Having just reviewed a rather good book by Dame Margaret Hodge MP, I was somewhat surprised by her vitriolic attack on the leader of the Labour Party. Of course, I understood that she was on the right of the movement. And I was not unaware of her Jewishness. But I did not foresee that she would accuse Jeremy Corbyn of anti-Semitism without any equivocation. The Labour Party is a broad church, but I did not quite appreciate just how close it is to a schism.
My slight complacency was based on the bitter feuding within the Government. I felt that prudent members of the Labour Party would appreciate that being in power would be a positive thing to think about. I failed to appreciate the depth of the antagonism within the Opposition.
The problem of anti-Semitism has dogged the Labour Party for several reasons. The sympathy for the Palestinian cause has led some people to make ill-judged comments. Tempers have frayed on all sides of the debate. It has proved difficult to reach consensus about codes of practice. And some individuals have never been reconciled to the leadership.
Regardless of what transpires, I will think highly of the text written by Hodge. But I am dismayed by her intemperate comment. Perhaps there are not many complete accidents in politics, but I like to think there are few conspiracies either. Coincidences can give us insights into the mindsets of political actors.
While serving on the Public Accounts Committee, Hodge worked well with Conservative politicians. Like Frank Field MP, she is a centrist who often causes trouble for their own side. Although nobody would want politicians to be homogeneous, many citizens would like it if there was a degree of discipline within political parties.
Constraining maverick politicians slightly might reduce the colour of the spectacle, but it would permit the effective operation of democracy. Everyone should have the freedom to speak up for their principles, but senior people should watch their language in political debates.
The Labour Party was doing well, but it has hit another obstacle. It is a shame that there is no goodwill to make the processes work smoothly. Essentially, it is the problem of history. The different traditions within the party make it into a coalition which lacks cohesion. Robbing defeat from the jaws of victory is a strong possibility that haunts ordinary party members. Communities could suffer protracted economic hardship because of the vanity of Hodge and her acolytes. Pragmatism is required for progress to be achieved.