Having survived the 1980s and the growth of the SDP, I am very aware of how close Labour came to self-destruction in that decade.
At that time I lived in Swansea West, which was a major target for a Militant take-over. Tony Benn came to speak to party members during the Labour deputy leadership contest and, as a young, politically aware person I went along to see what he had to say for myself.
His rival in that contest, and the eventual narrow victor, Roy Hattersley, was backing the local Labour MP, Alan Williams, who somehow survived a particularly vigorous deselection contest.
Now, Lord Hattersley has reignited the party’s feuding by claiming it is “in danger of disintegration” as extremists take over. As the Independent reports, he believes that Labour is in “a much more dangerous situation” than during the Militant Tendency insurgency of the 1980s because left-wing activists are “increasingly in control”:
Lord Hattersley said the public was suspicious that “the people behind Jeremy will take over the party and run it in a way which we find unacceptable” – putting hopes of an election win “in difficult trouble”.
Moderate party figures with “sense” had to speak out, he argued, describing it as a “tragedy for the Labour Party” that they remained silent about what was going on.
The peer, deputy to Neil Kinnock in the 1980s, also attacked Mr Corbyn for failing his “democratic duty” to fight Brexit, calling for a referendum on the final withdrawal terms.
On the Corbynista takeover, Lord Hattersley said: “I think the Labour party is in a much more dangerous situation than it was in the 1980s.
“In the 1980s there was entryism, there was the Militant Tendency, but they only operated in one or two small constituencies. They didn’t control the machine, they certainly didn’t control the leader, there were trade unions who were prepared to stand out against them and we always knew that the battle in the 1980s would eventually be won.
“Now things are much more serious because people who are not ‘real Labour’ as I define it are increasingly in control of the machine, they’re increasingly taking over constituencies, they’re increasingly bullying moderate MPs. And if it goes on like this the Labour party is in danger of disintegration.”
On Brexit, Hattersley has wise words that need to be listened to by those in charge of the Labour Party's policy-making process: “There’s no doubt at all that a majority of Labour Party members, the majority of Labour supporters, want to remain in the European Union.
“The only barrier to the Labour Party coming out formally for staying in – or getting the best terms possible – is Jeremy’s historic association with the anti-common marketeers of the 1960s and 70s, and he has a democratic duty to swallow that view, realise he’s in a tiny minority and do what the party wants.”
If Labour continue to back the Tories on this issue then they will be equally culpable in creating the disaster that follows. The Liberal Democrats are the only UK wide party offering a way out with their campaign for a confirmatory referendum. Can Jeremy Corbyn come around to that position? I have my doubts.