If Corbyn wins? We stay, and we fight
It looks very much as though the Labour membership will vote to continue its march into irrelevance this week, with Jeremy Corbyn expected to be re-elected; likely with a larger margin than previously.
There will be a post-mortem. Owen Smith will undoubtedly come in for criticism, some of it fair, some of it not. He’s certainly made mistakes in his campaign. But trying to run as a “Corbyn-plus-competence” candidate isn’t one of them.
I’ve spoken to many Labour members this summer, including many Corbyn supporters. The idea that a more “moderate” candidate could have won is, sadly, wishful thinking. This is a party much more supportive of Corbyn than last year’s membership was, when the moderates were routed. It is a party that currently cares more about its own views being represented than about building an election-winning base. There is a reason that people like Dan Jarvis didn’t step forward; this fight was unwinnable.
Members don’t want to let go of Corbyn’s politics, of what he represents to them. Even those who think he may fail in an election still think positively of him. Smith played the only hand he had available; whether you think he did that well or badly is a different question.
He deserves criticism for the series of mistakes and gaffes throughout the campaign; although the hypocrisy of opponents jumping on them really has been a sight to behold, given their inability to acknowledge Corbyn’s much greater failings.
But also, Smith deserves some credit for trying his best to bring reality to a faith-based audience. The anger towards past Labour governments, and some Canary-inspired nonsense “facts” cropped up a few times in hustings, and I admire Smith for standing in front of hostile idiots and setting them straight. When he defended New Labour’s legacy, he spoke for many of us.
So, what next?
Certain commentators burble on about unity, which is just a complete refusal to face reality. If the driver is taking the bus over a cliff, the correct response is not for the passengers to cheer him on ever louder. We face electoral wipeout; unity ranks a long way behind basic competence in the list of things Labour needs right now. You might as well tell the party to cross their fingers.
Interestingly, those who preach unity seem to have very little to say about the prospect of deselections.
But the MPs now have a critical choice to make; do they fall back in line, or continue to oppose? I’d argue that neither are the best course of action.
Continued opposition will only lead to continued entrenchment. We may not agree with it, but many members are furious with the actions of the PLP, believing that poor performance is down to them.
Of course, extreme Corbynites will always blame someone else, but most Corbyn supporters are more reasonable. They see his failings, but they also think he hasn’t been given a fair chance. Many members feel that their views aren’t being respected, and the leadership and their cheerleaders play on this. As long as they have an opportunity to point the blame elsewhere, they will do so.
MPs can’t keep giving Corbyn an alibi for his failures. So, no more briefing, no more tweeting, no more criticism. Doing so only strengthens the leader, and drives a bigger wedge between MPs and members; much as Corbyn deserves opposition, it is massively counterproductive.
But also; MPs shouldn’t return to the Shadow Cabinet, for broadly the same reason. The PLP, more than most, understands that Corbyn is not a decent person, nor an effective leader. Sooner or later, collective responsibility will collapse. Who do you think the membership will hold responsible for that?
If members don’t like the fact that MPs won’t rejoin the Shadow Cabinet: tough. If the members vote for a leader who is not supported by 80% of his MPs, they will get a leader who is not supported by 80% of his MPs.
The principled thing is for those MPs to politely refuse to join the Shadow Cabinet, and we all know Corbynites love principles. Plus, consider an interviewer’s first question upon appointment; “so, do you have confidence in the leader..?”
MPs need to tread a careful line. They should offer full support on causes in which they are in agreement, such as grammar schools. They could try and drive change from the backbenches, as Stella Creasy and Caroline Flint have done. They can try and make a difference through parliamentary committees. And they should try and strengthen constituency links, which could prove very important protection against an impending electoral tsunami.
This isn’t a perfect plan. But then, there aren’t any perfect plans at this point. The only thing that matters is how quickly we can fix this. Making Jeremy Corbyn own his own leadership is the way to go. You want to lead without the support of MPs? Go ahead.
And what of the members? I know of Labourites planning to leave the party the moment Jeremy Corbyn is re-elected. I completely understand the sentiment. I quit earlier this year over Jackie Walker’s readmission, before re-joining for the leadership election. So I’m probably not in a good position to ask the following.
But: please stay. Every member that leaves makes saving viable left-wing politics that bit harder.
This madness will pass. Yougov’s projection is for Corbyn to win 62% of the vote. If that’s accurate, his mandate will have barely changed since last year, despite the big jump in membership between his election in September and January’s cut-off.
This could well be Corbyn’s high water mark; if so, he may never be in as strong a position as he will be this weekend. The determination of some to push for deselections and re-shape the party could indicate that Corbyn supporters realise this too.
As another silver lining, the NEC looks set to shift against him with the appointment of two new members. It’s not over yet.
What we need now is for those of us who believe in parliamentary socialism to organise. To fight against any absurd deselection attempts. To try to prevent Momentum from controlling CLPs. We will lose many of these battles, but logic says we will win the war.
It’s not going to be fun. But the sensible, decent people in the Labour Party need our support. If the thought of paying your subs to fund Corbyn makes you feel ill, tell yourself that it’s also helping to fund Gloria de Piero, Stella Creasy, Lisa Nandy, Chuka Umunna, Tom Watson, Caroline Flint, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall, Sadiq Khan; whoever it is that gives you a reason to support the party.
They need us to stay, and the Corbynites want us to leave.
Watching Neil Kinnock on Panorama was heartbreaking. He fought this stupidity back once before, and we should all be proud of the things the party went on to achieve in government as a result. We’re going to have to win this fight again.
It’s not going to be easy, but we owe it to Neil, and to the people who need a Labour government, to give it our very best.
We stay, and we fight.