It has already been devastated by the SNP in Scotland, and similar things are likely to happen to it in England from the twin threats of UKIP and the Green Party). However if it goes left, then it will never be able to persuade Tory swing-voters to support it, meaning it will never get enough seats to form a majority in parliament, and we face the prospect of never-ending Tory governments. The Labour Party is undoubtedly in deep trouble.
It is very easy to see this as a Labour Party problem, and its enemies are no doubt enjoying the drama immensely. However the crucial point here is that it’s not the Labour Party’s fault all this is happening, but the fault of our ridiculous First-Past-the-Post system of voting. The current way of running our electoral system means that only two parties can ever win a General Election – Labour or the Tories. But the ever-increasing inequality of our Capitalist system, means that there is now a real need for at least three (and maybe more) political parties to have a chance of getting into power. We need a right-wing pro-business party (obviously the Tories), some sort of centrist Party, and a left-wing Socialist Party. However because the current system means only one party can ever realistically challenge the Tories, the Centrists and the Socialists are fighting over the heart and soul of the only other party which can possibly win power – Labour. This situation simply should not be happening. It should be possible for the Labour Party to split, and for both opposing factions to champion their own policies, fight an honest election, and for both to have a realistic chance of getting into government.
If we look across Europe in recent years, many new parties have appeared, and in a very short space of time have risen to positions of great prominence (eg Syriza in Greece, Five Star in Italy, and Podemos in Spain). However in all those countries they have Proportional Representation, which means that new parties, even if they don’t get majority support, can still get enough votes, and seats, to have influence in parliament. In this country our stupid voting system crushes new parties (look at UKIP, which in the last election got nearly 13% of the vote but only 0.2% of the seats), meaning that the same two old-guard are always the ones left slogging it out. And that is the reason the Centrists and the Leftists are battling within the Labour Party – because they, through no fault of their own, are being forced to co-exist within the same party even though their policies are now poles apart. Our First-Past-the-Post constituency system is causing this, and is a complete travesty which can in no way be called democracy. The problems in the Labour Party are simply the symptom of this much wider problem, which will only be solved when we finally get Proportional Representation. Until that happens we do not have a proper democracy, and the people of this country are being seriously sold short.