What comes after Corbyn?

by Kevin Meagher

Assuming Labour loses the 2020 election (or any election called before that date), what happens next?

Of course, optimists will claim it’s all still to play for and the future is unwritten. But beyond the faith-based politics of the Corbynite Branch Davidians, the party’s immediate to medium-term outlook is bleak.

This week, the UK Elections twitter feed reported that at its current level in the polls, Labour will lose another 56 seats taking it down to 176 MPs. Much lower, even, than the 207 it managed in 1983, (and from which, it took 18 years to get back into government).

Even so, Labour would remain the second largest party in Parliament and with the left chalking up defeat as ‘eight and a half million votes for socialism,’ as Tony Benn infamously did in 1983, they are likely to learn nothing and forget nothing.

A formal break-away at this point is possible, with the post-Blairites and other moderates having a collective flip-out and trouncing off to set up a new centrist party. However, it is more likely than there will be an all-out civil war first, with the trade unions playing a central role in proceedings.

With the sole exception of the GMB, the main affiliates are currently happy to pander to the left. Tellingly, the GMB balloted its members about who to back in the leadership race, with a resounding victory for Owen Smith, beating Jeremy Corbyn by a 60/40 per cent margin.

The union’s newish General Secretary, Tim Roache, summed up his members’ concerns:

“GMB members cannot afford for Labour to be talking to itself in a bubble for the next five years while the Tories run riot through our rights at work, our public services and our communities.”

As it did in the 1980s, the GMB will be in the vanguard of making the case that a political party needs to be in the business of winning elections. After another few years of public spending cuts, perhaps Unison will also come to its senses.

As the only other union to ballot its members about the current Labour leadership, the omens are good. Among Unison members, Jeremy Corbyn beat Owen Smith but by 58 to 42 per cent – far closer than many would have thought.

While a policy of scrapping Trident – surely forced through by 2020 – may also see Unite shake itself out if its comfort zone, unless, that is, it wants tens of thousands of its members in the nuclear industry to leave and set up a union that will strive to protect their jobs.

As they did from the mid-1980s onwards, the big unions remain the single most important factor in whether or not Labour splits and if a new modernising project can eventually take root in the party.

But one thing is abundantly clear: there will be no Blairite restoration.

Any post-Corbyn dispensation will end up rooted in the centre-left. After all, New Labour was not a response to defeat in 1983. It was a reaction against unexpected defeat in 1992, when Neil Kinnock’s moderate, democratic socialist platform failed to convince enough floating voters.

New Labour was borne from the nihilism many felt at that result. So winning at any cost, jettisoning any unpopular policy and making any accommodation that was necessary became the name of the game. But those hoping for a similarly Blairite approach should come back in a decade or so.

Modernisation is a two stage process. For the sake of party management, there will be an attempt to reform Corbynism in order to avoid a messy split with the left upping and offing. Of course, whether a centre-left platform can succeed where Kinnock failed, remains moot.

So there will be progress from where the party currently finds itself – in a lacuna of agit-prop and impossibilism – but a long way from the whopping majorities of 1997, 2001 and 2005.

But at least the party will be parked on the centre-left, not the hard left and that sort of progress shouldn’t be dismissed, although it may take subsequent defeats for the party to mould a winning offer.

So to answer the rhetorical question: ‘what comes after Corbyn’, the answer, it seems, is a bloody long slog.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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21 Responses to “What comes after Corbyn?”

  1. paul barker says:

    What makes you think Corbyn will go when Labour lose ? He has already said he wont go. Labour Centrists still seem to be in denial about the scale of their defeat.

  2. Tafia says:

    Corbyn is under no obligation to resign if he loses. Wilson didn’t.

    Not only that, by 2020 the Labour Party is going to be a totally different beast than it is now. It will have a far more left wing NEC, scores of centre and right leaning MPs will have been deselected, the party membership will be overwhelmingly left wing with far far more say in the party’s direction and the unions will have far more sway over things than they do at present. So even if he quits the candidates to replace him will be left wingers and therefore his ultimate replacement will be as well.

    If he does resign, my money is on Clive Lewis being his replacement.

    Of course, all that could be stopped. But it would take an absolutely massive recruitment drive by the centrists and rightists to quite literaly out-vote the left in the CLPs. The PLP’s problem is that their support base in the CLPs is not very well organised and is heavily outnumbered by a highly drilled, well-focused, well organised and well led left wing.

    As for the GMBs position, have they forgotten Blairism already? Hardly undid the anti-union legislation of Thatcher did it. In fact the only person offering to undo some of the anti-union legislation is Corbyn. Can you see the likes of Cooper or Umanna undo=oing it? Strangely, neither can I.

  3. Jonathan Capehart says:

    It only took 14 years after 1983 not 18 so we could be back in power by 2034. Yay.

