Can Labour hold off the Conservative juggernaut?

19 Jan 2016


Last week, the Guardian released heartening news for Corbynites; their plan to reframe Labour and put the party on a solid left-wing footing is working. Branches are being regenerated, local memberships are skyrocketing, and new members – many of whom left the party following the Iraq War – are making their voices heard. Amidst the backdrop of reshuffles, resignations and renewed assaults from the Right of the party, this is badly needed encouragement for Jeremy Corbyn. It shows that, even despite a civil war within the parliamentary party, Corbyn’s grassroots support has not waned.


But things as they stand are still far from rosy for Labour. Although the new recruits are enthusiatic (at times overly so), they are also inexperienced in the art of modern electoral campaigning. Like Corbyn and many members of his Shadow Cabinet, these grassroots campaigners have been out of front-line action for a rather long time. And, although we can't predict the position of the Conservative Party in 2020, given the possibility of an implosion over the European Union, we can nevertheless be certain that Corbyn will still face a highly experienced group of professionals, well versed in PR, educated in when to fight and when to pander, and capable of producing stunning acts of political warfare.


Corbyn will not have the same experience and resources to call upon, unless he manages to regain the support of senior moderates, such as Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umunna, and Tristram Hunt (which seems highly unlikely). Indeed, the naivety of the Labour leadership was excruciatingly evident during the recent Shadow Cabinet reshuffle. The sacking of Pat McFadden for “disloyalty” was a move reminiscent of a communist-style despotic dictatorship; neutralizing all those who oppose the leader. For someone who ran on a campaign of open, honest politics, it’s hard to see how the Shadow Cabinet reshuffle upheld either of these values.


An example of how naivety can damage Corbyn was revealed at PMQs. In a session just after the beginning of a new year, when David Cameron had nothing to be happy about, given the massive damage inflicted on the north by Storms Desmond, Eva and Frank, and the growing unease about Britain’s economic situation, not to mention the imminent nurses strike, Cameron came off relatively unscathed. Indeed, the PM was able to dodge these sore spots with ease and blow Corbyn with jibes about Labour’s shambolic disunity.


That is not to say Labour needs to implement an abrupt ideological about-turn. If anything, Corbyn’s shift to the Left may well benefit the party, as long as the leadership can maintain consistency and competency. In an era of centrist political warfare between architype establishment candidates, a left-leaning Labour Party has the potential not only to attract former loyalists, but the common worker and the floating voter. Indeed, in Lord Ashcroft’s report on Labour’s recent election defeat, his evidence supported the view that Labour’s left-wing policies did not cost Miliband the election:


“In our poll, the single biggest reason loyalists gave for having voted Labour in 2015 was that the party’s values were closest to their own. Majorities also said they expected to be better off under a Labour government than a Conservative one, or that Labour offered the best chance of ending austerity.”


However, Ashcroft did find that Labour lacked competence and failed to prove that they were ready to govern. A 66 year-old bearded socialist will find it hard to convince the nation of his leadership qualities when compared with the experienced, slick statesmen and stateswomen of the Tory party. Corbyn will need to find a way to build his persona if he intends to remain Labour leader and win over the nation in 2020.


Moreover, the veteran socialist will need to find a way to handle colleagues who step out of line, be it keyboard warrior Corbynites, or dissenting Blairites. Every issue mishandled provides yet more ammunition for the media and, by extension, the Conservatives. Corbyn therefore must act swiftly to ensure that his new movement – that has revived the grassroots of the Labour Party – can win power and truly change Britain.

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