.. for all good men (and women) to come to the aid of the Party.
So here we are then. Eight months from perhaps the worst defeat we've ever suffered and four months after we chose a new Leader. Worth drawing breath perhaps and looking coldly and honestly at what is happening to the Labour Party and what we could allow to happen to our country.
A few facts which, despite best endeavours to pretend polls are unreliable, provide a pretty clear perspective on the state of the Party.
1. Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership fair and square and, with the increase in membership over the past four months, it seems a reasonable guess that he continues to have the firm support of well over half of the membership (leaving aside affiliates, etc). I can see no reason why he should stop being leader and, even if through some bizarre twist he did step down, he would be replaced by someone with similar views and a similar position on the left of our Party.
2. Labour is a very long way behind in the polls - at a time when we should probably be a little ahead. And it's not just the polls: the local elections we've seen outside inner London show that our vote continues to erode and that, in Scotland in particular, we are making up no ground in our traditional heartlands.
3. We are falling further behind on the two key factors driving election results: perceived competence to run the economy; and the capacity of our leader to be Prime Minister.
4. Finally, and most worryingly of all, a majority of Labour voters do not now believe that we can win the next election.
To summarise then, we seem very likely indeed to be led into the next election by someone who not even our own voters believe has a chance of winning. And if the evidence of both polls and actual votes is to be believed, there is a real chance of defeat on a scale we have not seen since World War Two.
Over the course of the past few months I've read a few articles which have begun broadly along the lines set out above and this is the point at which they move on to:
- Either: "and it's all the fault of some combination of the mainstream media and the disloyal PLP - they need to get behind the democratically elected Leader or get out of the Party"
- Or: "and it's all the fault of the idiocy of Jeremy and the team around him who are messing everything up whilst threatening decent MPs with deselect ion - Corbyn must go and the sooner the better"
Well, this article is not going in either of those directions, because, quite frankly, I'm becoming profoundly bored and not a little irritated with the righteous indignation and sanctimonious, simplistic and impractical solutions offered by both sides.
I have absolutely no axe to grind here, so, what the hell; it's time to speak truth unto power.
First, to Jeremy and the rest of TeamCorbyn:
- You have created a movement in British politics the like of which we have not seen for at least a generation. The enthusiasm and commitment for you and the policies you espouse and that can be seen in Constituency Labour Parties across the country is extraordinary. You have more energy behind you than any leader I have known in the Labour Party (including Tony Blair and, although it was before my time, probably Clement Attlee too). This is something really special and you have brought it into being.
- You have moved towards the creation of new, distinctive, domestic policies which have real resonance with the electorate. In particular, the staged approach to renationalisation of the rail industry is both sensible and attractive. The work of your Shadow Chancellor in creating a genuinely high quality Economics Advisory Committee is especially encouraging. Labour could go into the next election with a fully articulated Keynesian based alternative to the unproductive devotion to cuts-based austerity offered by the Tories
But on the other hand ...
- In terms of running a political party which has pretentions to power: you are a bunch of amateurs. You may be good journalists and experienced single issue campaigners, but you have no idea how to deal with the complexities of creating an effective campaign to beat one of the best organised and experienced operations in world politics - the Tory Party. You have fallen into every trap set for you and given them and their media allies more ammunition than they could have wished for in their wildest dreams.
- You have an obsession regarding the West and the United States in particular which isprofoundly unhelpful to your Party. It is also drawing you into debates which you are not able to win. No one in the real world of global politics cares what you think because they do not believe you are never going to be in a position to actually do anything. First, no one thinks you are going to be Prime Minister. And, second, no one much cares about Britain's position except as part of the EU, NATO and as a country which might exercise some mild influence over the US. The more you distance the country from these three Western alliances the less important Britain becomes. The only people who are interested in your obsession (aside from those of your friends who share it) are the Tories and the Tory media who will beat you over the head with your comments and happily present you as 'a danger to the security of the nation'.
Turning now to the Labour 'moderates' of the PLP:
- You represent one of the most talented groups of constituency MPs Labour has had for a long time. Your work on local causes and in support of your communities is widely recognised. For many of you this recognition was reflected in wins or improved majorities against the run of play in May - reinforced by the recent great win for a local figure in Oldham. This level of local support you have achieved - and your deep understanding of the issues which really mean something to your constituents - providethe best protection the Party has against electoral meltdown in 2020
- You are also the best professional politicians in the Party. You know how to use the media and how to avoid the pitfalls of political debate. Amongst your number are counted the Party's best debaters (in Parliament and beyond) and its best 'mechanics' in presenting Labour policies in a way which can appeal beyond our core vote. Finally, a number of your leading thinkers are beginning to contribute new ideas in policy areas (notably tax and foreign policy) which could form an important part of our 2020 manifesto.
On the other hand ...
- Since 2008 (and probably before) you have contributed next to nothing to the creation of a Labour vision for the country which might have enthused our supporters and attracted mainstream voters. Worse, you spent five years apologising for the performance of a great reforming Labour administration and allowed the Tories to create a myth of Labour economic incompetence which it will take many years to redress. You sent the Party into the 2015 election with possibly the most insipid and undifferentiated manifesto it has ever been my dubious privilege to try to present on the doorstep.
