Copeland, Corbyn, and the future of the Labour Party
I consider Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader in the summer of 2015 to be the high-point of my Labour Party membership. Since joining, the party has struggled with infighting over Gordon Brown’s ability to lead, struggled to provide an effective, clear and comprehensive opposition under Ed Miliband, and has struggled overwhelmingly to win over the electorate.
Labour had, for quite some time, been in a malaise of consecutive abject electoral performances. The result of the 2015 general election indicated that the centre-left, despite being a great force for many years, was slowly receding in the eyes of the electorate. One of my biggest criticisms of Ed Miliband’s leadership was a comprehensive lack of communication, and a seeming lack of ideological basis from which policy can be developed going forward. The policies (emphasis on policies here) of “New” Labour were no longer apt for the electorate as a whole.
Jeremy Corbyn offered something new, something tangible, and most importantly, something radical. His campaign was brimming with extremely talented, energetic young people, who were full of ideas, belief and hope — an attribute that other candidates seemingly lacked.
I genuinely believed that this movement was the party’s only real chance of responding to the fluctuations of our political landscape. I was more than aware that the media wouldn’t stand for it. I was more than aware that for some within the PLP, having Jeremey Corbyn as leader would be a step too far to the left. I also understood that if it failed, we’d face electoral oblivion akin to the wilderness we found ourselves in during the 1980s.
Two years on, I think it’s safe to say that everything I assumed would happen — has happened.
That being said, Labour’s loss in the Copeland by-election shouldn’t be underestimated. I think it’s fair to say that Brexit has completely redrawn the political landscape in ways that neither I, nor any of the Labour leadership had envisaged. Gillian Troughton’s campaign was ran off the principle of protecting local public services from Tory-led cuts, but the public overwhelmingly rejected it. In fairness, I am also more than aware of a declining share of the vote in every single election since 1997. Furthermore, it doesn’t take a genius to work out that Jamie Reed wasn’t a massively popular MP, that failed miserably to really connect and communicate with his constituents adequately.
Around now is where some may talk about the fact, that despite the government’s atrocious mismanagement of public services and Brexit negotiations, we find ourselves 18 points behind in the polls and how this is all Corbyn’s fault.
But that would be utterly idiotic, the problems the party faces are significantly greater than that and any attempt to state otherwise should be ridiculed — and rightfully so.
Equally as idiotic would be to take the stance that our recent shambolic display to the electorate is the fault of the “plotters” within the PLP, Progress and other affiliated Labour bodies/organisations.
Actually, on the note of Progress: I believe that, despite his many flaws (Iraq, cough), Tony Blair was an incredible leader and an equally incredible Prime Minister.
I share his belief that there are good and bad capitalists. I share his view that in order to have just representation, proper regional representation is required. I share his belief in policy which leads to vast investment in every single key public service. I also believe in prioritising education, across all ages. I share his belief in workers rights. I also believe in an end to child poverty. And lastly, I share his belief that — as a party of opposition — we need to focus on attaining power through democratic means, and that any Labour government is better than any Labour opposition.
But I also believe that a return to Blairism isn’t what’s needed nor warranted right now. We need to move forward as a party.
Another key thing to understand is that Corbyn, and other members of the Labour leadership, aren’t immune to criticism.
Firstly, the loss of our our core support. Our collapse among the working class vote is dire. From my own personal experience, Corbyn has taken a party that was increasingly becoming less and less favorable to the working class — and has somehow managed to further alienate the exact people we’re supposed to represent. Whilst I agree that New Labour badly failed to communicate its many achievements to working class voters, Corbyn has ultimately failed to connect with our party’s core support.
It doesn’t take a genius to know where this loss of support is coming from. The working class have been led to believe that immigration is to blame for the state of our public services. They’ve bought into this false dichotomy where immigrants are simultaneously able to “scrounge” off the welfare state, whilst also taking away jobs.
Secondly, we’ve failed miserably to take easy opportunities to take the fight to the government. Our NHS is crumbling, key public services are being slashed, wages are stagnating, and Brexit negotiations are fast driving the country into a self-inflicted hard-Brexit nightmare — and it seems to many that Labour are failing to provide an adequate opposition.
I blame this, in part, to the excessive hostility toward the mainstream media. This has resulted in a lack of means to send out a clear message to to the electorate. If you look at some of the leadership’s biggest criticizers, they are constantly making headlines due to a effective media presence. Imagine how effectual similar methods of communication could be in spreading our alternative vision for the country? For us to win power, we need to utilise the means available to us — and that doesn’t just surround the (undeniable) power of social media.
