by Atul Hatwal
Optimism has been in short supply for Labour moderates. Ed Miliband, general election disaster and now Jeremy Corbyn. What a time.
But in the gloom of Labour’s long winter, all is not lost.
It will take patience. Years, maybe. But as George RR Martin might not say, summer is coming. Perhaps at the same pace as Martin’s next novel, but nevertheless, come it will.
Here are three reasons to be confident that these hard times will pass.
1. The soft left will switch
A common thread in the interviews and analysis of Labour’s massive influx of new members and supporters is that while the overwhelming majority supported Corbyn, they are not from the hard left.
Over the past three months I’ve spoken to CLP officers from over 30 constituencies on the make-up of the new membership and the response of Jane Middleton, chair of Bath CLP, in the Guardian’s recent survey of 100 CLPs exemplified what I’ve been hearing,
“They are mainly Corbyn supporters, some of them enthusiastic Corbyn supporters, who joined specifically because of him…A number of them had left during the Blair years and the Iraq war. What they are not is members of the far left. These people are in no way like the radicals of the 70s and 80s.”
This is the soft left. The Labour party is currently softer and lefter than it’s ever been.
The soft left view at the leadership election can be characterised as apathy at Yvette’s establishment, Brownite grind; an allergic reaction to Liz’s late-Blair confrontation and scepticism at Andy’s reprise of Ed Miliband’s muddled equivocation.
In the absence of an alternative, Labour’s largest grouping opted for the only choice before them not to have demonstrably failed in the past twenty years – Jeremy Corbyn’s hard left dreaming.
The trouble with dreams is that they rarely come true and sometimes turn into nightmares.
Talk of a new politics and a mythical new path to victory via the extreme left, is already fading in the mist.
Unlike the hard left, the soft left aren’t true believers. Eternal opposition is not a palatable diet and poisons the basis of their backing of Corbyn – hope.
The polls, the scabarous headlines and annual defeats at local and regional elections that will become a grimly regular experience, will take their toll on soft left support.
Before Christmas, there was the first swallow of a long distant summer for centrists.
The queen of soft left dreams, Polly Toynbee wrote a column of unremitting despair about Labour’s prospects under Corbyn.
“Optimism is in our DNA. I have always found some political project I can believe will work. Right now, for the first time in my life, I see none…The running of the party is shambolic – few press releases, policies or campaigns. Appalling legislation passes without the public knowing, for lack of an effective Labour voice.”
This is the columnist who had previously written frequently and confidently that Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband were on the march to victory.
The minutiae of politics is part of Polly’s daily existence. She’s got there quicker than most soft left members of the selectorate who are nowhere near as immersed in politics. But many if not the majority will arrive at the same destination, for the same reasons, in the coming years.
2. The electorate will put a hard stop to the Corbyn fantasy in 2020
Even if Jeremy Corbyn makes it to 2020, if the PLP have been cowed into subservience, if soft left doubts haven’t sufficiently crystallised, if Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership hasn’t collapsed under the weight of its own political incompetence, even if all of this happens, then the electorate will finally put him out of Labour’s misery.
The latest analysis, based on past performance and current polling, places Labour on a trajectory to achieve a percentage result in 2020 in the mid-twenties.
Dozens of Labour MPs will lose their seats. Constituencies that were once competitive will become safe Conservative bastions. Labour will be electorally eviscerated: the Tories will have untrammelled power with a majority pushing 150 and the prospect of a sinecure in government until 2030 at least.
It would be a tragedy for Britain and the democratic process, but one definitive outcome would be an end to the Corbyn experiment.
A defeat of such a magnitude would transform nascent doubts across the membership into bitter anger and despair at the betrayal of hope.
The calculus for the soft left in a 2020 post-election leadership contest would be fundamentally different to 2015: the most egregious and searing failure would be that of the hard left – any of the other options would have greater credibility as vessels for members’ and supporters’ yearning for a better future.
3. Labour’s the only way to stop the Tories
Bleak as defeat in 2020 would be, it wouldn’t constitute an existential moment for the party.
There’s currently a lot of chatter about Labour’s position being irretrievable, splits and setting up a new centre-left party. This is nonsense.
Under the first past the post voting system, any splinter party from Labour would die a similar, if not more gruesome death, to the SDP.
The absence of a ground organisation for any new party combined with entrenched voting allegiances that span generations means that there is zero chance of any breakthrough or shake-up of the current duopoly.
Just look at the expectations around Ukip before the 2015 general election and the final result.
The PLP knows this even if some more emotional moderate Labour commentators ignore it.
First past the post also means that almost no matter how incompetent, ideologically extreme and unpopular Jeremy Corbyn is, Labour will remain the second party and as such, the only vehicle for stopping the Tories.
Anyone who speculates about Labour disappearing or dropping behind the Lib Dems, has invariably failed to understand the magnitude of upheaval that was required in 1918 for Labour to supplant the Liberals.
It was a perfect storm: millions of new voters coming onto the electoral roll, through the extension of the franchise, who did not have an established voting behaviour, combined with the Liberal prime minister, Lloyd George, leading a wing of his party in vituperative opposition to the rest of the party, under the leadership of the previous Liberal prime minister, Herbert Asquith.
And just for good measure, to deepen the bitterness, throw in Lloyd George’s alliance with the Tories.
It’s impossible for Labour to replicate this sort of meltdown.
The nearest approximation would have been if the 2010 election had been fought with Tony Blair leading half the Labour party, in concert with the Tories, in opposition to Gordon Brown’s version of the Labour party at a time when the franchise was extended to 3 million 14-17 year olds voting for the first time.
This isn’t to recommend or idealise first past the post, but it means that Labour will persist and because it will persist, it will be the only focus for those who are serious about challenging the Tories.
These three reasons are clearly not a positive agenda. They do not describe the brighter tomorrow which Labour must ultimately define. Rather they are the precursors to Labour’s revival.
They are why Labour’s moderates should stay in the party: because the Corbynite fever will break and then the real work of Labour can begin again.
Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut