Naked Politics Blogger
Jeremy Corbyn is going to remain as Labour Leader. You would be foolish to disagree. The right of the party have failed to provide a candidate that can win over the left wing membership. Hilary Benn’s dismissal from the shadow cabinet had many believing he would be the man to stand against Corbyn and I’m sure many more wish he had now. Owen Smith is not the man to beat Corbyn. His campaign has been woeful, lacklustre, insulting, desperate and at times lacked class. Corbyn has kept to his principles and said what he stands for just as he did last time, but let’s be honest, he’s had it easy. Smith seems like a last minute, desperate choice when there was no one else on offer. All the real hopefuls appeared to hide away. Maybe this has shown their true nature, that they believe they can’t beat Corbyn so are just waiting until this whole Corbyn-mania blows over.
The sheer support for Corbyn amongst regular party members is unrivalled by anything that Smith can hope to experience. Whilst Smith is the Parliamentary Labour Party’s candidate, receiving the vast majority of their support, the hundreds of thousands of party members simply don’t want him. YouGov findings show Corbyn will win with an astounding majority, likely bigger than his first leadership victory. Owen Smith just isn’t the person to overthrow Corbyn. Then again, who is?
Rather than working yourself into a headache about which candidate may have stood a better chance of ousting Corbyn, because there are some more than viable individuals in and now out of the party who would prove very popular in the post-Corbyn era, it is high time we consider what is next for Labour.
So Corbyn wins, seeing off his fourth leadership rival in 12 months, but what should we expect, not just from Corbyn but from a highly volatile political atmosphere in the party and in the House of Commons? For Corbyn it’s obvious. He will continue to do all he can scrutinise the government over their austerity programme, the junior doctors dispute, the proposal for grammar schools and Brexit negotiations amongst other policies that come to fruition. These are his strong points in opposition thriving over the last 12 months forcing government U-turns on tax credits, Personal Independence Payments and forced academies. Scrutiny alone is not enough however. Corbyn cannot be satisfied with small victories over the Tories in the Commons or just riding the waves of anger amongst the public by holding rallies and being seen at the front of picket lines. Corbyn, McDonnell and his advisors need to prove why Labour can be a competent government in 2020. To do so they have to convince the electorate why borrowing masses is a viable alternative to cutting public spending, when borrowing is such a tabooed word in British politics these last few years.
The real intrigue of the post-leadership contest period should in fact revolve around what this means for the party. MPs have made their lack of loyalty to Corbyn clear. How then, can a party who can’t stand with their leader for one year expect to unite for four years until the next election? If those who oppose Corbyn truly believe he is unelectable and destined to send Labour into the deepest pits of political extinction, can they really stay put and get behind a leader they have so vocally undermined?
The big question is whether or not these so-called moderates and progressives will take a leaf out of the 1981 Gang of Four’s book and split from the party. Such an idea has been mulled over for the past year, but it seems like a real possibility now. If Corbyn wins two leadership elections by a landslide, Labour’s right must comprehend that their ideas aren’t wanted by the membership. However the membership of 640,000 does not represent the electorate to which the likes of Owen Smith feel Corbyn is not appealing to. To sell Labour, by 2020, to the millions of voters rather than the hundreds of thousands of members, Labour’s right might need to form their own party. Under a Corbyn led Labour there is no way for them to set out their views for the country or oppose this painful Tory rule. If their constant disgruntlement with Corbyn’s manning of the Labour ship continues, should they not accept his victory, then forming their own party may be something they will seriously consider and it is highly likely considering the sheer number of MPs who oppose the leader. Intriguing, as it may be to see, who would then claim the title of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition? Certainly this ‘new’ Labour Party (rights to the party name would pose more problems) would claim to the electorate that they represent their real interests and best chance of ever winning an election, yet they could also claim to have the second largest number of MPs, something Corbyn certainly wouldn’t be able to. Corbyn’s Labour would more likely match the numbers of the Liberal Democrats. Frankly it would be a mess.
If new and old Labour supporters, as well as swing voters were given the opportunity of two Labour parties to vote for in 2020, a radically left-wing Labour or a more moderate option, there would only be one winner: the Tories. Either Labour’s traditional vote would be split, leaving neither with enough to govern, or the Tories would win a third election in a row due to swing voter’s sticking with the status quo, due to Labour’s lack of competence.
To prevent such a crisis, Labour’s right must accept defeat and deal with it. They continue to preach of Corbyn’s inability to succeed in 2020, but they’ve lost and must accept it. If they are convinced he cannot lead Labour to victory in 2020 and have failed in their attempt to dethrone him, their only option now is to wait four more years and watch their predictions come true. If Corbyn fails in 2020, there is simply no scenario in which he can continue in his position as leader. Sure, he can quit the party and start his own with the support of his Momentum faction. But let us be realistic, a Corbyn defeat at the next election will see many desert the elderly radical.
For the time being, or more simply the next four years, the entire PLP must back their leader in a way that doesn’t present the party as at war with itself. Labour is already in dire straits and there is much repairing to do. To start that process they must put on a united front. The onus is not entirely on the moderates, Corbyn must become more conciliatory and be willing to compromise on certain issues, and if he is seen to be influenced by more wings of the party, then maybe the electorate will see Labour as electable, and they can begin to bring back their traditional voters to whom Corbyn has alienated. The entire PLP owe it to the very people the party was created to represent, Britain’s working class, who are suffering immensely and need now, more than ever, an effective and credible opposition in the Commons. Labour has a duty to fulfil this role, and Corbyn has been chosen to lead the attack on the Tories, but he cannot do it alone. Whilst there are divisions in the party, all involved must come together against a common enemy that poses a much bigger threat to Britain’s future.