Divisions within the Conservative and Labour Parties

Hi. I hope exam preparation is going well and you are counting down the days. This is really the time when you should be pretty comfortable with all the material including concepts and case studies and are simply planning out fairly brief plans for all of the past paper questions. That is certainly what I would be doing. 

I’ve had a request for how to approach divisions within the two major parties and broadly speaking this is not that difficult. You could either take a traditions and factions approach (Modernising Conservatives V Thatcherites; Progress V Momentum) which is now beginning to look a bit worn especially on the Conservative side of the equation or a more policy specific approach which given that the manifestos have just come out may at first look daunting. However the examiners don’t necessarily require you to be absolutely current, as long as we are dealing with fairly recent history.

Now taking the Labour party first these divisions have been very well documented. There is a clear division for example on at least two fronts. Firstly within the PLP itself there has been a widely reported rift between the leadership and the rest of the PLP. 172 out of 229 Labour MPs passed a no confidence motion in their own leader Jeremy Corbyn in June 2016 and he was then challenged for the leadership on the premise that he was unelectable by Owen Smith, but won  with an increased mandate. The other front in which there is a very deep divide is between the huge influx of members (broadly Corbyn has attracted a very large number of younger members, and some former members who were alienated by the Iraq War have returned to the fold) and what might be termed the Blairite progress wing of the PLP. The divide here is between those who maintain that Labour cannot be elected on a left wing platform and those who would like to see Labour offer policies that are more in keeping with its socialist roots and traditions. The latter option is the one Corbyn has pretty firmly adopted though he has had to make some compromises. There was certainly no appetite in the NEC for pursuing for example unilateral nuclear disarmament, but there is a strong commitment for a return to public ownership of certain industries/services, most notably rail and a pledge to scrap university tuition fees. Corbyn thinks education, as with health and social care, should be a public good free at the point of delivery and has talked in the past of a National Education Service (NES) just as we should protect and fund the National Health Service. 

Following the Brexit referendum there were a large number of resignations from the Shadow Cabinet which briefly looked to have totally destabilised Corbyn’s grip on the party and leadership. More recently Corbyn lost the support of Clive Lewis, widely regarded as a natural successor to Corbyn, following the leader’s  decision to vote with the Conservatives on the triggering of Article 50. Lewis, with a strong pro-remain constituency, (Norwich South) felt he could not follow collective responsibility on this issue and therefore resigned from the Shadow Cabinet. 

This article here offers a very detailed account of a number of senior Labour MPs who have strongly criticised Jeremy Corbyn recently over his stance on Syria. This is a very clear indication of the deep divisions in foreign policy between Corbyn and the PLP. 

Moving onto the Conservatives divisions are also evident. In March 2017 Michael Heseltine was sacked from 5 Key advisory roles he held in government for leading a Lords rebellion over the triggering of Article 50. Other noted pro Europeans include Ken Clarke, Nicky Morgan, Anna Soubry and Dominic Grieve, whilst David Davies and Liam Fox are profoundly Europhobic. 

May was forced into a U-Turn in face of a looming Commons revolt over the Chancellor’s proposed rise of NICs for the self employed. Up to around 20 Tory Backbenchers threatened a rebellion.

Threatened with a backbench rebellion of up to 20 MPs on government proposals to seek cuts in the overall education budget. MP’s publicly told May to reverse the policy or lose the vote.

Another division opening up is that the general election campaign is widely seen to be a shambles and far from the foregone conclusion it looked to be about 3 weeks ago. There are murmerings that May owns this having placed so much store in her leadership. Undoubtedly a bad result in the general election campaign would be pinned on her and her close advisor Nick Timothy. See this article here



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