Labour’s problems are not all down to Corbyn

by Kevin Meagher

Of course, the temptation is to grind Corbynista faces into the dirt.

After all, aren’t they responsible for the party’s drubbing in December, the worst performance in a general election since 1935?

Yes, but only to a point. Culpability for the state Labour finds itself in should be shared more widely.

The party has been in decline for at least the past 15 years and there has never been an inquest into why the Corbyn insurgency ignited in the first place.

Plainly, Jeremy Corbyn should never have been leader.

He was a classic campaigning backbencher, pulled out of position and kept in the leadership because the parliamentary party would never have nominated a replacement candidate from the left in any subsequent leadership contest.

So, there he stayed.

To his credit, he never even wanted the role, merely standing in 2015 as the left’s candidate on the cab-rank principle that it was his turn to fly the flag in a leadership contest and lose heavily, as McDonnell did in 2007 and Abbott in 2010.

Yet, as we know, Ed Miliband’s disastrous party reforms opened the door for the ‘three quid trots’ to sweep into the party and turbo-charge Corbyn’s vote. The rest is history.

Labour MPs are to blame, too, for making a bad situation worse. Their precipitous leadership challenge in 2016 played straight into the hands of left-wing activists who yelled ‘betrayal,’ galvanising them into returning Corbyn in even greater numbers.

From that point, he was unmovable.

The trade unions – representing only a sliver of the modern workforce – are to blame for indulging their fantasy politics.

The fact the main three affiliates: Unite, Unison and the GMB broke three ways for, respectively, Long-Bailey, Starmer and Nandy, is proof they are slowly coming back to the centre, but they bear responsibility for dragging the party into shallow water in the first place.

(Indeed, the hidden story in this election is just how quiet Unite and Len McCloskey have been, leaving the hapless Rebecca Long-Bailey to her own devices to run one of the poorest campaigns I can remember).

But we still need to look further back to get to the root causes of Labour’s malaise.

So much of the party’s angst reflects the unhealed wounds from losing in 2010 and the lack of honesty about the limitations and eventual failure of New Labour.

Of course, Labour in government did many valuable things during 13 years in office, but, for many, too little real difference was ever made. Coal mines didn’t reopen, or textile mills spring back into life. Manufacturing industries or engineering companies killed off by monetarist shock therapy in the early 1980s, didn’t rise from the ashes.

They were never going to, for various reasons, however there was nothing that replaced them either. Gullible Blair-era ministers talked endlessly about the wonders of globalisation, without any plan for how the post-industrial communities they represented would respond.

The result? Zero-hours contracts. Dead-end jobs. Unaffordable homes. Few prospects.

That’s the New Labour record in many towns.

The Blair-Brown years might well have been a golden age for public sector workers, middle-class graduates, homeowners and city dwellers. Everyone outside those categories fared less well.

In any event, the financial crash and a decade of Tory austerity wiped out so many of those gains. For areas that never really benefitted in the first place, it’s easy to see how demands for more radical action came about and pulled Labour to the left.

Starmer’s victory – impressive though it is with 56% of the vote – is not a signal to return to Blairite minimalism.

Something new must emerge.

A project rooted in the party’s traditions and heartlands, not in the impossibilism of the hard left, or millennial wokery.

A vision that focuses on end results and sharing the proceeds of economic growth and opportunity much more widely.

A social democratic programme focused on jobs and housing and reducing economic inequality and devolving power – with institutional changes to economic decision-making in this country.

An offer that is more ambitious than Blair but more workable than Corbyn.

With an approach to party management that unites the various strands of opinion, rather than seeking to marginalise or expel. This is a time for shaking hands, not wringing necks.

It’s also time for the party to become serious again. Part of this involves learning from past mistakes – and being honest about who made them.

Yes, Jeremy Corbyn and his lieutenants did lots of dumb things, but they are not solely to blame for the mess Labour is in.

As he now sets to work rebuilding the party, Keir Starmer needs to bear that in mind.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

Tags: , , , , ,

6 Responses to “Labour’s problems are not all down to Corbyn”

  1. Alf says:

    Back to Tory-lite. Maybe it could work this time around.

  2. Anne says:

    Agree with this Kevin. I think there were faults on both sides. Lisa Nandy did say in one of interviews that she felt that those around Corbyn wanted to crush those on the right of the party. There was not enough effort made to unite the party. However we are in a new period. Covid 19 will undoubtedly change the economic and political landscape. Kier now need to choose the most able to be in his shadow cabinet – be they from the left or the right of the party.

  3. Richard MacKinnon says:

    Still in denial I see.
    The Downfall started with the war criminal.

  4. John P Reid says:

    The bit after the 16 paragraphs -about monetarism is at least is true

  5. Mike says:

    Just a quick point: ‘Yet, as we know, Ed Miliband’s disastrous party reforms opened the door for the ‘three quid trots’ to sweep into the party and turbo-charge Corbyn’s vote. The rest is history.’

    What did the registered supporters scheme actually change, given Corbyn won handsomely without them? Especially given they were happy to vote against the left-wing candidate this time. The whole mess around trying to fix the 2016 leader election by making them re-register for £20 in a small window was bizarre, the scheme was never about selling a vote for leader but establishing a relationship with people who weren’t ready to be full members.

    The whole episode of backdating the day you had to be a member since in order to vote was grotesque too. Blair’s election pegged the cut off at two weeks before the result, Miliband’s at four weeks, Corbyn’s first at two weeks – 2016 at 9 months! It’s bizarre that the members voted to hand control back to the same people who showed them such contempt, it’s a big shift back to a ‘members should be seen and not heard’ bureaucratic organisation of the New Lab kind.

  6. John P Reid says:

    what mike says

Leave a Reply