A paradox has emerged amidst all the post-referendum madness: as the Tories continue to capture the public mood, Labour has set course for total self-annihilation, says Peter Bingle.

The idea of Brexit potentially destroying the Labour Party is deeply ironic and yet it can no longer be dismissed as fanciful. The vote on 23rd June has created a fault-line in the PLP which may indeed destroy it.

The reason for the crisis is very simple – a total disconnect between many northern Labour MPs and their constituents compounded by a geographical paradox. In northern constituencies, such as Copeland and Stoke on Trent Central (to name but two!) Labour supporters massively supported Brexit. In London constituencies by contrast Labour voters massively supported Remain. So, what path does Jeremy Corbyn take?

The option of taking a neutral position is untenable so he has decided rightly to support the Government's Bill which will give the PM the authority to trigger Article 50 before the end of March. For this Corbyn deserves praise as it avoids putting the Labour Party completely at odds with the 52 per cent who supported Brexit. He is also right to impose a three-line whip on Labour MPs. This is simply realpolitik …

It is now increasingly clear that there are a substantial number of Labour MPs who are not prepared to accept the will of the British people as expressed on 23rd June. It follows that they do not support the triggering on Article 50. They know best …

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Quite apart the breath-taking arrogance of this political position it fails to learn the lesson of what happened to the Labour Party in Scotland. For generations, Scottish Labour MPs ignored the views of their constituents. The result is that they now only have one MP north of the border and are running third in the opinion polls!

Labour MPs in London will argue that their voters strongly rejected Brexit and they are simply reflecting the views of their constituents in opposing the triggering Article 50. What Jeremy Corbyn has recognised and accepted is that the modern Labour Party does not exist merely to represent the views of Greater London and in this he must be right, otherwise Paul Nuttall and UKIP will destroy them in their former northern strongholds. Nuttall is much more of a threat to them than Farage.

This is all so obvious it is bizarre that the triggering of Article 50 is proving so divisive. The reason is that until the appointment of Nick Brown as Chief Whip there was little if any discipline in the PLP. Labour MPs (frontbenchers and backbenchers alike) could literally do and speak what they liked. Those days are now over.

Nick Brown's tough stance on discipline has already resulted in resignations and more will no doubt follow. That doesn't matter. The Labour Party must demonstrate that it deserves to be taken seriously as Her Majesty's Opposition; this cannot happen if it fails to impose three line whips on key issues. Frontbench Labour MPs who defy a three-line whip must be sacked, while their backbench colleagues must be disciplined. Let's see if this happens.

So, we are faced with a sublime paradox of almost Gilbertian proportions. The Tories have managed to catch the public mood after Brexit and the Labour Party is needlessly tearing itself apart. Should Copeland and Stoke be lost then it might be all over…

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