This is now Corbyn’s front bench. Good. He’ll be solely responsible for the failure to come

by Atul Hatwal

This is now Jeremy Corbyn’s front bench. Hilary Benn might still be in post but he’s been politically emasculated and the sackings of Michael Dugher and McFadden along with the demotion of Maria Eagle have delivered a clear message: deviate from leadership orthodoxy and you’ll be next against the wall.

We won’t be hearing any more from Hilary Benn on Syria. Little from anyone in the shadow cabinet on Trident. Talented shadow ministers such as Kevan Jones, Jonathan Reynolds and Stephen Doughty have already walked the plank. The Corbyn line has become the Labour line.


Clarity was needed. Since Labour’s leader was elected, large numbers of moderate Labour party members have been engaged in a collective act of self-delusion: that Labour can present itself as a centrist, electable party with Corbyn at the helm.

The attempts of several members of the shadow cabinet to rein in Corbyn’s exigencies on foreign affairs, defence and the economy are laudable but futile and ultimately counter-productive.

The Syria vote was regarded by moderates within the PLP as some sort of triumph but while parliament ultimately voted the right way to take on the fascists in Isis, it was a political disaster for Labour.

Here was the main opposition party so riven that it had to opt for a free vote on the most important decision a country faces – whether or not to go to war. What does that say to the voters of Britain about Labour’s capacity to lead?

Trident has been another red line for many front-benchers but in the end it’s another pointless fight.

Moderate PLP-ers can talk about Labour’s policy being settled in favour of Trident at conference last year, but what will happen after conference this year, or next?

Within this parliament, party policy will be changed at conference to oppose Trident.

Jeremy Corbyn’s team might be incompetent at the day to day business of politics but fixing a conference vote where a newly Corbynised membership elects the delegates, is comfortably within even their capabilities.

What then for the moderates who’ve been vocal on Trident? Would they be equally happy to trot out the line about policy being decided by conference? Or would there then be a call for another free vote?

Jeremy Corbyn has already said that he won’t press the nuclear button. Voters aren’t daft. Labour effectively became a unilateralist party from the point he made that clear, no matter what position pro-Trident members of the shadow cabinet try to take.

The challenge faced by moderates in the PLP is that they have been waging a series of defensive tactical actions while Corbyn’s strategic grip on the party becomes ever tighter.

The leader controls the NEC, the party machinery and has a cadre of committed activists. As Labour’s candidate for prime minister, key decisions are entirely within his personal remit. If he doesn’t want to push a button, no one can make him.

The make-it-work strategy for moderates in the shadow cabinet was always doomed because it can’t work.

Moderates opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s election because they understood the damage that his brand of extremist politics would do to Labour and the country.

He still won.

The warnings failed so it’s time for some show don’t tell.

Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership with 57% of the vote. His majority is based on the preferences of Labour’s soft left membership.

When they voted for Corbyn, they did so hoping that Corbyn could somehow construct a new coalition of support for Labour.

These hopes need to meet reality.

It will take the grim experience of electoral disaster in local and regional elections, widening poll deficits and certain evisceration in 2020 to shift the position of many of these soft left members.

Most importantly, the Corbynite failure will need to be one where excuses are impossible.

No talk of the compromises foisted on Labour’s leader by the shadow cabinet or betrayals from within.

Only then, when the party membership and country can see and experience full fat Corbynism, will Labour pass through its nadir and begin the long haul back to electability.

Rather than trying to ameliorate details of a disastrous policy platform, the only route through for moderates is to let Corbyn be Corbyn.

Over thirty years ago, when the hard left last had control of the party, Labour moderates such as John Golding came to the same conclusion, allowing the horror show of the 1983 manifesto to pass through the NEC without challenge.

It’s time to relearn this lesson. It hurt and there was plenty of pain. But ultimately, enough of the Labour movement’s trade unions, activists and parliamentarians learned the harsh lesson of chasing the hard left’s impossible dreams.

That was then. It needs to be again.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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17 Responses to “This is now Corbyn’s front bench. Good. He’ll be solely responsible for the failure to come”

  1. Atul,

    What you say makes sense up to a point.

