The Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) as a collective likes to think of itself as the heart and soul of the party and the keeper of the faith. Not only that, but a collective depository of wisdom culled from the wider membership and indeed borne out of its members’ intimate and immeasurable understanding of public opinion. In my nine years of PLP membership, PLP meetings often felt like a standing conference, where occasional motions would come forward instructing the front bench on policy or demands made to take a different course. Especially at those meetings where Blair or Brown were present, sycophants would be on hand to cheer on some policy that had gone adrift, or drown out criticism of it. Both sides would have a cohort of usual suspects, some more capable of shrieking than others. At crucial moments the room would be jam packed, with many seats filled by the acquiescent, which is to say one should bear in mind that many members of the PLP are there by patronage – Labour peers – usually a reliable source of support for the leadership.
On other occasions, when boring subjects were the focus, there may only have been 30 or so members present. I recall climate change wasn’t a subject that sparked large attendances. So PLP meetings could be very hit and miss affairs, and many members saw attendance as a chore, or didn’t bother going at all except for those meetings when the leader was present. Even then you very rarely saw our future leader, Jeremy in the room. I doubt that he would have disguised his disdain for the PLP when he was a mere backbencher, and I imagine the only thing that will have changed now is that he does have to disguise it.
So it’s hardly surprising that some of its members use the PLP for grandstanding – it’s a sounding board after all. And the media loves it that the PLP can be portrayed as continually in combat with Corbyn, just as they loved it when the Blair/Brown plotting was going on. Now of course there isn’t an obvious alternative leader around whom e.g. the Guardian could cheerlead for, although they would no doubt rally round Yvette Cooper at the drop of a hat if they thought the membership might mistake her for somebody else.
Since Jeremy never imagined he was ever going to lead the Labour Party, he never courted the PLP. I wonder if efforts are now being made to do so. There would be little value to be gained from speaking to his arch critics who simply don’t believe he has a right to lead the party, but I hope his circle don’t go round bad mouthing those PLP members who do actually grasp the bigger picture. There was always a decent sized group of Labour MPs who could stomach all sorts of personal issues with the leader provided they thought their chances of re-election weren’t harmed.