13th September 2016
-By Cllr Sean Woodcock-
What is progress?
On 12 September 2015, Jeremy Corbyn won a long-drawn-out contest over the summer to become leader of the Labour Party.
Fast forward one year and the aftermath of the EU referendum and subsequent narrow victory for Leave, mass resignations from the shadow cabinet and a few appearances in court, Labour is drawn into another summer leadership contest which many polls predict that Jeremy Corbyn will win.
The response from ‘moderates’ has chiefly been divided between despair with talk of abandoning the party, and defiant talk of future, continuous challenges to Mr Corbyn.
Groundhog day, all over again.
The removal of Corbyn has become an obsession for many of his opponents in much the same way as his safe re-election has for his supporters. Almost nothing else matters.
Policy development; scrutinising the government; developing and building the party… with a few notable exceptions, these things have fallen by the wayside or at least have taken on significance as a weapon to be used in the leadership battle.
This is part of the problem.
I did not vote for Jeremy Corbyn last year and I have not this time around.
This is because I genuinely do not believe he is the right leader to take Labour into a general election.
But, having talked to a number of them, I understand his appeal to many party members.
A previous contributor to this blog wrote that Corbyn is a ‘blank canvas’ and that is why he is so popular with members. I agree with this. But I also believe that just as much of the blame for Corbyn’s popularity lay with the ‘moderate’ wing as with anyone else.
“I voted for Corbyn. I didn’t expect him to win, but I wanted him to shake things up and help take the party leftwards. Away from the Tories where we have been for 25 years”, one local member told me.
I have no time for the view of the last Labour government as ‘Tory’ but the fact that this view is held by members is largely a result of the deliberate policy of the Labour leadership during the last parliament to criticise the Blair/Brown governments. Corbyn’s Labour Party has taken this even further so that is now held as a badge of honour to view that government and its key figures almost with a higher level of contempt than members do the Tories.
But this view, and similar views across the membership of the party, should show ‘moderates’ where we have failed so spectacularly as well as a way out of our current predicament.
‘Moderates’, always keen to talk about their capacity for and commitment to winning elections and gaining power in national elections need to reconsider how they communicate with members so that they can do so when it comes to internal, Labour Party ones.
Firstly, ‘moderate’ candidates need to realise that leadership elections are very different to Westminster elections. It is no good ‘moderates’ complaining that members of the party are out of touch with the electorate if in internal party elections ‘moderate’ candidates are themselves out of touch with the ‘membership’.
Most people who vote in Westminster elections may not be idealistic or politically motivated but, almost by default, members of a political party are. This means appealing to them and talking about the issues that matter to them. For Labour members that means talking about health, housing and education.
More than that though, it means appealing to their left-wing ideals even when sticking to your own centrist policies.
Another Labour party member, one who is very anti-Corbyn, told me that no-one else in the Party is explaining things in a progressive manner. And I think that there is some truth in this.
The focus of ‘moderate’ candidates in all of the leadership elections that I have seen, has been a clear effort to triangulate on some policies so as to appear ‘credible’. Credibility and electability DO matter. But this still remains the wrong approach. We can criticise Labour Party members for being ‘self-indulgent’ if we believe that they have voted for ideological purity. But equally, it should be obvious that party members want a ‘credible’ candidate who has a chance of getting Labour into power, to actually do things that they agree with when they get there.
That means at least showing where your views and theirs converge. Winning hearts and minds, not just lecturing in an ‘I know best’ fashion.
The focus on electability has seemingly blinded many ‘moderates’ to the need to make sure that they are not just thinking about how they are credible but also about how they are progressive. This is the same for their policies.
- There is a progressive case for maintaining our independent nuclear deterrent beyond it being electorally sensible to do so. Explain it.
- There is a progressive, rather than a conservative case to be made for the government committing to deficit reduction and cutting the national debt. Make it.
- There is a progressive case for a sovereign country having an element of control on immigration. What is it?
Otherwise, if there isn’t a progressive case for it, why should a progressive, political party advocate it? Even if it is popular with the public (Capital Punishment springs to mind).
Jeremy Corbyn being popular with Labour members is meaningless if he will never be in a position to implement Labour policies in government. But equally, being more trusted by the electorate than Jeremy Corbyn is no good to ‘moderates’ if they have no prospect of ever leading the party. That is why this matters.
So before embarking on a course likely only ever to cause déjà vu, ‘moderates’ need to go back to basics and start convincing the party that not only are they credible, but that they are also progressive.
Labour Parliamentary Candidate, Banbury GE2015. Leader of the Opposition & Labour group on Cherwell DC. Banbury Town Councillor & ex-Mayor