With Corbyn as the Labour frontman it’s time for a new centre left band

by John Slinger

At Labour’s ruling body last week, deputy leader Tom Watson described his reforms as “putting the band back together”. As someone who’s played in rock bands for as long as I’ve been a Labour member, I know that there comes a time when most bands split, usually over ‘artistic differences’ or arguments how to get a record deal. For me that time has come.

Having worked with Jeremy Corbyn in parliament in 2003, I know he’s a principled and decent man. But he’s the wrong frontman for a band that at its best is capable appealing to the masses, Oasis or Blur-style (I’m showing my age). Like all bands with ropey songs but genuinely held delusions of grandeur, Jeremy and his managers have found a niche market of devoted fans who cheer him to the rafters as a rock god. Everyone knows the euphoric feeling of seeing ‘your’ band, singing songs for you amidst a crowd of like-minded people. After the gig you return to the real world and discover that not everyone shares your musical tastes. I suspect that Labour members will experience this when they knock on the doors of ordinary voters in the coming weeks.

This isn’t about bands or even principally the future of the once great Labour Party, but about British democracy. It’s vital that any government faces a strong opposition, capable of holding them to account and which is a credible alternative for the time when the people choose to kick out the incumbents. The public doesn’t regard Corbyn and his underperforming front bench as anywhere near up to the task. They hear about the Corbyn-supporting Momentum organisation and they remember how Militant infiltrated Labour in the 80s.

I don’t blame Jeremy Corbyn: he won fair and square. Labour moderates weren’t as well organised and didn’t put up good enough candidates against him. Moderate MPs took some action by resigning from the shadow cabinet and passing a no confidence motion. But ‘their’ Labour Party is now well and truly in the hands of Jeremy and his groupies. No matter how many times we shout out for the old classic winning songs or some new hits, Jeremy has the microphone and no-one can wrestle it from his grip.

Many moderates now say “Stay In Labour” wanting to square a circle by remaining loyal to the party, accepting Jeremy’s increased mandate, yet fighting from within for moderate policies. Since leadership challenges have failed twice, they now demand shadow cabinet elections, presumably to surround Jeremy with moderates who disagree with him on policy direction. This is surely futile given that he wants to “democratise” policy-making by boosting the power of a membership which overwhelmingly backs him. The unpalatable dilemma is to show unity by agreeing with a leader you disagree with, or disagree with him and perpetuate a battle that you cannot win. All the while, the lack of a credible leader or policies brings electoral decimation ever nearer.

Moderate members like me aren’t prepared to allow Corbyn the luxury of leading Labour into the electoral abyss in the vain hope that this dose of real democracy will banish the hard left forever. Increasing numbers of us are concluding that unless Labour MPs take a lead within Parliament, a new centre-left party should be formed outside Parliament that reflects the pragmatism and decency of the British public by rejecting the old divides of left and right. Hopefully it would attract some Labour MPs and peers, but also those from other parties. More importantly it could be an exciting new home for the millions of voters in the centre of politics on whose support electoral victory depends. They haven’t gone anywhere, but they have nowhere to go.

A new party must be strong in the places that ‘hard left Labour’ and the Conservatives are weak: for example out-manoeuvring the Tories on public sector reform by being more compassionate and attracting support away from hard-left Labour by showing strength on law and order and defence. Crucially, it must have true proportional representation as a central policy aim to help end fissures within the major parties and heal voters’ sense of alienation by better reflecting their views.

John Prescott once said “the tectonic appear to be moving”, yet sensible Labour members and MPs seem paralysed by their loyalty to a fading brand, belief that they can wear Corbyn and co down and that there is a way back for moderation. Labour has no right to electoral support: under Corbyn it can only lose the respect of the public. It’s time to get ahead of the curve and give voters a credible alternative to the Tories. If Labour cannot fulfil this role then Britain needs a new band in the centre that listens to what a majority of the public care about, sings better songs, plays gigs that are attended by more than just the die-hard fans of the hard left and starts winning again.

John Slinger was a member of the Labour Party from 1991 until September 2016, was previously a member of the party’s National Parliamentary Panel, Vice-Chair of a Constituency Labour Party, a local election candidate and researcher to Labour MPs in the House of Commons between 2003-2006. He chairs Pragmatic Radicalism (http://pragrad.org)


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18 Responses to “With Corbyn as the Labour frontman it’s time for a new centre left band”

  1. efcdons says:

    A new party must be strong in the places that ‘hard left Labour’ and the Conservatives are weak: for example out-manoeuvring the Tories on public sector reform by being more compassionate and attracting support away from hard-left Labour by showing strength on law and order and defence.