  4. Tafia says:

    with a resounding victory for Owen Smith, beating Jeremy Corbyn by a 60/40 per cent margin.

    You forgot to mention the staggering turn-out of 81%. Oh hang on, I seem to have misplaced a decimal point. A staggering turn-out of 8.1%.

    Meaning that 91.9% of the GMB membership thought both candidates were crap and/or can’t be arsed with the Labour Party in any way shape or form anyway. Then there’s all the hoo-haa going on about the ballot where huge swathes of the GMB membership (including me and the rest at my workplace) didn’t even get a vote. Nor did you mention that people complaining too ‘vociferously’ on the GMB facebook page about their lack of vote have not only seen their comments disappear, but have found themselves excluded.

  5. John P Reid says:

    Don’t know why I’m commenting but remember the 4 quotes afterwards
    Callaghan took too the stage to booing ,”look what you’ve done, you’ve lost us millions of votes all you do is demand policies you don’t listen”

    Tony Bennett, it was considerable progress by ny standard for the first time since 1945 8 and a half(sic) people had voted for socialism,, to which Michel foot replied with tears in his eyes, those people voted labour as they always had done they didn’t agree with a word of the manifesto

    Tony Bennett in trying to get ex voters back, come back to us we will listen to you, and then we will use the union block vote, to vote against what you stand for

    And Michael foot blaming the SDP for splitting the anti Tory vote.

    The trouble with the last idea, is that had labour not been. Moderate party in the 50’s D Owen would never have joined and said hold your nose vote Tory, so we would have never have win ,without the likes of his votes in the 60’s ,when Roy Jenkins was 13 in 1926 and he was looking for a party to join, the liberals were a bigger party than labour,and if he’d have wanted to join a anti Tory party, the liberals would have been a obvious choice, he wanted to leave labour, and Join the liberals through most of the 70’s anyway. Jenkins must have known the liberals and Tories didn’t stand against each other ,in various seats in the past anyway.

  6. Matt W says:

    Le Deluge is after Corbyn, of course.

    Or a thud if the Pit of Oblivion into which they collectively jumped last year turns out to have a bottom.

    In the meantime, there will be continued Zooming Noises.

  7. Peter Kenny says:

    Hi – tell you what, if you could just let me know the winning numbers of next weeks lottery I’ll put up the stake and share the winnings with you.

    What do you say?

  8. Mark Livingston says:

    Winning in 2020 was always going to be a hope rather than an expectation. The boundary changes and lose of Scotland through years of Tory-liteness mean that, realistically, we are in the business of building a party and a policy programme for 2025.

    I anticipate mass deselection exercises in the autumn. Party members are rightly outraged by the behaviour of the party’s Tory-lite wing, and their apparent sense of entitlement.

    So, where will we be this time next year? Blairism is finished. Neoliberalism is finished. Labour will increasingly become a socialist party once again, with policy development from the bottom up. My guess would be that we’ll be well on the way in terms of policy development a year from now because we now have a socialist NEC and a socialist shadow cabinet. The right-wing’s wrecking campaign with therefore lose potency.

    Jeremy will not step to one side until that socialist hegemony is consolidated and the Blairites accept defeat. 2019 at a guess.

  9. Mike Homfray says:

    I don’t think you get that if Labour returns to the centre enough left wingers will not vote for it to prevent it winning a majority anyway. The idea that two catch all parties can represent the diversity of views in contemporary Britain

  10. Forlornehope says:

    If Labour is defeated in 2020, or sooner, it will be because of the betrayal by the Labour centre and right led by the Parliamentary party. This will make clear to all members that we need MPs who represent them and not themselves. As a New Model Party united in Parliament and in the country Labour will be in a position to fight and win on a radical Left strategy taking power and wealth from the elites and returning them to the people.

  11. DJ says:

    “the GMB balloted its members about who to back in the leadership race, with a resounding victory for Owen Smith, beating Jeremy Corbyn by a 60/40 per cent margin.”

    Just like the AV result, I think you’re pushing it to call it a “resounding” result when so few voted. Surely that is something to look at in between trying to destroy one of the most known labour faces just because he cares more for policies than image. So far only one is saying, and acting to back up those words, that labour should be a broad church and sadly I cannot see labour back in power until the “unifying” labour lot start to follow suit.

  12. buttley says:

    “resounding victory for Owen Smith, beating Jeremy Corbyn by a 60/40 per cent margin”

    neglecting the most important statistic of all, turnout of 8.1%

    the unison figures are even lower, under 2% of membership turnout,

    with these tiny omissions, included,

    the casual reader can now see how truely meaningless both sets of figures really are.

  13. efcdons says:

    I think Corbyn will step aside before 2020. But like Mark Livingston said above, it won’t be until he (and his supporters) can be assured a change in leadership won’t mean a change (backwards) in the general direction of the party.

