Patience and clarity of purpose. That’s what Labour’s moderates need now

by Atul Hatwal

It’s been a difficult day for Labour moderates. The numbers aren’t great– an increased majority for Jeremy Corbyn with a plurality of in each section of the selectorate backing Labour’s incumbent. This is clearly a decent result for Corbyn.

Two challenges must be faced, one in the short term, one in the medium term.

The immediate question will be whether moderate MPs return to serve on the front bench.

There are currently over 60 vacancies and a real danger that Labour will be stripped of the title of official opposition if these roles remain unfilled through to Christmas.

However, things have been said which can’t be unsaid. It’s not credible for people who have been decrying Jeremy Corbyn as a catastrophe for the past months to suddenly say, with straight faces, that this man should be prime minister.

Even if tongues could be temporarily held, the rancour would soon re-emerge in the internal struggles that are imminent as the hard left try to rewrite the party rule-book and tighten their grip on the machine.

The answer for moderate MPs is to make Labour’s Swiss cheese front bench Jeremy Corbyn’s problem.

They should serve while not trimming or changing anything they say. If an MP disagrees with the leader on an important issue, they should make that point publicly. If they don’t believe Jeremy Corbyn is fit to be prime minister without major changes to his approach and policies, they should say so on air.

If this type of candour, which has defined Jeremy Corbyn’s behaviour as an MP since 1983, is unwanted by the leader, he can always relieve them of their front bench duties.

PLP moderates – who, based on the number that voted against Labour’s leader in the motion of no confidence, constitute 80% of the party in the Commons – should unionise. If they collectively agree to serve while being straight with the public about what they believe, it will be down to Jeremy Corbyn whether he wants to sack them all and leave most of the front bench unfilled.

To quote a song title from one of Jeremy Corbyn’s most vocal backers, Billy Bragg: “There is strength in a union.”

However, this can only be a temporary palliative. As long as Jeremy Corbyn remains leader, Labour is on track for electoral annihilation. For the sake of the people of the country who need a Labour government, he needs to be removed. In the medium term, moderates need to learn and internalise the lessons of Owen Smith’s defeat.

Two points are clear: the contest came too early and Smith’s campaign was not as effective as it should have been.

The primary reason Smith lost was that Labour’s members and supporters, who do not spend every waking moment poring over Labour’s latest Westminster disaster, did not feel Jeremy Corbyn had been given long enough to prove himself.

There is a clear trend. The more engaged Labour selectors are with the day to day operation of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the more rapidly they become disillusioned.

Soft left MPs, who wanted to give Corbyn a chance and worked with him at close quarters daily, are now uniform in their despair at his leadership. Media and union supporters, such as Owen Jones and Dave Prentis, general secretary of Unison, who were enthusiastic backers last year were notably cooler this summer, even if they ultimately voted Corbyn.

Over time, this same understanding of Corbyn’s egregious inadequacies will percolate through to members and supporters. Nine months might be too soon but two years is another matter.

But even accepting that the timing of the challenge was far from ideal, Owen Smith did not help himself.

His gaffes, failure to effectively rebut Corbynista caricatures of him as a Blairite big Pharma lobbyist or give voters a reason to back him with an alternative policy offer, meant he did not maximise the anti-Corbyn vote.

When Corbyn is challenged again, there needs to be a much more developed ground operation within constituencies on day one along with much sharper policy dividing lines.

In July I wrote of how the local level debate, as evidenced by discussion on CLP’s private Facebook groups, was dominated by chatter about Smith’s big Pharma ties with very few members stepping up to defend him.

The absence of local advocates or an alternative narrative meant that Owen Smith was defined in these days and effectively lost what little chance he did have in the campaign, before the end of July.

Had he garnered just 3% more, and held Jeremy Corbyn to below 60%, the story today would be very different. Headlines about Corbyn’s mandate would have been replaced by discussion of how a 5% swing could see him deposed.

That’s the narrow margin, real measure of how much Owen Smith fell short.

There’s much talk about moderates leaving the party. It’s understandable. Politics is a world driven by the minute to minute news cycle. The impetus is to do something, anything. To respond immediately.

But if moderates want a working centre-left opposition, the only vehicle for that task under a first past the post system is Labour. Now is not the time for a knee-jerk reaction.

Patience and clarity of purpose are what’s required at this point.

Patience to wait for the desperate incompetence of Jeremy Corbyn’s operation to be evident to members in the next few years. Clarity of purpose that the next challenge needs greater preparation and organisation to finally remove Corbyn.

Moderates should take a leaf out of Jeremy Corbyn’s book.

In the thirty-two years he was an MP before winning the leadership, he remained doggedly in the party, despite his hard left corner of the party being marginalised and discounted. He didn’t leave to start a new party or join one of the many hard left partylets beyond Labour’s fringe, he stayed to fight for his cause and unexpectedly, ultimately won the leadership.

Moderates need to show a little of the same commitment if we are to get our party back.

Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut

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17 Responses to “Patience and clarity of purpose. That’s what Labour’s moderates need now”

  1. paul barker says:

    Stay in there while Labour loses votes & seats & The Libdems rebuild, waste more time.
    Or, if you despair of the pathetic “Leadership” offered by The PLP majority, come & join The Libdems.