    So a volkist nationalist populist party? Not a bad idea. Those parties have done well on the continent. Give the head of the Danish People’s Party a call and ask him how it’s done. I wonder how your mate in the City would feel about it though? Some of that stuff is considered a bit “on the nose”.

  2. Peter Kenny says:

    It won’t happen – you’re on a fools errand.

    To use your own analogy it’s like the drummer and rhythm guitarist trying to use the cachet of their old band to break into the big time, they rarely do. It’s why they’re so many legal disputes about rights to the name.

    Of course there is more room for bands in our culture than political parties under FPTP. Witness the SDP.

    For a split to have a reasonable chance of ‘working’, which must mean being part of an array of forces which deprives the Tories of their majority – otherwise your PR stuff will never happen – you’d need a social base to provide your members, supporters, funders etc, a clear ’cause’, using business talk your ‘USP’, and then a well known ‘front person’, ideally a few.

    You don’t have any of those things, particularly the ‘good songs’ (the cause) because if you did I guess we’d have heard them by now. In fact if you had those things you might have even have won the last GE!

    The SDP had some of the ingedients and still miserably failed.

    So, what would have to happen is that well paid MPs in usually safe seats would have to walk away from a well known brand that gives them that position and take their chances. Everything tells them they’d mostly lose their seats and ‘let the Tories in’ – they won’t do it.

    Still I guess you’ve saved yourself your subs.

    I thought you guys were supposed to be the hard headed realists round here!

  3. Mark Livingston says:

    Labour’s right-wingers aren’t “moderate”. They’re “Tory-lite”.

  4. Tony says:

    “I don’t blame Jeremy Corbyn: he won fair and square.”

    In fact, the rules were deliberately designed to damage his chances. His real level of support is, therefore, significantly higher than the voting figures indicate.

    Deeply disturbing to see that Peter Mandelson has just called for Labour to be defeated at the next general election:

    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/sep/27/peter-mandelson-i-am-praying-for-early-election

  5. David Walker says:

    The best thing the PLP can do right now is to get about 5 MPs in ultra-marginal Labour seats to resign and trigger by-elections. Presumably, these seats would now all fall and with big swings.

    Those Labour MPs could be rewarded with safer seats at some time in the future, if they wanted to stay in politics and the moderates got control of the party again.

    Most of Corbyn’s supporters think that Labour can win the next General Election. Until they are shown otherwise, nothing will change.

    Even this is a bit of a long-shot, but it’s hard to see what else the PLP can do.

  6. paul barker says:

    The problem is that your New Party already exists & is doing well in real votes. Why create a poor imitation of The Libdems when you could swallow your pride & join the real thing.

  7. Peter Kenny says:

    Hi David Walker – I doubt you’d find five MPs that foolish, especially as it requires them to ‘trust’ the ‘moderates’! why don’t you try and email them and see how it goes.

    Paul Barker the LibDems polling is the answer to your question.

    Desperate stuff here.

    People could always try unity.

  8. NickT says:

    All the evidence of Corbyn’s persistent, public and unrepentant association with homophobes, anti-semites and terrorists makes clear that he is neither decent nor honest. As for his supposedly new ideas, they are old, failed ideas repackaged in an extremely unappealing tin.

    A split to create a new, honest party of the centre-left and leave Corbyn’s Stalinist rump behind is the only chance we have of creating a credible opposition to the disastrously corrupt and incompetent Tories.

  9. Michael says:

    I am with NickT on one point. I cannot understand how people can describe Mr Corbyn as decent and principled.

    This decent and principled man has shown questionable judgement and maybe support for domestic terrorism. 1,800 men women and children killed and thousands more hurt by one group alone. Mr Corbyn describes himself as a man of peace, yet he only ever seemed to associate himself with that group.
    On top of this he has and continues to neglect the thousands of people in Northern Ireland who want the option to vote Labour. So much for democracy.
    He might be principled, but frankly some of them stink, and as for decent….please can someone explain this to me.

  10. Tafia says:

    Michael On top of this he has and continues to neglect the thousands of people in Northern Ireland who want the option to vote Labour.

    The problem with Northern Irish politics is the border issue. You have to have a position, one way or the other. If you don’t nobody will pay attention to you (as per the Alliance Party) and if you do you will only appeal to one side or the other of the sectarian divide. There’s no if’s but’s or ands about that.

    You could try and replace the Labour-allied virtualluy totally Catholic SDLP – but they are civic nationalist and want a united Ireland whereas Labour is committed to the Union. Or you could try and replace the mainly free Presbyterian urban working class protestant DUP – but then you would have to support Northern Ireland remaining part of the UK and automatically alienate the Catholic community.

