by Greig Baker
Jeremy Corbyn’s politics were writ large in his conference speech. He called for unity, while he brandished a “new era”. He hoped for “economic success”, while promising more taxes, spending and borrowing. And he called the boundary reforms “nothing more than a cynical attempt to gerrymander the next election”, where they could be Labour’s last hope.
Is Labour in a hideous mess? Yes. Is Corbyn ascendant? Yes. Is it time to give up? No. Sensible people in the Labour party need to do three things: embrace boundary changes; take the argument to Corbyn; and pick a champion.
Bear with me – here’s my thinking on each one:
First, boundary changes. One of the few things that currently unites Labour is its consensus on opposing the reforms. This is wrong-headed and says more about the party’s own malaise than the iniquities of the system. Alarm bells should ring everywhere when politicians support a boundary review “in principle” but oppose it in practise. The longer reform is postponed, the more painful it will be – like any infection, rotten boroughs won’t get easier to heal over time.
You know Labour is down on its luck when it complains about “the right wing press”, just like you know the Tories are in trouble when they moan about “BBC bias”. In the same way, the opposition to boundary reform smacks of reaching for an excuse ahead of the next General Election, instead of doing the hard work to make an attractive offer to the voting public. Losers complain about the rules. Winners focus on the job at hand.
Even without the boundary changes, Labour is not on course to win the next election – or even the one after that. With them, the party might just be forced to get back in tune with the voting public and work out how to relaunch its politics in a way that appeals to former Conservative voters. The most damning thing about Corbyn’s leadership is not his incompetence or dogma, but the failure of moderates in the party to offer something better (twice). Forcing the party to bridge the gap with the electorate could be the inspiration that Labour’s better nature needs.
Until then, Labour is in existential trouble. Only when Labour candidates are confident they can appeal to a representative mix of voters, and only when Labour MPs don’t try to defend the idea of people in the Wirral having nearly twice as much voting power as those in Bristol, only then will the party have truly turned a corner.
Second, Labour moderates need to take the argument to Corbyn. There is no halfway house or ‘unity’ position. No reasonable offer of compromise or support will be met with one in return. Corbyn is already closer to becoming Prime Minister than any other Labour MP (a terrifying thought) and if the past twelve months have taught us anything it is that things will only get worse without immediate and concerted action.
Anyway, what choice do the moderates really have? Surely MPs who face the prospect of quietly submitting to Corbyn must be steeled to do something else – if only to preserve their self-respect. And if not their self-respect, then their self-interest, because any hopes of re-election will be squashed between the threat of deselection and the charge of guilt-by-association, as soon as the Conservatives have had enough of watching Labour’s self-immolation and step up their own campaign.
Third, moderates need to pick a champion – or three – and back them vociferously. It’s not enough to leave the likes of Liz Kendall hanging out to dry and murmur “4.5%” as you sob into your beer. Instead of half-heartedly supporting a new challenger simply because they’re willing to make a run of it, moderates have to actively promote leaders in whom they have the same authentic belief that Corbyn finds in Momentum.
Maybe that means rallying around Sadiq. If so, he would have to be prepared to spend as much time out of London as in it, and it would rely on him not only doing a good job in the capital, but also being able to explain how that job can be replicated in rural and urban seats around the country. Whoever the sensible parts of Labour turn to, they must be able to get the party past being one that talks down to people who don’t vote and fails to understand people who do.
As readers may know, I am a Conservative and I make no secret of wanting a Conservative government. Personally, I am confident that liberal, small state, politics gives the most disadvantaged people the best chance to improve their lives. But I also accept that the political ideas I support deserve to be tested by a Labour party that is truly on its mettle. We are a far cry from that now – but there’s no reason things can’t change.
Greig Baker is Chief Executive of a political intelligence firm, ‘The GUIDE Consultancy’ www.theguideconsultancy.co.uk