Clive Lewis could be the person Labour needs

17 Feb 2017

From the start of his tenure Jeremy Corbyn has found himself in a tenuous position, lacking the support of the wider base of his party, and supported mainly by the external members who joined in the lead-up to his election.


Surrounded by a small band of loyal allies such as John McDonnell and Diane Abbott, Corbyn’s attempts to galvanise an ailing Labour party by forming a strong, left-wing opposition have been unsuccessful. Irrespective of his competence or lack thereof, he consistently polls a long way behind the incumbent Conservative government, and shows little chance of threatening them in the 2020 election.


Most recently, his attempt to impose a three-line whip upon MPs in favour of triggering Article 50 saw a number of rebellions.


Corbyn’s general argument was that Brexit was going to happen irrespective of what those who opposed it believed, and that it was best to fight for the best deal Britain could achieve, but his desire to do so attracted criticism. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon branded him “pathetic” for failing to win a single concession from Theresa May’s governing Tories, and for handing them a “blank cheque.” Those who believe that the government’s plans for a so-called ‘hard Brexit’ are dangerous, may be inclined to agree with Sturgeon.


All-in-all, it seems as if Corbyn cannot win. Sticking to his principle views paints him as unpopular to a portion of the electorate. Compromising on them finds Corbyn branded a hypocrite.


Perhaps most notable, however, was the resignation from the Shadow Cabinet of Clive Lewis, someone who has often been perceived as an ally of Corbyn. In the immediate aftermath of his resignation, many believed that Lewis may be aiming to mount a potential leadership challenge.


If he is, it may be wise for Labour to consider him as a potential leader. Whenever Corbyn is ousted, or chooses to go on his own accord, the party will need a strong and likable figure to step into the void, and drag Labour back from the looming abyss.


They could do far worse than Clive Lewis. The MP, only elected in 2015, will be able to portray himself as someone with little baggage. Unlike Corbyn, he has no extensive history of rebelling against the party line, making any attempts at three-line whips seem less hypocritical. Emerging long after the Blair era, Lewis is untainted by the legacy Labour is often tarnished with in the aftermath of the Iraq War.


While he is someone who would likely be popular with elements of the party base due to his left-wing views, he has also demonstrated a willingness to compromise. It was suggested that Lewis would be willing to continue in Labour’s support for trident, and would also be supportive of NATO.


Corbyn’s defiance on such issues have often led to him being branded as weak on defence, or even as unpatriotic.


Lewis would not face the same difficulties. The media would find it incredibly difficult to question his patriotism considering he served a tour in Afghanistan for the Territorial Army.


Of course, it is arguable that with the difficult job the government will face in dealing with Brexit, any fresh and competent leader would find themselves able to steer Labour to improved fortunes. Any incoming leader would begin after the triggering of Article 50, and would therefore find themselves in the much easier position of having to fight for the best Brexit deal possible, as opposed to fighting whether or not Article 50 itself should be triggered.


And it is worth noting that certain issues will not disappear for Labour, irrespective of who becomes leader. Scotland will likely remain solidly SNP, and Labour's mired stance when it comes to their hostility to both independence and Brexit, will ensure it is difficult for them to see any substantial polling increase north of the border.


Nevertheless, there are two significant voting groups who any new Labour leader will be expected to appeal to.


The first would be disillusioned Tories, who have perhaps supported the government on certain issues, but find themselves in deep opposition to Brexit. It is a group the Liberal Democrats have aimed to appeal to as they paint themselves as a party who persist in their strong support of the EU.


The second group is those who feel deeply disillusioned with politics in general, and desire significant change. Such people can come in many different forms. They may support UKIP. In Scotland, they may support the SNP, believing the UK to no longer represent a country they wish to live in. They may support the Greens, buoyed by the prospect of a genuinely left-wing, environmental alternative. And they may be non-voters, unmoved by any of the current political crop.


Convincing disillusioned voters to support Labour again may be where Lewis is an ideal option for the party. He is someone who can perhaps hold the outsider appeal of Corbyn, with many economically left-wing views, and yet he will also potentially be able to win over the votes of Tories who are no longer enthused by the government’s approach, due to his willingness to compromise.


Nevertheless, even if Lewis does win he will face an uphill task.


His party remains divided on many issues which extend beyond Brexit. There is an argument that they are, in fact, too divided and too separated in ideology to function effectively.


At the moment victory for Labour in 2020 seems impossible. But,  an improvement in performance compared to the Party's current position will be a positive. Clive Lewis may be the figure who can bring about this improvement.

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