Labour and Corbyn: Some Barely Palatable Truths (for both sides)

by Ray_North on August 16, 2015

UnknownWhen Ed Miliband resigned as Leader of the Labour Party, I don’t think that anyone would have predicted that the election to succeed him would have proved to be such a fascinating and divisive contest. But, love him or loathe him, tolerate them or detest them, the surge of Corbyn and travails of Burnham, Cooper and Kendall has evolved into something that has the potential to become one of the seminal moments in our political history.

On these pages, as any reader will have worked out, we are very split, very split.

And, after a couple of weeks arguing the toss, devouring the comments and cringing at some of the bullying or voters I’ve compiled a list of things (I won’t call them facts) that, I think, are true and can be agreed upon by all sides, which may just help take the debate forward.

1) The Tory Party is now in a strong position it is unashamedly Thatcherite and will continue to reduce the size of the state and diminish public services, if it is allowed to.

2) Though strong, the Tory Party does however, potentially face problems of its own, particularly on Europe, and, if the economy goes into reverse, some on the liberal wing will question the brutality of austerity.

3)The electorate clearly returned the Tories in May, but, still, it is fair to say that there are huge swathes of the electorate who voted for them for negative reasons rather than positive ones – I’d say that the negative reasons, perhaps primarily were: ‘the economy was labour’s mess’ argument, ‘not being governed by a load of Scots’ argument, and, ‘Ed Miliband is too weird’ argument.

4) The Labour Party are not currently, and have not for almost a decade been at the forefront of articulating the aspirations and desires of a great number of the electorate. People are not inspired by Labour.

5) It must be right that for many, Labour is unattractive because it does not come across as being technically a party that can be trusted with the economy or levers of power (an argument that Labour has failed to coherently address) and for others Labour has become estranged from ordinary people, too corporate in its language and its outlook and, yes, too Tory-like in its presentation and policy.

6) There is a large number of people who are disaffected by and disinterested in ‘Westminster’ – they see politicians(of all sides) as being boring, dishonest or too slick. They are not enthused by them and don’t trust them. At the last election many of these people voted for the SNP, UKIP and the Greens, who all received a significantly higher number of votes than usual.

7) Many of these people are willing to listen to and become involved in politics.

8) Psephologically, the Labour Party, however, remains the only realistic vehicle of the progressive left (or whatever collective term you want to use to describe those of us who are not Conservative in our views and beliefs) of obtaining power and stopping the Tories.

9) History does suggest that Labour only gets elected when it is credible on the economy and moderate in its policy aims.

10) In attempting to become such a moderate party, Labour has gone too far – the signing up to austerity and a fiscal surplus at the last election was unpalatable for many. Whilst recent decisions such as the abstention on the welfare bill seem to be a betrayal of what the party should believe in. Sadly, this failure has allowed the right wing agenda of the Tory party to become an unassailable orthodox way of thinking, allowing them to pursue a socio-economic policy that has gone largely unchallenged.

11) The 3 ‘mainstream’ candidates for the Labour leadership are incredibly dull and have a track record (perhaps Kendell can be excused this, but I don’t doubt that she is of a similar mindset) of retreating to policy that is heavy on management speak, technical and uninspiring as a way of trying to be both progressive and centrist.

12) It is unlikely that a Labour Party led by Burnham or Cooper would create much of a wave of enthusiasm that is going to be needed to win the next general election.

13) Liz Kendall, on the other hand, may be the one politician who is capable of creating such a wave of enthusiasm, but, in terms of her policy beliefs is too far to the right to be a leader of Social Democrat Party (she is clearly just what the Lib-Dems are after).

14) Jeremy Corbyn has managed to create a massive explosion of good-will and support and has tapped into a feeling of disenfranchisement and disillusion that has blighted the modern Labour party and seen it lose much of its traditional support on the left.

15) Some of Corbyn’s policies are extremely tenuous when closely scrutinised, he has to some extent been taken by surprise by his sudden elevation to saviour of the nation.

16) There are vast swathes of ‘middle England’ who will not in any shape or form be attracted to Jeremy Corbyn, without these votes, Labour will not be re-elected into government.

17) However, if the choice is between a neutered Labour Party that says very little and isn’t very popular with an outside chance of getting elected and a radical Labour Party that is unelectable – then, the reality is that, perhaps, the time has come for those of us on the progressive wing of the political debate to consider a different way of obtaining power and influencing the debate.

18) Whoever gets elected as leader of the Labour Party cannot go about things in the same way as before – the corporate speak and focus-group driven policy making of the Blair years has to go. So, to, must the tribal view that Labour, only Labour, and no one else but Labour, is capable of articulating the needs of the weaker in society, and putting forward an agenda of fairness, equality of opportunity and socio-economic success.

19) If Corbyn is elected leader, then the two biggest disasters would be (a) the mainstream Labour hierarchy refusing to have anything to do with him; and (b) Corbyn mistakenly believing that he now has a mandate to resurrect the policies and ethos of the 1980s. Both sides must realise that the support Corbyn is receiving is a unique (and, yes on some levels risky) rejection of Westminster and New Labour, and both sides must take care to understand it and harness it positively.

20) Whoever is elected leader must find a way to form alliances with other parties and individuals, because, surely, the conclusion of Corbynmania and the reality of Labour’s situation is that neither side can go it alone, neither side has all the solutions, but, both sides must find a way of going forward because the alternative, years and years of Toryism with the likes of Cameron, Osborne and Johnson at the helm sends a shiver up my spine.

What does the future hold then? Well, in the first instance uncertainty, probably anger, almost certainly confusion and ridicule, but if the left is truly fit to govern (and I include everyone from Liz Kendall leftwards in this, in fact I include Lib-Dems, Greens, the SNP and some elements of UKIP in this), then it must finally learn once more how to listen to the people, lead the people, and offer inspiration, courage and strength.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Nick August 17, 2015 at 2:58 pm

16th point – hopefully there are vast swathes of young people currently being engaged by Corbyn & the whole Leadership circus , that will outnumber these “middle Englanders ” and vote for the first time because they actually have something to vote for. Saddled with debt and very little prospect of ever owning their own homes should be all the incentive needed to get political.

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Mike Killingworth August 18, 2015 at 12:03 pm

If home ownership is what those young voters want more than anything else, they are better off looking to the Tories than anyone else.

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