Labour’s civil war goes much deeper than Brexit

Jason Reed

November 6, 2018

The far left in Britain is currently enjoying a prominence not seen for decades, and it is scrambling to make the most of it. Thanks of course to Jeremy Corbyn being the leader of the Labour Party, social democracy within the party is essentially dead and the Blairite wing of the party has been superseded by rejuvenated Marxists.

With the Tories torn in two over the European question, and the government propelling us blindly towards Brexit like a farm animal being thrust into the jaws of the slaughterhouse, conditions ought to be perfect for a leftist Luigi Di Maio-style surge to power (minus the coalition with the fringe right, of course). 

However, as always seems to be the case with politics, it is not quite that simple. There is a profound ideological battle being waged deep within the heart of the Labour Party which threatens to derail its electoral efforts and doom it to the political sidelines once again. 

On the one hand, Corbyn’s leadership has seen much closer affiliation with trade unions and a return to classic socialist policies. Corbyn has himself been a trade unionist for practically his entire political career and Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has expressed what sounds like the anti-Thatcher rhetoric churned out in the 1970s and ‘80s.

Conversely, very contemporary leftist ideology also occupies a prominent space in Labour, as one would expect. Fourth-wave feminism and identity politics are in full force in the party’s activism lobby, and Corbyn – a Eurosceptic trade unionist who has spent most of his career talking about “the workers” and donning Soviet-style headgear – has inadvertently become the leader of Britain’s so-called progressive movement.

Take, for instance, journalist and broadcaster Rod Liddle. On paper, he ought to be president of the Jeremy Corbyn fan club. A veteran leftist, he was fired from BBC Radio 4’s Today programme for writing a column in the Guardian that was too favourable towards Labour. And yet, thanks merely to his moderate libertarianism and social conservatism, he is seen as a right-wing commentator.

Now he writes for the Times and the Spectator, he is frequently labelled “far right”, and he describes himself as “Corbynphobic”. Liddle is a case in point of an old-school socialist with a history of leftism who simply cannot identify with the modern Labour Party because of its confusion about its direction.

The Labour leadership’s ambiguity over Brexit is a prime example of how this ideological conflict bears itself out in policy. Setting aside the pragmatic need to refrain from adopting any firm positions, so as to avoid alienating either Brexit camp, much of the old guard’s Euroscepticism is a stubbornly square peg which will not jam into the round hole that is the aggressively globalist narrative of the modern left.

The ideological battle, though, goes much deeper than that. Following the victory of the trade unionists – represented by Unite – in the battle for general secretary earlier this year, the progressives – operating behind the Momentum front – have done their utmost to gain control of candidate deselection efforts. 

This is nothing other than a civil war taking place within the Labour Party, and it is emblematic of the ideological warfare being conducted within the British left as a whole between young and old. Neo-Marxism versus actual Marxism, if you like. As a result, the left urgently needs to define itself and settle on a direction. 

While the Tories might be split over Brexit, Labour – despite not being in government – has rifts everywhere you look, stemming from two fundamentally different worldviews. It has quite a task on its hands if it is to transform itself from a collection of angry shouters to a government-in-waiting anytime soon.


  • Jason Reed

    Jason Reed is the UK Lead at Young Voices and a political commentator for a wide range of outlets. Follow him on Twitter @JasonReed624 or read more on his website,

Written by Jason Reed

Jason Reed is the UK Lead at Young Voices and a political commentator for a wide range of outlets. Follow him on Twitter @JasonReed624 or read more on his website,


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