    The sectarian divide in Ulster is massive – far bigger than most people who have never lived there comprehend. It even evidenced in the EU Refernedum where the Catholic community voted Remain (so that they could retain close links to the Republic and perceiving the EU as a ‘damper’ on the Loyalists) propped up by the Protestant middle class. The Protestant working class was rock-solid Leave. In a question of sovereignty, the protestant middle class would switch to the same side as the protestant working class. This divide is so entrenched that huge amounts pof public money are wasted because you can’t build schools, hospitals etc etc in one area in case the ‘other side’ perceives it is being neglected so you have to dobuild one for them at the same time. It is a bankrupt region of the UK, with a population smmaller than Greater Manchester with an economy reliant on public sector employment (highest % of the four parts of the UK). It is so economically unviable that’s it’s highly doubtful that even if we decided to let it go, the Republic would actually want to saddle itsef with it. It is politically, socially and economically a basket case.

  11. leslie48 says:

    I am tired of the Indie or Guardian commentators telling me we can not have a new centre left party. With the honourable exception of Janan Ganesh ‘Moderates have little hope of reclaiming Labour’ FT and the brilliant commentator for the Observer Nick Cohen who both know its all up for normal Labour for many years. Lets have a progressive, centre-left, pro_European Party. Corbyn is a 1980s yesterday man, hated by all the media , lowest ratings in history, weak intellectual and strategic grasp and unable to gain the 100 swing seats of middle England to catch up ith the Conservatives

    Nothing becomes Corbynism than Brexit, their total lack of economic grasp, their denial of it this week yet the unravelling of the UK after 43 years will be a massive economic decline and ten years of bloody mess. The next big drop in Sterling is due next February when article 50 is struck – watch the money drop, leave and stop. Oh no we are Labour and we must remain Labour whatever happens. Rubbish UK democracy deserves something better now and we lose a 100 seats next year.

    If only we had some former Labour big hitters who could kick off an alliance

  12. Andy says:

    So an Unelectable armchair politician,and former spin doctor,is lecturing the biggest political party in Western Europe. haha dream on John go Sling your hook.

  13. Thanks for the comments.

    I particularly agree with leslie48 on how we must overcome the defeatism of those who say a third party just can’t be done.

    The Labour Party didn’t used to exist, then it did exist. The battle that counts is for moderate voters in the centre ground of politics. Corbin and his army do not wish to engage with these and moderates who remain (i.e. most of them) in the Labour Party will be stymied from engaging with these voters because a) to set out policies that attract them will go against Corbyn and his new “democracy”, b) this will look divided and c) the public is highly sceptical about 21st century socialism.

    It’s surely time to explore a new party that can engage with these voters and hope that this becomes a repository for ideas and people who one day, remaining Labour moderates will wish to work with.

  14. Peter Kenny says:

    ‘If only’ says Leslie48, sighing for some mythical ‘big hitter’ to kick start the mythical new party – they’re not coming anytime soon are they? They never were.

    Have you not grasped that all the talk of splits was ‘project fear’ – it’s what they do, even though it often backfires. We should ask Owen where the split is since he said it was inevitable if he lost.

    Tell you what, you know who the ‘big hitters’ are – email them and put it to them. If they’re an MP they could resign their seats cause a bye election and stand as whatever the party will be called against us. Or maybe you could get a few – have a go! Tell them not to be defeatist, that’ll help.

    Thing is they treat you with almost as much contempt as they treat us, they have no intention of splitting.

    ‘If only…’

  15. Daniel says:

    Nobody seems to have addressed Paul’s question of why not just join the Lib Dems?

  16. Peter Kenny says:

    Daniel, I did.

    They’re too unpopular and they’ve already got a leader. Also they have no money.

    Otherwise in policy terms they’d fit – perhaps a tad too left on some issues.

    We’re not talking about seriously principled people here, remember!

  17. leslie48 says:

    The LibDems could be ‘part’ of the solution but not just the solution – we need more big hitters including Paddy and Vince Cable and others in or of Labour who have got the guts to join a centre group… David Miliband, Peter Mendelsohn etc.,There are 16 million Remain voters with no one to represent us the UK goes in to decline – can you imagine how the media or opposition would have reacted if Labour had been in power and the pound had crashed like now.

  18. Mike Homfray says:

    You are very welcome to leave and at least you have not been a hypocrite – but I don;t wish to vote for a centre party, and as Paul Barker has pointed out there is already one in existence.
    Seems that the author wants a populist party, though, not a centre party – and we already have one of those too. Its called Ukip.

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