Labour leadership contender Rebecca Long-Bailey recently insisted on giving Jeremy Corbyn a ‘10 out of 10’ rating, despite the party suffering its worst performance since 1935. A subsequent YouGov survey revealed the scale of Long-Bailey’s delusion: 65% of those surveyed gave Corbyn somewhere between a 0 and 4 out of 10.
Yet Corbyn’s apologists in the PLP continue to labour under the illusion that “we won the argument”. We won zilch, I’m afraid. “It’s Brexit wot won it for the Tories”, they continue, ignoring the fact that Labour’s vote share went down in 98% of seats.
When all other excuses are exhausted, Lavery, Abbott, Burgon et al. decry the right-wing press for criticising their Jeremy. Of course, every Labour leader has had to endure Red Scare attacks from the press; it’s petulant to pretend otherwise. “Gestapo in Britain if Socialists win,'' raved the Daily Express in 1945, weeks before Clement Attlee won a thumping victory.
The truth of it is this: if the Labour party ignores the existential questions it faces, if it points the blame at the press, or at Brexit-supporting sections of the working class, we will be setting ourselves up to fail for a fifth time.
If, under Long-Bailey’s leadership, we press ahead with another overloaded manifesto in 2024, teeming with expensive promises and a commitment to abolish the House of Lords, we will neither be credible nor relevant. We will be letting down millions of people who need a radical Labour government.
For this reason, the Labour party must pivot towards a pragmatic socialism that can pass vital tests asked of the electorate: Is your program credible? Is it patriotic? Does it speak to the everyday concerns of working people?
That’s why I’m backing Sir Keir Starmer to become the next leader of our party. Starmer has a stellar record as a human rights barrister. His pro bono work on the McLibel case and his legal challenges against the death penalty in the Caribbean are demonstrative of his commitment to Labour values.
As head of the Crown Prosecution Service, a public agency of upwards of 6000 employees, Starmer has proven that he can lead from the front. His eye for detail, honed from his years in the courts, has served him well in the Commons; his forensic scrutiny of Brexit legislation as Shadow Brexit Secretary has earned him praise as one of Labour’s best-performing frontbenchers.
With this in mind, it’s hardly surprising that Conservative members believe that Starmer would be the most effective leader of those standing, according to recent polling from Conservative Home. Starmer’s background attests to his authority, credibility and intellectual heft. Labour needs this from its leader if we are to reconnect with voters in seats that have not been red since the Blair years, such as Harlow, Dover, and Norwich North, among others.
Although none of the leadership candidates have outlined their policy program as
of yet, I’ve been heartened by Starmer’s rhetoric in articles for The Guardian and The Daily Mirror. I trust him to strike a balance between being radical and being electable. We don’t need to ditch every argument we’ve made for the last five years.
Many of our policies, in and of themselves, are incredibly popular. What we do require is discipline. Whoever our next leader is, they cannot defend failing “socialist” leaders such as Nicolas Maduro. Nor can they promise five nationalisations in one term. Corbyn’s foreign policy jarred with the public and the scale of his domestic plans added to their perception of him, rightly or wrongly, as untrustworthy and incompetent; that much was clear from talking to voters on the doorstep.
The Labour party ought to be focusing on a few key policies -- such as the Green New Deal -- that Shadow Cabinet members can hammer home in the media. It also ought to avoid distracting voters from its messaging with foreign policy positions that appear to be lifted from Morning Star editorials. Keir Starmer has talked of the need to be ‘radical and relevant’.
That coupling is promising, because to be relevant as a Labour leader is to be radical -- it means that we could, at some point this decade, have a shot at delivering on Sure Start centres, NHS investment and so on. If that means moderating our image under Starmer’s helm so the party can broaden its appeal, then so be it, because I’m more concerned about the rising use of foodbanks and record high NHS waiting times than I am about being ideologically pure. In short, I want our leadership to start being a bit more savvy.
I’m not convinced that Rebecca Long-Bailey understands this, which is troubling, given that she’s favourite to win, with backing from Momentum and most-likely Unite. She’s written about the need to deliver a ‘democratic revolution’, a ‘popular movement to turn the British state against the privatisers, big polluters and tax dodgers that have taken hold of our political system’.
Populist rhetoric that could have been taken straight out of a Corbyn stump speech, without any serious examination of why the Corbyn project failed (twice). To be clear, I voted for Corbyn in 2015, but I’ve since realised that my politics cannot exist in a vacuum.
If Corbynism has been shown to fail, then I want my party to change tack, and soonish, lest the public think we don’t care about what they’ve got to say.
So let’s show the public we’ve listened to them on 4 April. Starmer is an asset to our party, with a background that oozes with talent. He offers a winning compromise for those of us on the left by marrying radicalism with relevance. Of the two main contenders in this race, he is best positioned, I feel, to reach out to areas that have long-abandoned Labour. That’s why I urge all members reading this to support Keir, our best chance of delivering a pragmatic socialism that can change lives.
Finley Harnett is a Labour member