Editor in Chief of Naked Politics
We are living in a country divided, more so than most of us really realised in the run up the referendum. These divisions are being mirrored painfully in our political system, with both the Tories and Labour going into a spectacularly unprecedented meltdown. Jeremy Corbyn is facing a, frankly now lukewarm coup.
Corbyn was given a rock solid mandate to become Labour leader by mostly young people. Contrastingly, 75% of young people voted to stay in the European Union and as a life-long Eurosceptic who failed to put his all into the campaign to remain, I can’t help but feel Corbyn failed us. It was a long time into the debate before Labour’s position was clear, he refused to engage in cross party campaigns and so much of his rhetoric lacked the passion and fire that I have seen in him before, and which young voters and the working classes so desperately needed. To pretend that he genuinely “changed his mind” is grossly naïve, and he deserves little credit for perusing a half-hearted campaign. I find it hard to believe that he doesn’t think in the long run, leaving will be the best option anyway.
Don’t get me wrong, the reasons why vote remain failed are highly complex and nuanced. There are an awful lot of other people worth blaming too. David Cameron plunging us into this referendum in a desperate attempt to heal the divides in his own party infuriates me, a horrendously biased press which has kept people deliberately uninformed for decades has a lot to answer for, and don’t even get me started on that political opportunist snake Boris Johnson. But Corbyn must take his portion of the blame as a key player in this debate. As the leader of the major progressive party in British politics, it was his job to try and persuade working class voters (whether they were Labour voters or not) that all their ills were not because of migrants coming over to steal their jobs and suppress their wages. He needed to provide a convincing case to stay, to counter the baseless, often disgusting UKIP rhetoric. It was also his job to use his reach to young people as a vehicle to convince as many of us as possible to register and make sure we had our say. But people have a good nose for inauthenticity, and most people could tell by a mile that Corbyn’s heart just wasn’t in it. As a consequence, many of the very people who revolted at the polls to upset the system, will be the first of those to suffer the economic, social and political consequences of leaving.
The referendum is done, and there is little hope of un-doing it. Looking to the future, the Labour party needs a leader who can bridge the galling divide, between the educated middle class metropolitan types and those on the lower end of the social scale who feel they have been let down by the system. At the moment, he’s failing to capture either group’s imagination. Yes, it’s right that he secures worker’s rights. But that message alone isn’t enough; we have to address and counter other group’s concerns and interests too, not allowing more extreme parties to play into people’s fears. He grandly states that he has a responsibility to those members who elected him. But isn’t the most revealing thing about this referendum result that this is about so much more than just the core Labour voters, who will always loyally vote Labour, or nothing at all (an increasingly small Labour base at that). This is about everyone and finding a way to heal and reconcile a country so sorely divided.
Jeremy Corbyn is a nice guy and a lot of his appeal has been that he is principled and fairly genuine. But staying on as leader, purely because of the mandate of an incredibly narrow Labour base, and standing by as the party tears itself apart is beginning to look increasingly selfish. There are certainly elements of his leadership to take heart in; his concept of a “new politics” such as using real ordinary people’s concerns during Prime Minister’s Questions is refreshing because people are fed up of the status quo and establishment politics just doesn’t cut it anymore. But there’s a difference between having principles and being overly ideological. All the opinion polls show compared to other opposition leaders in the past, Corbyn is highly unelectable. If you want see a progressive government in power healing the wounds of this referendum rather than a nutty regressive Little-England Breixt government pouring salt over it, then Jeremy Corbyn cannot stay. From day one, he simply has not had the broad appeal to achieve power and create real, meaningful change.
The stakes are high. We could be having a general election within the next six months, and Labour could be hemorrhaging votes to UKIP. For the moment, the coup feels like it has failed, and Corbyn is unashamedly remaining in place. If Labour play their cards right, they can create a hopeful, unifying campaign with policies that speak to a broad spectrum of the electorate at a time when the Conservatives appear to be regressing back into an even uglier form of right wing politics. But they cannot do this with Corbyn at the helm. For the sake ordinary people’s lives, we need a reconciler not a divider. Corbyn is just not that leader.