Corbyn must commit to being a leader of the many and not just the few

by Andy Howell

By any measure Jeremy Corbyn has had a bad month or two. He was far too slow to react to the controversy over Anti-Semitism and, perhaps, even indifferent to it. On the Skripal front Corbyn’s anti cold war instincts may be understandable, indeed admirable, but the tone and manner of his interventions over Russia simply struck a wrong chord. The perception of those outside of the Party’s membership is that Corbyn only took a ‘proper’ line when dragged to it by the press, public opinion and the views of most of the world’s political powers.

Let us not also forget three high profile sackings. First off, Corbyn’s office announced that Debbie Abrahams had stepped down as shadow Work and Pensions Secretary as a result of allegations of bullying made by her office staff. Abrahams herself made it very clear that she considered she had been sacked and countered by claiming that she herself was the victim of bullying from the leader’s office. Owen Smith was sacked over calls for a further referendum on Brexit despite the Party’s conference policy still holding this out as a possibility if the May’s eventual deal proves to be unacceptable. Officially General Secretary Ian McNicol resigned, but effectively he went when the leadership told him his time was up.

On leftist social media channels Corbyn’s supporters remained out in force, defending their leader’s stance, until the Leadership itself was forced to reposition itself. In the narrow and rarified world of Facebook and Twitter, loyalists are convinced that Corbyn and his team have been dragged into these new positions by the dark forces of the press when, in reality, they have been responding to the concerns of the wider electorate.

This weekend YouGov’s polling — taken during this turbulent period — shows that only 31% of the public think Corbyn is doing a good job as leader of the Opposition; 56% think that he is doing a bad job.

In many ways the greatest frustration over the last couple of months is that so many of our problems have been self-inflicted. On Russia Corbyn could have better defended his position if his statements had been more measured or more statesman like. In talking to a number of younger, and newer, Labour members over the last few weeks I have sensed a growing confusion or disenchantment with his Leadership. Some of Corbyn’s most fanatical supporters still refer to him as ‘magic grandad’ but you don’t have to search very hard to find many who are becoming more muted.

To many, Corbyn’s appeal was the prospect of a new form of politics. Here was a Leader who eschewed many the trappings of the political leaders of recent years. Here was a man not obsessed by currying favour with the world’s power elites. Here was a principled Leader for modern age, one determined to fight against the vested interests that are sucking away so many of our state’s recourses.

But many have forgotten, or have simply not noticed, that there is little that is new about Corbyn, who was first elected for his Islington seat thirty-five years ago. For much of those years Corbyn’s life has been taken up with the vagaries and obsessions of hard left politics and the events of recent weeks show that not much has changed. For those who have not been watching the hard-left for years this can all seem to perplexing. On the one hand the left seem ridden with divisions, many of which to have lasted forever. On the other hand this disparate group can still demonstrate an iron discipline in holding the left together. In this sense Corbyn’s leadership represents a coalition of hard left interests, but the world of the hard left rarely seems to reflect the concerns and realities of the wider community. The need to stitch up an internal vote or to settle old scores will always be more important than the need to proactively build a wider consensus out in the country.

Consider the case of Ann Black, a long standing and centre left member who has done more than anyone else to open up the word Labour’s NEC.

I suspect Ann’s biggest problem is that she was never ‘one of us’ and never been a member of the hard left’s elite world. As somebody who often took an independent line Ann had to go and she was replaced as head of the NEC’s key disciplinary committee by key loyalist Christine Shawcroft, a move heavily orchestrated and supported by the Leadership. Of course it went wrong when Shawcroft was forced to resign after it was revealed she had intervened to support a Party member — and would-be councillor — who had happily shared articles on social media that questioned the existence of the holocaust. This whole state of affairs required some consideration. Here we had the chair of the disciplinary panel — presumably a last place of judgement and appeal — who took it on herself to intervene personally to overturn the judgement of party officials without ever having properly considered the nature of the disciplinary action in the first place. So, why was someone who can behave this deemed suitable by the leadership to depose Ann Black? This whole affair simply harks back to the narrow world of the hard left where tribal loyalty means more than competence or ability.

