Yes, Labour needs consensus – but it doesn’t need denial…

It’s getting silly now. Since Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader last year, a whole host of badly named ‘factions’ have been born. None of these factions can truly claim to have created a more united, or more disciplined, or more focussed party.

In addition to more established groupings such as Labour First, CLPD, LRC, and Progress, we now have – among others – Momentum, Labour for the Common Good, Labour 650, Labour Together and now, ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage: Consensus Labour…

Some of these new groups are better than others. Indeed, Open Labour in particular I rate very highly. So highly, in fact, that I gladly put my name to its founding statement in The Guardian. Allied to a genuine commitment to respectful debate, Open Labour heralds from an established and important part of the Labour Party – the soft left.

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But the market for new factions – if indeed there ever was one – is well past saturated. This is perhaps why Labour Consensus, in an article published in LabourList this week, seems to have so little to say.

Let’s start with the obvious. In the title of their launch article, the ‘Consensus’ founders say they will “oppose factionalism.” Bizarrely, the method they choose for doing this is to create a new faction. Something about chickens and eggs springs to mind…

Furthermore, Labour has always been a broad church and has always clustered into distinct factions. In the old days, conference was the ultimate decision-maker and if a Labour shadow minister disagreed with a policy decided on by conference, they would resign. A return to a model such as this is one I would favour.

There is also nothing wrong with Labour containing people with starkly different views to one another. Under first past the post, the party has always needed – and will always need – two wings to fly. Without a certain amount of creative tension between its opposing wings, the party descends into an ideological vacuum. To try to sweep this under the carpet is to try to deny the historic nature of the Labour Party.

Moreover, debate is a deeply healthy thing. The Consensus founders write that they have “founded a non-factional and rigorously inclusive platform for building consensus on key issues for the Labour movement.” Translation: “We’re only going to talk about the things we all agree on and forget about the things on which we can’t agree.” Taking this approach in the context of the current Labour Party would leave us with a very thin manifesto indeed.

Then there is the language in which the new faction is offered. In place of something more substantial, empty clichés and soundbites pour forth. “Consensus is uniquely different”, we’re told, in a line that could have come straight out of a Carlsberg advert. “Our aim is to create a space within Labour that does not discriminate based on political beliefs or outlooks” – so, something other than a political party, then. “We are a wholly non-aligned group” is their battle cry – what, like the Lib Dems?

Calling for respectful debate is one thing. Calling for an avoidance of debate is another thing altogether. That debate must be had and had robustly or it will never be resolved. Yes, Labour’s current divisions are messy and unsightly – but things won’t be like this forever. At some point – maybe this year, maybe in five years – the dust will settle and a re-unified party will emerge.

There’s no doubt that Labour’s unique marriage of different ideas is in need of some couple’s counselling. But no good therapist would tell a troubled couple to sweep everything under the carpet. They would give them two options: split up, or talk it out.

Anything else is denial, and that’s the last thing Labour needs right now.

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