    But if the soft left eventually decide to stop backing Corbyn, do you think Labour can recover from the reputational damage. Last time, it took eighteen years, and the hard left never actually took over. And, next time, it will be harder to re-brand Labour as moderate when the previous re-branding didn’t take.

    Imagine a moderate Labour canvasser in 2035:

    Voter: “I’m not voting for a bunch of communists.”
    Canvasser: “But we’re not communists.”
    Voter: “Corbyn, not a communist? Pull the other one.”
    Canvasser: “Our current leader is very moderate.”
    Voter: “That’s what Blair said. Few years later they elected a communist. How can you prove you won’t do that again?”

    How indeed.

    (For the Corbyn supporters out there: I know Jeremy Corbyn doesn’t describe himself as a communist, but that’s what voters will think he is after the tabloids have finished with him)

  2. paul barker says:

    There are 2 problems with this strategy, the definition of failure & the approach of Mid-Term.
    The Lefts idea of what makes success & failure has very little in common with yours & mine. The loss of Councillors has already been factoed in by the majority of the membership.
    As Mid-term approaches, the Opposition does better in the polls, masking any failures, thats why EdM survived.
    Todays events show that Labours Centrists are still divided, leaderless & in denial about the scale of their defeat.

  3. Anne says:

    While I take your point it is going to take some longer than others to realise that we have an authoritarian leader in control – a dictator I think we the people and voters should be pointing out his failings and consequences for the country – I think we still live in a democracy, although we will be run by a Conservative government for the foreseeable future.

  4. Tafia says:

    The Corbyn line has become the Labour line.

    That is uneducated drivel Atul.

    What you mean is The PLP line has becoming the Corbyn line which is the membership line.

    If any MP has a problem with what hos membership wants, then it’s he/she that is wrong and has only two choices – change or go.

    The membership and the unions own the party, not the voters at large and definately not the MPs – who must always remain directly answerable to their respective CLP over all things.

    As for whether the three that resigned are ‘talented, I watched Doughty on Sky News – his praises of Carwyn Jones were laughable and his comments on NHS Wales were factually wrong.

  5. Tafia says:

    This is the behaviour of a party with principle as opposed to the garbage in Westminster. And taking that rubbish seriously only makes them think they are important.–W1eEvF1vene?utm_source=indy&utm_medium=top5&utm_campaign=i100

  6. Jonathan da Silva says:

    Labour’ll never be short of Strawmen at least. Hard to make up how OBR and Govt have outflanked Labour. Cooper and co were hardly beaten by a political genius as this site makes clear. They were beaten proposing and supporting policies even Osborne now says are ridiculous. Anyone in this party responding to external reality?

    I’d look up Chris Dillow or Jolyon Maugham rather than this strawman fest. Whilst Labour types should have doubts it does seem extreme that no policy proposed so far is unsupportable or decidedly mad – RAF’s current inability to find anything to bomb in Syria shows up some who supported that more than those against.

  7. Henrik says:

    As I understand it, Labour policy is set, ultimately, by the membership and the unions and the PLP are the stewards of same.

    If the membership and the unions are Corbynistas, then, by extension, that will eventually be the policy of the party; it’s not, currently, as there’s a policy-making cycle to go through.

    Whether the Corbyn/Milne/Watson/SWP/SWC/dodgy ambulance-chasing lawyer machine will generate policies which will be attractive to the electorate is, of course, another question altogether…..

  8. Touchstone says:

    I think Tafia’s (first) comment illustrates all that is currently wrong with Labour: “The membership and the unions own the party, not the voters at large” Excuse me? So why exactly should the “voters at large” vote for you? Or perhaps you don’t want that? Sorry, but the party exists to serve the voters, not the other way round. After twenty years of gazing up its own backside, Labour MAY become electable again, but by the Tories will have colonised the centre ground and built a blue wall around it.

  9. ad says:

    Frankly, the median Labour Party member is never going to be much like the median Labour Party voter, much less the median British voter. The only way the Party can have much in common with the voters is for its MPs to retake control of it.