- You have been guilty of a level of internecine warfare in the Party which has done great damage both before and after the recent leadership election. You allowed arcane, and often purely personal disagreements between 'Blairites', 'Brownites', 'Millibanders' and others to prevent the emergence of a single individual able to lead the 'moderates' in the Party, still less the Party as a whole. Since the arrival of TeamCorbyn, this has become, if anything, worse. 'Resignees' and 'Collaborators' rejecting each other's position and all only too delighted to participate in the blood sport of shooting fish in a barrel - observing publicly and privately on the (admittedly many) deficiencies of the new leadership with more than a touch of schadenfreude.
If anyone is still reading this after I have managed to offend almost everyone in the Party, I would now like to paint two pictures. The first based on carrying on the way we are going, with nothing done to address our weaknesses and deficiencies. The second based on Party-wide teamwork in which we come together and build on our strengths.
So let me put my 'black hat' on and stare into a gloomy future:
The Tory Gameplan will continue to work. With help from us. The Leadership will continue to make tactical errors which will be seized on both by the Tories and an increasingly disgruntled Labour backbench to underline our unfitness for Government. As the Parliament progresses, the Tories will have completed their most unpopular policies and got through the EU referendum (which will decide "remain" with our help but which will be presented as a victory for Cameron). There will follow a handover to a new Tory leader (which will, with the help of the media, be followed by a 'new leadership bounce'). All of the potential new policies emerging from left or right will fail to achieve much resonance thanks to sniping from the "other side" of the party. We will go into the next election under Jeremy Corbyn with a manifesto supported by less than a quarter of our MPs (but probably around a half of our candidates - following boundary changes and some bloody selection processes). We will lose heavily.
The election will be followed by more recrimination. The enthusiasts who have joined the party recently will gradually drift back into single issue campaigning politics. Surviving 'moderates' will have learned to survive on the strength of local popularity and will be much less interested in party debates which they will see as dominated by the left. The Trades Unions will have lost more ground and have less money. Some may wonder if the link with Labour is any longer worth the antagonism it generates from a large Tory majority Government. Though still capable of engaging effectively in, especially local, campaigns and occasionally ruffling the feathers of the Tories, Labour will, to a considerable extent, have ceased to be a coherent national party able to aspire to Government.
A new generation of Labour MPs and Local Councillors will have to rebuild the party pretty much from the ground up.
But it really does not have to be like that.
Teamwork, trust and playing to our strengths could deliver a very much more positive outcome.
What if the whole party stood back and acknowledged its weaknesses and worked out where in the party it could find men and women able to provide the strengths to overcome them. What if the 'moderates' put aside their differences and went to Jeremy through a single individual able to speak for them with the offer of a new deal. A deal which would bring professionalism into Jeremy's office and into his "inner circle" without trying to put the clock back. A deal which would involve active participation in creating a new economic policy without the belief that the only way we can prove we know what we are doing is to try to out-Osborne Osborne. A deal which would mean that new policy propositions could be guaranteed support from the Labour benches in Parliament, in the press, in public and in private.
What if Jeremy welcomed this approach with open arms and a willingness to put the recent past behind him and to recognise the great achievements of 97-10 Government. What if he, in turn, offered a deal. A deal which ensured that John McDonnell and Angela Eagle would jointly lead the work on a 'new economy'. A deal which instructed Momentum to work under the instructions of Party leadership and in support of their local constituency members. A deal which offered a commitment to sitting MPs to give them the chance, as far as possible, to fight a potentially winnable seat at the next election.
Finally, what if, armed with this deal, the new united team went to the Trades Unions and agreed, explicitly, on the priority areas for fighting the Tories in this Parliament. And the process through which we would jointly develop a manifesto for 2020. A 20/20 vision perhaps?
The unfortunate fact is that all of this will quite possibly not win us the election in 2020. Seat redistribution will help the Tories, the SNP doesn't look like losing Scotland any time soon, and the media's presentation of Jeremy as not a potential Prime Minister has taken such root that it is hard to see this being overcome in the next few years.
Nevertheless, we could truly lead the EU referendum debate. Hilary Benn has shown himself to be a national figure. He could lead the Labour case for "Remain" with the full backing of the Party and the leadership. A new economic proposition delivered effectively by the McDonnell/Eagle partnership might drive a debate on our terms - not Osborne's. A steady flow of new, jointly developed policies would send us into the election united, energised and enthusiastic. As I said, we might lose, but we wouldn't lose by much.
And we would have a springboard for 2020-5 which, with a new leader (Jeremy would I imagine have moved on by then), a strong active and growing party and a coherent set of policies would see us overhauling the Tories, making up ground in Scotland (the SNP will surely have started to fall apart) and being ready to govern again.
That's how I see it anyway. A stark choice between continuing to expose our weaknesses or coming together with compromise, trust and confidence to build on our strengths. Only real teamwork now offers the Labour Party a future worth fighting for!
Now is the time for all good men (and women) to come to the aid of the Party.
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