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Monday, January 11, 2016 

The intrinsic irony of Labour's infighting.

There are a whole number of ways someone could respond to the resignation of shadow attorney general Catharine McKinnell.  You could for instance just say "sorry, who?" and leave it at that.  Kevan Jones is practically a household name in comparison to McKinnell.  Alternatively, you could cluck, point out that Corbyn's critics seem incapable of so much as synchronising their resignations, remark about piss-ups and breweries, and note how bad as Corbyn and his team are, the organisational skills of his deeply concerned and dignified opponents turn out to be worse.  Then there's a third way: giggling at the incongruous nature of McKinnell's resignation letter, where she records her distress at "the direction and internal conflict" within the party and her fears about the "increasingly negative path" it appears to be taken.  By resigning she obviously isn't adding to either of these problems, and is returning to the backbenches purely out of concern for her constituents.

In truth it's getting rather tiresome.  Had all those who've now resigned done so en masse, it might have had more impact, but doing so separately has also ensured there is not the slightest possibility the media will focus on anything else.  Admittedly, this has not been helped by the silliness of Seumas Milne complaining to the BBC about the co-opting of Stephen Doughty's resignation by Laura Kuenssberg and the Daily Politics.  Yes, it was on the brink of heading into outright bias, and had the BBC done similar with a government minister you can guarantee there would be screams of outrage from the Tories, yet it's not worth getting into a slanging match with one of the few media outlets that doesn't hate the Labour party for atavistic reasons over it.  Better time would be spent focusing on what it says about Doughty, Jonathan Reynolds and their politics.  The same applies to Alison McGovern, who announced her resignation from a review that hasn't even started yet on the Sunday Politics.  Objecting to John McDonnell daring to describe Progress as a "hard right" force within Labour, McGovern stated how she had been backed "into a corner" by a such a calumny and didn't want to be on TV but had been forced into making such a gesture.

We shouldn't ignore how some of the coverage is without question a direct result of Corbyn's questionable decisions and manoeuvres.  He does of course have every right to want to make the party bend his way; doing so over Trident is however asking for it.  Taxpayer's money could be sent on innumerable better things than a replacement for the four Vanguard subs, and there are outright alternatives to Trident that ought to be considered more seriously than has been by the government.  This said, rightly or not, there are reasons as to why adopting an unilateralist position as Corbyn clearly wants to is so opposed by others in the party, and not only by the usual headbanging suspects or those in the constituencies set to be most affected were a replacement not to go ahead.  Making Trident out to be the ultimate insurance policy is an easy sell; convincing voters why we should abandon it in a world where threats, both from state and non-state actors look to be increasing is far more difficult.  When otherwise loyal ministers like Owen Smith make clear how they would have to consider their position if policy is changed, Corbyn and his team ought to look again at the pace at which they are trying to push through their agenda.

McKinnell's resignation nonetheless all but condemns the party to another week of navel-gazing.  Considering Corbyn made a decent impression on this morning's Today programme, surprising some by not ruling out drone strikes like the one that killed Mohammad Emwazi, whether or not that was more Corbyn getting used to answering, or rather not answering "gotcha" questions, it's all the more disappointing.  It also leaves the Tories to carry on pursuing their partisan deconstruction of the country with hardly any real opposition.  David Cameron's announcement on rebuilding "sink estates", where anything up to 100 of these post-war developments will have £140m to share between them would be laughable were it not so transparent: expect repeats across the country of the Heygate estate debacle, where Southwark council sold it to private developers for a pittance, without putting any conditions on the purchasers Lend Lease to provide "affordable" housing themselves.

At the same time as junior doctors are getting smeared by Jeremy Hunt ahead of their first strike tomorrow, and three dates for further tube strikes have been announced, the government is set on making it as difficult as possible to withdraw labour in protest.  By the same token, Labour is also to be prevented from being funded as it has been for decades, as we can't have ordinary people donating to political parties.  Cameron himself meanwhile, unlike McGovern, genuinely has backed himself into a corner on Europe.  Just as only days ago he was making clear cabinet ministers would have to resign to campaign for an out vote in the referendum once he concludes his renegotiation, so now he protests should he lose the vote he will not be on his way.  Yeah, and the three bears.  If the prime minister is worried about how he's going to have to rely on non-Tory voters for an in vote, then he's not showing it.  Likewise, Osborne might be talking a mere six weeks after his autumn statement about an economic "cocktails of threats", and McDonnell might have made a fist of challenging him on it, but much of the rest of the party is more interested in getting rid of him than they are the actual chancellor.

I can't claim to have an answer.  Both sides could do with at least taking a look at Steven Baxter's advice, only the opposition to Corbyn shows no signs of recognising they aren't offering a viable alternative.  When they would counter by saying Corbyn isn't viable either, and it doesn't seem as though the passing of time is going to make them any more accepting of the leader, it's difficult to know how this can end without the party ending up even further from power.  Neither side seems to appreciate that irony.

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