WARNING: If you are a Jeremy Corbyn or Tony Blair fan (I don’t know if Tony Blair fans still exist), be prepared to feel offended.
As they have been since the fall of Ed Miliband after last years general election, the Labour Party continues to be at war with itself. At the centre of this war are two particular factions of the party; the Blairites at the far right of the party, who believe that Labour should stick to the middle ground and not actually stand for anything to get to power; and the Corbynistas at the far left of the party, who believe that the party should stick to the narrow mandate of its core base but remain unable to remotely challenge the Conservatives come a general election. This war has led to me becoming increasingly alienated with Labour, and veering back towards the Liberal Democrats, who although currently uninspiring under Tim Farron, at least know what they stand for now and what they are offering as a political force, and since Brexit, are witnessing a renaissance of sorts according to recent polling.
My problem with Labour currently is the following:
- The Blairites inability to realise that its 21 year abandonment of the working classes has led to the rise of Jeremy Corbyn as well as the rise of UKIP in working class areas to start with. The Blair years were characterised by a anchor to the centre-ground of the post-Thatcher settlement, meaning that Blair’s Labour would not be developing a Britain which benefited normal working people. This created a disconnect with the working-classes and left-wingers which saw flocks of voters defect to both The Lib Dems and the Green Party. By the time I was properly engaging with an election in 2010, Labour weren’t even viewed as any way left-wing, just as a bit of a farce in the light of the 2008 recession. Once this disconnect was piled on by Tory cuts affecting the poor the most and the Lib Dems apparent betrayal, UKIP provided an answer, although undoubtedly a false answer, to many disenfranchised former Labour voters, in immigration. For the more left-liberal Labour voters, Corbyn became an answer other than having to support a party which will always be one of protest like the Greens. However, many on the right of the Labour Party still ignore the fact they made the enemies in their own traditional heartlands that they battle today, and this ignorance makes their claims to be able to win an election more than Corbyn’s supporters illogical.
- The Blairites inability to see that anything but anti-austerity will no longer be tolerated from what is supposed to be Britain’s left-wing party. This wing of the party, now supporting Angela Eagle’s leadership bid, fail to understand that by continuing to want to offer basically a Conservative manifesto on a social democratic diet, that they are not offering the British people a real alternative or even a real opposition to vote for; just look at Harriet Harman’s woeful performance as interim leader, where she ordered the party to not oppose cuts to household welfare and child tax credits.
- The supporters of Jeremy Corbyn’s inability to see that past their narrow base. The fact is if you talk to your floating voter, or even many more elderly traditional Labour voters who are not active members of the party, they have a negative view of Corbyn. The fact is for many reasons, including resentment by many groups towards Corbyn’s participation with dealing with the IRA in the 1990s, Hamas and Hezbollah in the 2000s, and even to some more petty, his refusal to dress smart, Corbyn himself is a turnoff for millions who could vote Labour under a different leader. Although I have no problem with Corbyn personally, it does not change the fact some of his former causes make him too toxic to lead a party in an election. It’s not an issue if I personally will vote for him or not, it is an issue on will he be able to stop the Tories from doing further damage to the country, which I believe unfortunately he has no chance.
- The Corbynista failure to compromise on a more popular, more articulate leader who could also advocate an anti-austerity program. One positive of Corbyn’s leadership is that he has changed the nature of debate on the political left in Britain, and many in the soft-left of the Labour Party, such as Owen Smith, who happens to be running for leader, are now also ready to run an anti-austerity approach. It must be remembered, even as early as last year’s leadership election, Andy Burnham had proposed the renationalisation of the railways and to scrap tuition fees. The fact is both Smith and Burnham are in my view, more articulate than Corbyn, and have a far less toxic reputation. If these supporters of Corbyn could compromise a leader to still have an abandonment of austerity and to a degree no longer having neo-liberal approach to the economy, it would be far more beneficial for Labour as an electoral force.
- The worst aspect of this row within the Labour Party is the fact that neither side are willing to working with eachother, and the pettiness of both sides. The Blairite attempts to kick Corbyn’s supporters out of Labour by raising the membership costs to £25 and to stop Corbyn being an option in the new leadership contest is petty and alienating. However, possibly more disturbing is some of the actions of Corbyn supporters. For months there has been vile treatment towards BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg for simply not being biased towards Labour, and now the threats made towards Labour MP’s opposing Corbyn’s leadership, including throwing bricks through Angela Eagle’s constituency office.
I have many friends who would describe themselves as followers of Jeremy Corbyn, and I sympathise with them. After seeing the depressiveness of 20 years of New Labour not producing a proper left-wing government and Ed Miliband, although I love him, not being the most inspiring leader, while the Tories put the brunt of the economic recession on the young and the poor, someone as uncompromising and socialist as Corbyn was always going to be refreshing. However at the end of the day, he is not going to win an election, his poor performance during Brexit confirmed this. I believe that either a Corbyn or Eagle victory in the leadership contest will split the Labour Party, as either result will make the opposing side to adrift to its leader. This will create a situation similar to the Weimar Republic during the rise of Hitler (definitely not saying Britain’s First are about to come out of nowhere), where the SDP (Social-Democrats) and KDP (Communists) were so reluctant to work together they opened the door for their right-wing enemies to do as they pleased.
What Labour needs is a leader who is still anti-austerity, to offer a real alternative to the Conservatives, but also someone who is moderate enough to have a realistic chance of winning an election. My personal ideal candidate would be Andy Burnham, after his role in Hillsborough and strong performance as Shadow Home Secretary has given him popularity in the North and towards many traditional Labour voters I’ve spoken to. However, he is not running in this election, but Owen Smith is, a man who is very articulate, anti-austerity, and has run as a third candidate in this leadership election partly because he has realised that if either the other two win the election, the party will not be united and will not have an alternative to the Conservatives.
Although Theresa May is a very shrewd operator, Brexit means there are choppy waters for this Tory government, I believe a progressive alliance between Labour, The Lib Dems-who would love to get some revenge on the Conservatives after their demise last year, the Green Party and the SNP , possibly with the promise of some sort of proportional representation at the end of it, could yet defeat them in 2020. But I believe this will only be possible if Labour gets its act together, and neither the followers of Corbyn or the followers of old Tony Blair are the answer.