Thirdly, this. This needs to stop.
And lastly, Corbyn’s leadership stinks to high heaven of complacency. He is more than aware that, regardless of how badly he performs as leader of the party, if anyone within were to make any formal move against him then he’d have the unwavering support of 300,000 Labour Party members. His complete lack of interest in the problems facing the party is something that really disappoints me. I get the feeling that the Labour leadership genuinely believes that everything is going well — as if the catastrophic falls in the polls were all part of some sort of brilliant master-plan. I don’t claim to be the most intelligent person on the world (I’d imagine that anyone reading this will account for this) — but I don’t think it’s that difficult to see that things are really not going well right now.
Everything said and done, I don’t want to see Corbyn go. I am more than aware that electoral defeat in 2020 could potentially result in the destruction of the NHS, the welfare state, and implicate the working class to five more years of needless ideology driven austerity. Right now, any move to get rid of Corbyn at this point will only worsen things further. There exists no plan, no suitable replacement, and no suitable alternative put forward that will appease the Labour Party membership — or the electorate at large.
Despite everything I’ve written above, I still genuinely believe that we can return a Labour government in 2020. However, to do this things need to change. So here’s my hastily written four step plan to electoral victory.
Step One: The Labour leadership desperately needs to outline a tangible plan going forward about how it intends to reverse our electoral malaise. Over the past two years, the electorate has been faced with stories of internal infighting — leading them to believe that our party is a disjointed unit with no desire to govern.
The Labour Party should be actively working within the realms of contemporary political discourse, to campaign on “bread and butter” issues (wage stagnation, the abandonment of working class white communities, and the state of the NHS). By this I don’t just mean posting and retweeting things on Facebook and Twitter, I mean going onto Breakfast television, doing interviews with the (fucking) Daily Mail, explaining to Chris Evans on Radio 2 Breakfast what radical socioeconomic reforms we can offer — ensuring to frame our arguments and policy in a way that best resonates with the ordinary working voter.
Corbyn actively needs to take himself out of the student-politics-esque comfort zone of shouting at a few hundred/thousand endearing supporters through a megaphone, and take the battle through more effective means.
Step Two: The leadership needs to work with the PLP and the mainstream media — and not against. I remember watching Corbyn on BBC Breakfast a few weeks ago (I actually went into work slightly later than usual to watch it because I’m a right saddo) and genuinely felt as if he had finally become accustom to how the media works.
He responded to difficult questions with relative ease, and put forward a number of counter arguments that most ordinary people would resonate with. A few days earlier, someone from the Manchester Evening News wrote that Corbyn had been considering his position as leader — which was quickly rebutted through official party channels.
However, when Corbyn was questioned about the story he responded with “I’m really surprised the BBC is reporting fake news.”, effectively leading to all of the positive things he had previously said being overshadowed by the fact that he said something in similar vein to Donald Trump. As simple as these things seem, they have a lasting effect on the electorate.
In regards to the PLP, in order for us to be an effective government in waiting we need to start firing on all cylinders. The hostility on both wings of the party (the leadership team and the PLP) has led to some of the worst public displays of pettiness we’ve seen in British politics. For the good of the party, its members, and the electorate at large — this simply cannot continue.
Step Three: Immigration, immigration, immigration. This is where Labour really needs to really step up, or forever lose its support in its heartlands. The inconsistency that I noted above demonstrates how absurd it is that many of the political elite in our country have ceased on anti-immigrant policies to distract the blame from their own shortcomings. Labour needs to stand up for its principles and explain to the electorate why immigration isn’t to blame for the socioeconomic problems we are now facing.
Furthermore, we need to stand up for those in society of which have been misaligned by both the media and those abusing power. We need to fight against hard Brexit, against the current falsities surrounding the effects of immigration — with facts and reason.
Step Four: And to end on a positive note, Jeremy Corbyn is 66 years old, and will not last forever. For our party to have a credible future, we need to continue our excellent work and develop our new radical left-wing talent as to ensure a prominent left-wing voice within British political discourse for years to come. To do this effectively, we need to stop our romanticism of Corbyn as an individual and grow new relationships with other party members. Notable party members include Richard Burgon, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Angela Rayner, and Clive Lewis.
At the shock to many readers who may know me personally, believe it or not, but despite everything I still remain an eternal optimist. Yes, the Labour Party is probably in the worst position it has ever been in — but now is our chance to re-frame the party into a democratic force for good.
As the saying goes, a week is a long time in politics — so surely, three years is practically a life time?
But what the hell do I know, I’m just an idiot with a keyboard(!?)