by Rob Marchant
The leader’s office spin operation began long before the elections, because everyone knew they would be bad. The objective was simple: essentially, anything, anything at all to try and make them look other than the disaster most expected.
For example as Dan Hodges, sometime of this parish, pointed out, the Corbyn team decided on a tactic (of comparing the outcome with 2015 results, instead of 2011 or 2012 when the seats were last contested) was leaked to the BBC. It was patently foolish. No sane psephologist would try and compare an election with the previous year.
And when even the Leader himself ended up describing the results as “not good enough”, we still had incoherence in the party’s appearances on the media. In only the latest in a series of car-crash interviews, Diane Abbott memorably described the results as “steady progress”. Oh, my aching sides.
But they were all attempting to spin the unspinnable.
Yes, Sadiq Khan did a highly professional job in winning the London mayoralty, the one bright point of the elections. But even he did not manage this without exposing his past as a cuddler-up to unpleasant elements of the Islamist far right. Not, as the Tories tried to imply, because he is a card-carrying Islamist himself; he is not. But he has been ruthless enough in his pursuit of political support to schmooze with extremists until quite recently, in a way that should make party members nervous.
And let us not forget that London is, historically, a Labour stronghold par excellence. In fact, the two Boris wins in 2008 and 2012 may arguably be seen as the result, not just of the pendulum swing against Labour nationally, but also of a serious falling-out-of-love with one Ken Livingstone on the part of the London electorate.
In short, Khan had a major advantage from the start in simply being Labour, while not being Ken. London’s metropolitan liberals are the one part of Britain in which Labour support warms to Corbyn.
The same is not true, sadly, in the rest of the country. In Wales and in England outside the capital we lost support. And as for Scotland, well, we need only note the following:
Labour, third place in Scotland. SCOTLAND.
— Ben Stanley (@BDStanley) May 6, 2016
Who would have ever thought that a country, which had enjoyed Labour hegemony for as long as anyone could remember, could see Labour beaten there by the Tories as well as the SNP? And furthermore, a Labour which had dutifully followed the anti-austerity, anti-nuclear line of the Corbynites?
No, looking at the results across Britain, the bearded Emperor’s new clothes are duly removed in a fine deconstruction of the results by the Observer’s Andrew Rawnsley, who rightly described it as “the worst performance by a new opposition leader in half a century”.
The trouble is that phrases like that no longer even surprise us, our expectations are so low.
And all the while the party’s MPs stand paralysed, it is moving backwards; not even standing still.
We do not need to wait for the next four years to play out. We do not even need to wait for a year to play out. The Labour Party can keep on fooling itself, but it will not fool the public.
It is perfectly obvious to everyone that it cannot win a general election with Corbyn at the helm. It cannot. Even journalists broadly sympathetic to Corbyn, such as the Indy’s Matthew Norman, are calling for him to step aside.
The Labour party is clearly passing through one of its periods of self-harm, as it did in the late 1950s under Gaitskell and the 1980s under Foot and Kinnock. But this one really seems to be on a different level altogether.
Even before the election, the party’s crisis with anti-Semitism had driven that august organ, the Economist, to pull no punches on Corbyn’s leadership, where it had been remarkably restrained with Miliband’s. It is worth repeating the whole, devastating quote:
“The truth is that Labour is dying, and every MP who thinks she can wash her hands of responsibility for that with the odd disapproving tweet has another thing coming. Today’s fracas will repeat itself, in slightly different forms, again and again, burying any scraps of self-respect (let alone electability in the next decades) the party has left.”
Uncut’s Atul Hatwal may well be right that now is not the time to launch a leadership challenge against Corbyn. The soft left of the party needs to see the penny drop before such a challenge can succeed, and it is not yet clear how long that might take.
But plans should be at least in place for when is the right moment. Labour cannot just wait until 2020 and hope for the best. There could be nothing left by then.
Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left