These are difficult times for Labour – perhaps the most difficult since it emerged as a major political force in the 1920s.
Across the Western world, we have seen the rise of right wing populism and the decline of the traditional centre-left. This has been deleterious for advocates of social democracy.
Closer to home, Labour have been struggling. According to the polls, there is an enormous gap between Labour and the Conservatives – one poll even suggests that we are behind the Tories and UKIP when it comes to connecting with working class voters. Although we kept Stoke, beating UKIP leader Paul Nuttall in a seat that voted 70% leave, it was an absolute disaster that we lost Copeland – a seat we held for over 80 years. We need to win over 100 seats in order to win in 2020. We should not be declining.
The public do not know where Labour stand on key issues. This is because of the failure of our comms and strategy. Corbyn’s 10 pledges, which were adopted at 2016 conference, have the potential to appeal to key swing voters – but it seems like we are only talking about the NHS. We are failing to get our message across on Brexit; on the economy; on immigration; on welfare; to name a few. The quote ‘Labour will save the NHS, but the NHS will not save Labour’ comes to mind. We are failing to reach out of our comfort zone – this is a strategy which is doomed from the very start.
In summary, there is an existential crisis for the left across the West and there is the complete failure so far for the left to communicate our message. These are the problems that Labour face. So, how do we fix it – and what can we do?
Now, some will say that Corbyn needs to go. But let’s look at the reality.
Some have called for him to resign. However, Jeremy Corbyn has already stated that he will not leave his position as Labour leader. The two leadership elections both came out with a decisive outcome – Jeremy Corbyn won them both – both with overwhelming majorities. For him to stand down just 5 months after winning a 2nd leadership election (with 62% of the vote) is just not going to happen.
Because of this, some have called for another leadership challenge. But these questions needs to be asked: Who/what is the alternative? and who is the challenger? The answer: There is no answer. A 3rd leadership election would likely lead to another win for Jeremy Corbyn, meaning months looking inwards. This will only damage Labour further – and the result would be the same: Jeremy Corbyn would likely remain as Labour leader.
I backed Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader twice. Do I regret voting for Corbyn? Not at all. In the 1st leadership election, his voice was absolutely necessary for Labour to hear – he turned our party from one which advocated some unnecessary cuts in 2015 into an anti-austerity party. He injected bold ideas and radicalism back into the heart of the Labour Party.
When it came to the 2nd leadership election, he was a better candidate than Owen Smith. When it came to the biggest issue of our time, Brexit, Corbyn understood that we had to come out with the best Brexit plan rather than reject the referendum result. Smith’s anti-Brexit platform would have been disastrous in our heartlands and key English marginal seats (the overwhelming majority of which voted leave). Not only this, but Corbyn’s vision was still right, with ideas which have the potential to counter right wing populism and to attach onto the anti-establishment mood. However, as mentioned earlier, our comms and strategy are completely failing, meaning the vision isn’t being seen by the people we need to convince to vote for us – and responsibility must be taken for this.
There is a crisis for the left, and the left need to adapt in order to survive – this includes the left in the United Kingdom. We need to combat this. We should do this by winning the battle of ideas – we already have committed to; public ownership of our railways; a £10 minimum wage; allowing communities to run their own energy firms; and a National Education Service. We should be offering more radical policies like; the Basic Income; allocating Brexit money to our NHS; advocating co-operatives with profit sharing for workers; affordable housing; significant investment in science and technology; to name a few.
There are vast problems for Labour and there is no quick fix. Some will blame Corbyn, but it should be clear that he is not going anywhere. The vision is right but we are failing to effectively communicate them. However, instead of looking inwards, all wings of the party must unite and come up with a coherent strategy to win. We must take risks, we must reach out of our comfort zone and we must offer a radical alternative to counter right wing populism. That is the only way I think we can win.