  10. anosrep says:

    Mr Hatwal, please answer this. Suppose you turn out to be wrong about Corbyn’s electability. Suppose he wins the 2020 election with an overall majority. I know you’re sure he won’t (and maybe you’re right), but just suppose he does. Would you be pleased?

  11. Tafia says:

    Touchstone, whether you like it or not it is an unarguable fact – the Labour Party is owned by the membership and the unions and that is all there is to it. That is not going to change – not now, not never. It isn’t there to serve the voters – no political party is. They are quite literally ‘shareholder’ (ie member) owned busineses.

    And the current tory regime is actually more right wing than Thatcher’s tories. Just because the ‘centre’ has moved rightwards in an alarming fashion, does not mean that the Labour Party should abandon it’s founding principles and go chasing after them. A party without principles is a nonsense – it’s just a cheap parody.

    Labour is dead in Scotland – it was before Corbyn and that isn’t going to change no matter who is in charge of Labour nor which direction they wish to go in -Scotland is no longer interested in parties that take instruction and/or policy from London. It was starting to wobble in Wales but the election of Corbyn appears to have stabilised and started to reverse that. If Labour deposes Corbyn and moves rightwards the long term decline will re-commence in Wales and it will essentially become just an English party, concentrated in the major English urban areas.

    And underpinning all this is Cameron’s secret nuclear weapon – the boundry changes. Not only will the levelling of the constituencies mean that Labour will need a near 10% swing to get a hung Parliament, but boundry changes (and the majority of constituencies will be affected) and the disappearance of constituencies means? Yep, re-organisation of the CLPs and fresh candidate selections. Cameron is going to trigger the Corbynistas deselections for them. And Tory dominance in England will be so great that Blair at his peak would have struggled to win. The Tories won’t need seats in Wales and Scotland at all whereas Labour will not be able to win without seats in Wales and Scotland, neither of which have any interest in even a slightly right-leaning Labour Party.

    Labour are basically up shit creek without a paddle no matter what they do or which way they turn. They are not in control of events – quite the opposite.

  12. Tony says:

    “Over thirty years ago, when the hard left last had control of the party, Labour moderates such as John Golding came to the same conclusion, allowing the horror show of the 1983 manifesto to pass through the NEC without challenge.”

    He allowed such policies through because he knew Labour would lose anyway and wanted to blame the policies for that defeat.

    “Within this parliament, party policy will be changed at conference to oppose Trident.”

    I certainly hope so. Two thirds of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet opposed the original decision to purchase Trident. So it is not asking much for Labour to oppose its replacement.

  13. John P Reid says:

    There was a Ed miliband fan,who had a Twitter page for him, he went on the Andrew Neil shoe on TV and held the electorate in contempt for not voting for us,and told ‘us’ it was our loss, for not voting to have Ed miliband as PM, as if his views would have made the electorate think,
    ‘Ah, he’s right we were wring not to vote for Ed miliband,and now he’s gone we’ve only got ourselves to blame for missing out,on having what a great PM, Ed would have been., this’ll make us vote labour in 2020

    But this fella needn’t have wanted his time,feeling the country was wrong not voting for Ed miliband to deliver us a socialist utopia, turns out according to Ken Livingstone, Ed miliband was a Blairite, thankfully the public will vote for a socialist utopia,under Jez,in 2020

  14. Tafia says:

    John P Reid – the only hard truth in politics is that the electorate ends up with the government it thoroughly deserves.

    And if you have a problem with socialism, wtf are you doing in the Labour Party?

  15. Mike Homfray says:

    Labour is not a centre party. Its not there to present a centrist alternative which does not challenge Tory ideas and provide a change of name over the door, while allowing the Tories to then seamlessly return to power.

    This is why New Labour was Not Labour – because it failed to challenge the Thatcherite consensus and worked from within its parameters. At the end of its terms nothing had really changed other than surface-level, easily removed alterations. Much of the Thatcher approach – commissioning, outsourcing, market-driven policy – remained untouched or even extended

  16. swatantra says:

    Its as good as he’ll get. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

  17. Carole Reeves says:

    You can’t very well blame Corbyn for not filling the cabinet with his enemies. No leader does that.

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