Corbyn’s supporters see plots everywhere. Over in the universe of social media the anti-Semitism affair was sign that the next coup against their leader had started But out in the real world, it is very difficult to find anyone who doesn’t assume that Corbyn will lead us into the next election.

Corbyn is here for the duration, or as long as he wants to go on and so much of our future relies on Corbyn himself. Despite this being one of the most incompetent governments in memory Labour is only running them neck and neck in the polls. The wider electorate continue to see Corbyn as far less suited to leadership than Theresa May. It is far too easy for Labour supporters to rant on about the plots of the Tory press; we should stand back and soberly reflect that — at this time— so many see May as more effective political leader than Corbyn.

The biggest challenge is to Corbyn himself. He has to prove that he has genuine leadership skills and, most importantly, that he aspires to lead a nation and not just his own party or his own faction within it. His key strategists need to develop a wider world view, put aside their natural preference for defensive tactics and internal disputes, and to adopt a laser-like focus on the wider public, who are after all those who will put Labour into power. Corbyn has to become a leader for many and not just the few.

Given the long entrenched policy traits of the hard left it will be no easy task for them to embrace a wider politics. But the prize is still within sight. That same YouGov poll shows that 47% of respondents consider May is doing badly as Prime Minister as opposed to only 41% who think she is doing well. But this still leaves a many who are undecided as to May’s performance and are not confident that Corbyn is a genuine alternative.

There is still all to play for, but until Corbyn genuinely aspires to lead the whole nation Labour will remain in trouble.

Andy Howell was the founding Chair of Labour Reform and a founder member of the Centre Left Grassroots Alliance

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13 Responses to “Corbyn must commit to being a leader of the many and not just the few”

  1. John P Reid says:

    I must admit ,I’d never heard of the centre left grass roots alliance, till I just googled it, more should have been made of your affiliation to this group in the article, apart from Owen Smiths resignation,sacking which was understandable, this article is factually correct.but it’s not going to persuade Corbynistas their leader has done wronh

  2. Alf says:

    I just don’t understand the Blairite thirst for war. What is it with you guys?

  3. Gordon says:

    Sorry, Andy – can you just clarify something? If there was a button you could press that would give Jeremy Corbyn and his team a safe majority at the next election, would you press it?

  4. Anne says:

    I agree with this article. To be fair Corbyn has done better as leader than many anticipated- the manifesto was good and he was improving on his performance at PM question time, but, I agree, the last month has not been good for him and this has been reflected in the polls. There is still a great deal of paranoia regarding plots against him, and sometimes his actions are perceived as taking control of the party to the exclusion of many capable moderate centre left MPs. Paul Mason has written a similar article to the above but he offers solutions. Corbyn has to work harder at uniting the party – not just work for Momentum and the unions but also for the so called moderates – be nice. There are some talented mps who would help him if given the chance. Don’t blow it now.

  5. Vern says:

    I dont think it matters a jot now how many pieces of journalism are written in support of the so called “magic grandad” he has been rumbled. He and his team are exposed, old hat, washed up socialists who are enjoying one last hurrah at our expense. They are certainly no government in waiting that i can aspire to.

    The politics he promised are not kinder nor are they fairer, they are nasty enough to the oppossition but when dealing internally these are seen as downright vicious. He lied to us all and I struggle to think of a more disingenuous politician of recent years. Supporters have woken up to this too and wont vote for his brand of “activism.”

    And the silly outtakes that occurr shortly after another lamentable media outing leave me aghast at how stupid the Labour Party under Corbyn think we,the electorate are.