    What’s scary is there is a very real possibility of another serious economic downturn in the next 4 years. It seems like if there is any chance of people voting against the Cons (and Labour winning or at least being able to form a majority coalition) the people who have fought so hard (and incompetently) against Corbyn will do everything in their power to make sure Corbyn or someone with similar policies does not get close to No. 10.

    That’s what they don’t seem to understand. After Corbyn will be someone more Corbyn than Miliband, David or even Ed. Unless they recognize that they won’t have any influence in the future direction of the Labour party. I do think it’s possible to get a post-Corbyn candidate who is more “mainstream” in their foreign policy views. But there won’t be any tory-lite deficit fetishism, welfare bashing, business groveling domestic policy anytime in the near future. I mean, even May has (rhetorically at least) backed away from Cameron/Osborne style domestic policy. Arguing Labour needs to be just a hair to the Tory’s left to capture the “centre ground” would put them to the left of where they want to be. I hope there is a willingness to accept the ground has shifted. Otherwise there really might be a split.

  14. John P Reid says:

    Mike homfray you don’t get there’s 100,000 out of 25million left wingers and that there’s 5 and a half million centre voters

    ForlonEhope if crisis councillors lose their seats and in the door step the reason former voters say they’re voting elsewhere, is because of JC, then they would back someone too the right in a leadership election

    TaFia, my money is in Clive Lewis losing his seat

  15. Tafia says:

    John TaFia, my money is in Clive Lewis losing his seat

    His constituency won’t exist in GE202 – most of them won’t. He will be given a safe seat.

  16. Anne says:

    I was reading in the Sunday Times about the party within a party The Co operative Party – I vaguely aware of this but had not looked into the history, policies and values of this party. I remember in my youth visiting the co op in my town – it was like an old fashioned department store. I agree with a lot of these principles of this party. This may be a solution for those of us who are unhappy with JC leadership. Let’s hope that Owen Smith wins the day.

  17. Sean says:

    The new reality of the party means that it is highly unlikely that a candidate too close to the center of labour politics would be acceptable to the membership even post Corbyn. However truly heavy defeat in 2020 may lead to the conclusion, probably unjustified, that the Left has “failed” in a way that may lead to its exclusion from power in the party (as Owen Jones has been warning). The real frustration is that there has probably been no greater opportunity for the left to speak to the British people with genuinely popular policies. Post 2008 and the social impact of Brexit seem to be shifting the Overton window in the left’s favour or at least widening a previously narrow range of acceptability. Corbyn is unfortunately a flawed vessel for those ideals in that he seems uncomfortable with the mantle of leadership (watching Clive Lewis in interviews makes you wish the leftist grouping had chosen differently) and an apparent inability to pick his battles.
    He is more in tune with the public with regards to housing and transport (as well as a host of other issues) but he uses valuable political capital on electoral losers such as NATO and Trident. I sincerely understand, though disagree, with his Trident stance but it is politically unpopular to push the issue. The Labour Party is not Stop the War or the CND and he seems genuinely unable to comprehend that he could use his position to shift the debate in that direction without making it the political sword he would be willing to fall on.
    I hope that in the remaining time till the election (2020 or whenever May decides) there will be a real focus on policy formation which has been conspicuously lacking up until the leadership contest. At the very least, Labour needs to build the intellectual foundations of the party before it can make a claim on power again, regardless of leader. If it would be possible to reconvene the concept for instance of McDonnell’s economic advisory board and make sure that it is properly used, i think Labour would find much of its worldview supported by considerable intellectual backing. This is what the Conservatives did prior to the Thatcher years and the Reagan administration was famous for in the States, the last time the Overton window shifted drastically. Ultimately it comes down to the fact that you can’t be pro anti-austerity, you need to be for something and that’s what Labour needs to find and show to the Public.

  18. Sean says:

    Apologies for the length, writing on your phone makes it easy to get carried away without notice

  19. Feodor says:

    “…you don’t get there’s 100,000 out of 25million left wingers and that there’s 5 and a half million centre voters”

    More than 100,000 left-wingers have joined the party since Corbyn became leader. You’re talking out of your arse, in broken English, as per usual Mr Reid.

  20. john p Reid says:

    Feodor,how do you know that of all the people who’ve joined the party they’re backing corbyn I’d say its 60/40, we’ll find out next month

  21. Tafia says:

    John Feodor,how do you know that of all the people who’ve joined the party they’re backing corbyn I’d say its 60/40, we’ll find out next month

    Personally, I reckon the people that joined more recently that have been prevented from voting will be a large chunk of anti-Corbyn, because they would have joined following the appeal by Kinnochio and co, only to have the wing of the party that pleaded for them to join in order to depose Corbyn then promptly stop them voting. LMFAO.

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