Premature rebellion: the peril of deviating from the party line

Image credit: Sean Hickin

The news last week that Cambridge’s Labour MP, Daniel Zeichner, had resigned from the Shadow Cabinet in a passionate declaration of support for the UK’s position within the single market is merely the icing on the soggy-bottomed cake of overtly principled politicians. In the current unstable climate of British politics, the expectation is becoming that of deviation; not just between parties, but also within them. Individuals like Zeichner, who went against Jeremy Corbyn’s encouragement of abstention in his vote in favour of an amendment to the Queen's Speech to back the UK's membership of the single market, favour their own morals instead of the party line; an increasingly dangerous political path to follow.

Whilst all politicians will have their own agendas, their role as a representative of a specific party has the concomitant assumption that their values will, in general, correspond with the party’s attitude; though minor deviances are to be expected, a divergence as substantial as going against the party line in the case of the Queen’s Speech, the cornerstone of the parliamentary process, is not as easy to disregard. It indicates a fundamental dissatisfaction with the party; a rejection of its core policies for the current parliamentary session and a lack of confidence in the present leadership – suggestions Corbyn himself acknowledged in his dismissal of other rebel Labour frontbenchers. Though some individuals may wish to make a bold political stance in perhaps their first foray into parliamentary debate, there is a time and a place for deviation: acting with such disloyalty at such a pivotal moment is a strategy that is not just inappropriate, but also unrealistic. To fully pack a punch, rebellion must take place at the right time.

In an explanation of his resignation, Zeichner stated: “I promised the people of Cambridge I would stick to my principles and I would do right by our city - that means voting with my conscience.” Yet what Zeichner failed to take into account was the message he has given the people of Cambridge in the completely anticlimactical nature of his revolt: that in this critical moment at the opening of parliament, he stuck so fast to his principles that his clout over affairs was damaged. His “pro-European” voice, instead of being heard loud and clear, was actually muted. Yes, he made his support of the single market explicit, and maintained his morals as a result. But surely, with a position as a Shadow Transport Minister, he could have promoted this support far better from the frontbench, rather than, as is the case now, with the weight of a premature rebellion on his shoulders, and a gag in his mouth.

Whilst personal ideals may be viewed as positive traits of the modern politician, the threat of further divisions within the foundations of any party as a result of this cannot be denied; a threat which endangers the very continuance of the party itself. Rebellion is a political strategy that has to be timed correctly, or both the individuals involved, and their parties, may lose more than they gain. To ensure a strong political clout, parties must maintain unity; with an acknowledgement that, if disunity is necessary, it has their own best interests at heart. 

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