    Lets get magic grandad to share bread with the some Jewish people in his community – this should silence the critics and prove he is not anti-semitic. Wrong! it made it worse because he had not been strong enough to accept this is a big problem and that he was going to deal with it. Then telling us he did it in his own time – wrong again! You are the leader of the HM opposition party, its not a part time job, (even if you are of retirement age) and shows a total lack of understanding of the role and its significance. No one in your office knew apparently and this was clearly another lie or a convenient excuse for those too embarassed by the exposure.

    With Skripal and Syria he has been shown to be “pro anybody-else” and his stance sent shock waves down our security services and armed forces. The people of
    this great country are genuinely concerned that Corbyn could, and possibly would surrender some of our freedoms on the basis of what he thought in the 1970’s!

    Wrong on Skripal, wrong on Aniti-Semitism, wrong on Syria, wrong on tuition fees, wrong on nationalisation – wrong for the Labour party. Destroying the labour party from within and as soon as the disatrous local elections are out of the way someone from within needs to lead a serious challenge.

    Above all else, the next leader needs to form an (in)credible oppossition that actively supports the elected government on shared platforms, is seen to be collaborating and implementing rather than opposing and rubbishing. Its petulant and tiring!

  6. steve says:

    “To many, Corbyn’s appeal was the prospect of a new form of politics.”

    But mainly Corbyn’s appeal was drawn from those who opposed Tory/New Labour privatisation of the NHS. And New Labour support for austerity – let’s not forget that Darling promised ‘cuts worse than Thatcher’ and Miliband offered a continuation. Voters knew that Labour’s support for lunatic military interventions (Miliband supported the Libya catastrophe) would end is disaster and voters objected to the never-ending tax-payer handouts to the private sector.

    Bring back the Blairites? You only have to see how the LibDems are faring to know that the electorate will only give you two-fingers for your troubles.

  7. John P Reid says:

    Wow Gordon that sounds really creepy

  8. John P Reid says:

    Did Miliband offer a continuation, by that view you only have to look at how well the Tories are doing to see how the electorate would support ,us not getting in debt,

  9. paul barker says:

    Andy Howell claims to be on The “Centre-Left” but he want to put The “Hard Left” Corbyn in No 10. Whose side is he on ?

  10. there is bizarre reference to blairites in two of these responses, saying more about the desire of leftists to see the world as a two stroke moped going round in circles than the re

  11. I will finish

    than the real world. The CLGA was formed by an alliance of soft lefts in the Labour Reform Group and the Campaign for Labur Party Democracy, a hard left grouping, in 1998 and maintained a balanced representation on the NEC constituency section. The Blairites were the enemy, and allying with a sensible hard left faction was justifiable, and underpins what Andy Howell is saying.

    The Blairites are now bankrupt and from the 2001 election were losing electoral support, which when Brown took over continued through Miliband. Corbyn now benefits from the backlash when in two elections Labor failed to get 33% vote share. COrbyn has gained from this and the collapse of the Lib Dems for going into coalition with the Tories. However there is no future in a hard left party and the CLGA is best described as the GLA as the Wikipedia entry rightly terms it. Whether there can be a revival of the centre left is open to doubt, but without it a simplistic left right dominated party will fail.

  12. John P Reid says:

    Trevor fisher, ok corbyn has benefited from labour failing to get 33% but the second if those elections was when Ed Miliband had sp not 5 years denouncing new labour, had swung the party to the left, and the idea of presenting Corbyns victory as labour lost due to ed Miliband not being left wing enough, is silly, but if the party convinced themselves that, they’re in for a shock

  13. steve says:

    Paul Barker: “Andy Howell claims to be on The “Centre-Left” but he want to put The “Hard Left” Corbyn in No 10.”

    That’s the thing with the Blairites – their relevance is dependent on the Labour revival under Corbyn. Without Corbyn they’d be facing oblivion along with the LibDems.

    They may be carping from the sidelines but they console themselves and say “Well, at least we are on the sidelines.”

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