In recent decades both the Labour and Conservative parties have reformed their internal structures to limit the power of party conferences and their 'rank and file' membership. The mostly unspoken reasoning for such reforms was an implication that whereas party conferences tended towards infantile insularity and internecine bitchiness (among wild-eyed far-lefties in Labour's case, blue-rinse bigots in the Tories'), parties at parliamentary level and beyond had a broader outlook - "governing for the country, not just the party", as Blairites might put it.
Well, in the Labour party that situation (always an unfair caricature in any case) has now been comprehensively reversed - with the childish, parochial backbiting coming from the PLP while the poor bastard membership waits for something approaching an intelligent, focused leadership contest. Alas, it's not just the bullying tendencies in the politically barely distinguishable Blair and Brown camps throwing themselves into this circus - it's spread to the 'left' too, in the form of Michael Meacher's incoherent and spectacularly stupid bid for the Labour leadership.
For eight months now we've had a declared left candidate, John McDonnell, who's steadily built a campaign through touring the country, hooking up with a wide variety of campaigning groups, trumpeting the principled positions he's taken on a range of key issues over the past ten years. Then along comes Meacher, trampling over the same political ground, only with a much less consistent record - what with having voted for the war, Foundation Hospitals and ID cards, owning loads of houses and subscribing to some of the reactionary 9/11 conspiracy theories - proclaiming himself to be the 'left's best hope'.
Still, there was an outside chance it would stay civil and we would be able to take at face value Meacher's argument that he was better placed and better experienced to pick up a few more 'soft left' votes than McDonnell, until in the Guardian yesterday he decides to lay into McDonnell, with an evidence-free diatribe about how many more MPs he's got nominating him, even though he's refused to name them all. Unsurprisingly, McDonnell's asked for a bit of clarification. All of which must be a huge boost to Brown's plan to bully his way into the top job without a contest.
It's a sorry charade, and an indication that the most infantile part of the Labour party is the parliamentary party itself.