Last June I wrote an e-mail to the 50-odd MPs yet to nominate a candidate for Labour leader. Young and disaffected by the latest blow dealt to the left at the ballot box, Corbyn mania was making waves across the nation and I was more than willing to throw myself into the heart of it. I attended rallies, pleaded with MPs and duly paid my £3 when the time came to cast my vote, much to the disdain of many long-time members, muttering about ‘entryists’ stealing their party from them. They needn’t have worried – even without the influx of voters Jeremy Corbyn brought with him, he won comfortably across all areas of the membership.
As the momentum of Corbyn’s campaign increased at a dizzying pace, a discernible cry could be heard: ‘policy over personality’. Sadly, over the past ten months New Politics has transformed from youthful political revolution into a stale, insular personality cult.
Corbyn remains the decent, idealistic maverick he was last year, however, the simple fact of the matter is Jeremy Corbyn is harming Labour. His team is insular, his approval ratings abysmal, his followers blinkered, but more importantly, his ability to lead Labour is non-existent.
Rather than listing poor performances and gaffes, surely the obvious sign that Corbyn’s time has passed is to be found in the most recent events. If you suffer more than one frontbench resignation, you have a problem. When you face over fifty shadow cabinet and ministerial resignations, and only 40 members of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) support you, it’s a crisis. Undeniably, the constant prevarication and resistance provided by the rabidly anti-Corbyn wing of the PLP has limited him from day one. However, the majority of the PLP is filled with decent, equally principled MPs who were perfectly willing to give Jeremy a fair hearing. But, no matter the size of your democratic mandate, if you are seeking to lead a party of 229 members, when 172 have no confidence in you, there can be no positive electoral outcome.
Therein lies the root of Labour’s problem. When the inevitable leadership contest comes around, the membership may well re-elect the least electable leader Labour has ever fielded. So why vote for Jeremy when his performance over the past year has been such a widely-lauded failure?
The answer can surely only be one of these; because the PLP denies Corbyn’s leadership has been successful; because Corbyn is viewed as the only ‘true’ left-winger; because Corbyn is seen as better than the alternatives.
In many ways, this has been a crisis in the making since the rise of Neil Kinnock in 1983 as the party began its long lurch away from its socialist roots to the mythical ‘centre ground’. Whilst producing results at the polls, this spread discontent amongst members, who felt so disaffected that not even the return of the soft-left under the leadership of Ed Milliband was enough to galvanise them. The new, much-needed One-Member-One-Vote primaries allowed for Corbyn to emerge as the new saviour of the left, finally ‘bringing Labour home’.
Corbyn was the Labour members’ first taste of true Socialism for decades, and for many young sign-ups (like myself), the first we’d ever known. The issue for the party comes when he subsumes the idea. In Britain’s current grave political situation we need a strong left-wing opposition, but Corbyn has been far from strong.
On Israel his dedication to the Palestinian cause has lead him to blunderingly appear to conflate Israel and I.S. His results at the local elections were masked only by the success of the mayoral elections over which his influence is questionable at best, and putting aside a myriad of personal gaffes, his antipathy towards the EU Referendum was a disgrace to the young left who propelled him to power.
Originally I was dismissive of those who criticised Corbyn’s contribution to the referendum, he did deliver 63% of the Labour vote - only one point below the Scottish National Party (SNP). Details that were to emerge of allies deleting pro-E.U. speeches, curtailing his involvement in the campaign, and even refusing to confirm how he voted clearly prove me wrong. 82% of us who voted for Corbyn supported Remain, this was perhaps the most important vote we will ever have to get right, and Corbyn got it wrong.
Where was the rallying cry against hated Tory austerity policies? Where was the advancement of radical, popular ideas like nationalised rail? Where has there been a genuine advancement of progressive, socialist ideals beyond a few minor victories in changing aspects of policy in a party currently set for a head-on collision with electoral oblivion?
Corbyn is a decent, principled campaigner but he makes a bad politician. If he truly loves his party, the best thing he could do is strike a deal to resign as long as another Labour-left MP is ensured a place on the ballot. It’s not as if there’s a dearth of talented left-wingers; the likes of the charismatic (if youthful) Clive Lewis, unifier Lisa Nandy, even the old hand socialist and architect of the Corbyn dream John McDonnell makes for a canny political operator. Corbyn is not the be-all and end-all of Socialism in the Labour party, but he has shown the PLP the membership’s appetite for a Socialist at the helm.
Corbyn has laid the foundations for a young colleague of his choosing to be Labour leader, and by doing so is able to show the PLP that ‘electability’ and ‘centrist’ are not synonymous. Yet, if he decides not to put policy above personality as he promised last year, I fear the party could be consigned to the scrap heap of history.
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