An impossible decision?
Young Labour National Committee is nominating our preferred candidate for the Labour Party leadership tonight via a phone-in emergency meeting. It is highly likely that Jeremy Corbyn will win the endorsement of our youth wing. Like most of my committee colleagues, I was elected in February after running for my position, London representative, with the endorsement of the “left slate” and Momentum.
Since then, my feelings on the leadership have changed. In my eyes, Jeremy did not deliver. I felt deeply uncomfortable with some of the problems that have developed around the campaign. Subsequently I have declared my support for Owen Smith.
Over the last two days, around 150 young members shared their thoughts on the leadership with me through a consultation form which I set up and shared on social media. Strikingly, for most of them, no matter if they were backing Jeremy or Owen, Party unity was the most important concern. Young members made it clear that they want to move on from the infighting and start offering the country the credible opposition it deserves.
Both candidates will face a big challenge in the event they win the leadership election: bringing together a membership that seems so deeply divided. Whilst Jeremy has enthused a new wave of members and supporters who have flocked to his rallies — and indeed to the party — in masses, there is a large number of activists who feel alienated by the movement that has sprung from Jeremy’s campaign. I have previously attended Jeremy’s events and been to the Momentum office and I get the excitement — after fighting the 2015 general election under Ed Miliband, with a “shopping list” manifesto and no clear, overarching vision for the country, Jeremy’s campaign was like a breath of fresh air. But the lack of leadership and the inability to form a good working relationship with the Parliamentary Labour Party have left many who supported Jeremy’s politics disillusioned.
His challenger, Owen Smith, offers a policy-platform that is perceived as left wing but many LYL Corbyn supporters do not believe that he will actually stick to it if he wins the leadership election. Members do not trust that the same PLP which is not supporting Jeremy, would support Owen on a left wing platform. It merely seems like an attempt to get rid of Jeremy, install Owen as a placeholder and then elect a more right-wing leader closer to the election. Owen needs to send a strong signal to the membership that he is serious about his policies, that he has the uncompromising support of the PLP — and that he will be the person who will lead us into the next general election.
It looks like the membership will reelect Jeremy as our Party leader again. He, his team and supporters will have to work hard to heal the division caused. The leadership and MPs will need to find compromises and ways of working together to deliver on Jeremy’s pledges and shape a manifesto with which Labour can win. And Jeremy will have to work on his media strategy and reach out to people through mainstream channels.
But it is also our task as youth representatives on the Young Labour National Committee to work as hard as possible to bring our members together again. We need to realise that, despite our own political ideologies, we are responsible for creating a safe, welcoming environment for all activists we were elected to represent. I want to make it my priority over the next coming months, to work together with different groups inside the party to combat bullying and harassment and to tackle abuse — without dismissing legitimate debate and the development of ideas. We all need to focus on what unites us rather than divides us. Only then can we, as the Labour Party, succeed.