Readers of my blog will know last week was the first time in my six years within the Labour Party that I’ve been branded a “Blairite” to my face. This is despite having never voted for a Blairite, and being too young to even have voted for Tony Blair.
I joined the Labour Party just as Ed Miliband was to be elected as leader, and I make no secret of the fact that a lot of his politics appealed to me and enthused me to become a party activist. He was no Blairite either. How soon everyone forgot that the people on the right of the party called him too “left wing” (indeed Tony Blair subtly made digs about this), he was called ‘Red Ed’ by his critics in the media (left), and his plans for rent capping and a mansion tax were trashed by the very rich. Some Tony Blair clone he was, eh?
While I did not originally vote for Jeremy Corbyn it does not mean I do not agree with his principles. Yet you do not have to be a Blairite to see problems with his leadership. I will also be the first to acknowledge he has converted huge swarms to the Labour Party and that this is the politics those people want. But realistically Jeremy Corbyn is not going to win the next General Election. The Tories are now 16 points ahead in the opinion polls, and Labour voters are starting warm more to Theresa May (the woman who authorised the ‘Go Home’ vans) over the Labour leader.
Some might accuse me of double standards for rallying behind Ed Miliband when he was also called unelectable. But Ed did manage to deliver some killer blows after the omnishambles budget, in PMQs, on the issue of war in Libya and Syria, and on phonehacking. We’ve just had Brexit, the Tories’ economic plan is in tatters, the Prime Minister has a non-existent mandate, and they have a tiny majority. Yet our party is more divided than ever, and Corbyn is performing worse up against May than against Cameron. I find myself hiding behind my hands at times because we should be delivering some killer blows right now so we can start to see the real change Corbyn fans want.
We cannot ignore that Jeremy Corbyn has spurred more people to become interested in politics, but I fear we’re getting to a point where his politics involving preaching to the converted. While he enthuses an incredible amount of party activists, it is only a small percentage of the electorate who we need to win over to win a General Election. All of these principles Jeremy stands for cannot be implemented without winning seats in the House of Commons, and there lies the problem.
For some, it isn’t a problem. Some voted for the Green Party over the past ten years knowing it would not have any real effect nationally, and unconcerned that this is a gift to the Tories. Some know Jeremy cannot win but will continue to support him only because he has taken a principled stance. Some only voted for Jeremy as an interim leader, thinking the next General Election would be at least 5 years away. Then there are the fantasists who believe losing elections is all part of a masterplan, and that once the working class has united there will be a revolution (yes, I was told this last night). This terrifies me. Not least because I have a busy diary at the moment, and I need to know when this is going to happen so it doesn’t clash with other commitments. Fantasy aside, people voting in this leadership election need to think about who the country could support for Prime Minister, because it is them we need to sell our candidate to. This is perhaps why MPs like Clive Lewis are already resorting to relying on a ‘progressive alliance’ instead of looking for an outright Labour win.
Angela Eagle was incredibly brave to have sparked the leadership contest, and as much as I would love to have a female leader, her voting record felt tainted by the past. On the other hand, Owen Smith does offer me hope. I don’t expect for one minute Owen will win the leadership election, but after a ropey start he does seem to be offering a decent alternative. Jeremy Corbyn fans were quick to brand Owen a ‘Blairite’, but Smith is to the left of ‘Red Ed’. After his policy announcements yesterday, they’re no longer calling him a Blairite, but someone who is now copying and promoting Corbyn’s politics. For me that’s not a bad thing – that seems to be the ideal package. A leader who will present the Corbyn politics the party membership joined up to see implemented, but with someone in charge who can communicate the message effectively, and stands a chance of winning in a General Election. Someone who might be able to implement the proposed end on a public sector pay freeze, who could implement a wealth tax, and who could increase NHS spending. Rather than what we have right now – fantasising about it while the Tories manage to do the opposite.
Reports from the last General Election suggest Ed Miliband didn’t lose because he was too left wing, but because he couldn’t communicate his policies effectively (that’s probably why he had to carve them into stone). He also couldn’t win the trust on the economy. Jeremy Corbyn, I fear, is in a similar predicament. If we can have someone in charge who can communicate Jeremy’s politics effectively, and win the trust of the general public, we will start to move forwards not backwards. Even when the Parliamentary Labour Party were united, we saw the headlines dominated by Jeremy Corbyn’s own doing. Not wearing a tie, not singing the national anthem, not getting a grasp on internal issues, and words he allegedly said in the past. Some were ridiculous, but that’s the cruel way the media works. It happens on both sides, if you recall #piggate.
Smith has a hard job of winning over the membership. While those who signed up before the 2015 General Election seem more receptive to a change in leadership, we have a significant number of people who joined up recently purely to vote for Corbyn, and will continue to do so. However, one cannot ignore the most recent poll published today that suggests the public back Smith over Corbyn by 57% to 43%, and this is only at the very infancy of campaigning. Nonetheless it’s going to be tremendously difficult.
The problem I find is that many on the left refuse to compromise. We have seen this with Jeremy Corbyn, who did not do enough to compromise with the Parliamentary Labour Party. We saw it with the EU referendum and the many who refused to campaign, even if it had direct consequences on the Labour leadership. Now we’ll see it again in the coming years if Jeremy remains leader, and it gives the Tories a 15 year stint in the House of Commons. It’s not just a British problem, we only can look at the Bernie Sanders’ supporters refusing to back Hilary Clinton to see we’re sleepwalking towards a President Trump. A very scary thought indeed.
There are many people out there – more so than you and me – who desperately need a Labour government to stop the very worst of austerity affecting them, and who need us to stand up for them when they need us the most. That’s why I hope at the end of this contest, even if a new leader is not elected, we will see some sort of compromise so that we can give them hope and not despair. If 15 years of Tory rule doesn’t scare you, just think about what failure to compromise will mean for the left in America.