  2. Just Cann says:

    Its not all over yet. Labour party members cannot and must not forget the thousands of labour party members who have been denied a vote or suspended or expelled. Labour party members will make sure they get justice. Above all else labour party members believe in fairness and justice. After all we are trade unionist at heart. We need to have an investigation to discover why it happened. Those members who have been suspended or expelled for alleged abuse, threatening or other such reason should be compared with the labour MP who was aggressive towards Ken Livingstone on Camera and then the labour MP who in the commons shouted at the Leader Corbyn to “Sit Down and Shut Up”. About 30 labour MPs directed abuse towards Corbyn and labour party members should also be used as a comparison to the accusations against members.

    Also Members want to clean up the labour party. Labour Party Members are urged to Google “Save the Children and Labour Party” and be surprised what you will find about ex labour party connected people. Labour party members are also urged to google “Labour MP and WikiLeaks” and be also surprised what they will find.

  3. buttley says:

    Woeful analysis, its like you are having a private competition Rob Marchant, as to, who can be Uncut’s “most unhinged”.

    What you need to remember is, going forward, everyone will get votes.

    How many were excluded this time round? and yet it still wasn’t enough.

    Digital voting has to become a reality in the Labour party, especially for policy making.

    Swiss refs, but via an App.

    No more of this £300,000 to consult the membership crap.

    When Labour are consulting the party membership every week, and on multiple issues, other parties memberships will very quickly become mighty jealous.

    Inclusive policy making as opposed to prescriptive policy making.

    You can be patient & maintain your clarity of purpose,

    While an ever increasing membership will get on & shape a new direction of travel.

  4. Peter Kenny says:

    Atul, this is divisive drivel!

    There will not be another challenge this side of a general election, Corbyn is now ‘bombproof’. That is the achievement of the coup and leadership challenge, to strengthen the political current they think is disastrous. No wonder they lost the last two elections!

    Also the PLP will remain the official opposition. They are the second largest party. They were the official opposition in 1931 with 52 seats! I know you like the idea the designation might be removed but you really need to get a grip!

    Essentially a single challenge to Corbyn was politically possible, another isn’t – if it’s tried there will be a mighty wave of disgust from the party. The mood in the party is for unity – the kind of nonsense you’re suggesting isn’t unity, it’s ongoing civil war.

    You also talk about the PLP as if they’re homogenous, they’re not – as we’ll see over the next days and weeks.

    As to why the challenge failed I’m afraid it’s more basic and serious than your suggested ‘technical’ foul ups. Essentially the challenge was in two parts – the coup, pre planned, calculated to shove Corbyn off the ballot so that there would be no left candidate and then those who really want to lead could stand.

    It failed because they don’t understand the left or Corbyn, despite seeing him at work all the time. They are ignorant of our sense of identity and moral framework. I knew he wouldn’t resign and I’ve met him once for 10 minutes. It’s simply a sense of duty and history, the duty to those who elected him and the idea that we will be judged over years and decades, not the next ‘news cycle’.

    You could criticise this from many angles but it is at the core of our beliefs. If they want to be politically successful they need to imagine the other in order to prevail. Simply put I know more about their thinking, traditions and values than they know of mine.

    Of course the coup also showed an abiding sin of the ‘moderates’, which is a long standing attachment, almost a default, to manoeuvres and bureaucratic methods over debate and mobilisation. Fiddling the membership, exclusion, £25 to be a supporter blah, blah.

    The left by the way are not immune to this tendency but the ethos of the current left surge is strongly against it.

    There was a moment when the talk was of the ‘moderates’ recruiting hundreds of thousands of supporters, ‘Saving Labour’ etc which was truly promising: democracy, a huge party, debate, mobilisation, engagement!

    It didn’t happen, did it? Either couldn’t or wouldn’t.

    The second part was Smith’s challenge – from a policy perspective it was essentially Corbyn with nuclear weapons. I don’t believe that is actually where he stands, it was an attempt at triangulation that failed. From a personality perspective he did not look remotely better than Corbyn or more competent.

    I don’t know whether he seriously thought he had a chance but he struck me early on as a no hoper supported by people who’d want to get rid of him if he ever was elected.

    It was all futile self indulgence in the end, at the very point, the exact time, when the party needed to take up the challenge of Brexit. So a historical moment comes and most of our political class fail. Cameron resigns, Johnson pulls out, Gove self destructs, Farage resigns, Corbyn is immediately hamstrung by the coup. Only Nicola Sturgeon was able to rise to the moment.

    I challenge the idea of the ‘moderates’ as competent or even really patriotic at the moment. Brexit is the biggest challenge to progressives since the second world war and they muck about with internal factionalism, and fail! They have much thinking to do and I can’t say articles like this are much of a start.

    So at the heart of it is values. If the ‘moderates’ discover the values of openness, democracy etc then they may return, otherwise any opposition they offer will be purely destructive.

  5. Mark Livingston says:

    Tory-lite Labour MPs who refuse to support our leader should be deselected. End of.

  6. Mike Stallard says:

    When you are right down, then it is time to rethink.
    1. In Hong Kong and Singapore, poor economies have been transformed by Chinese who are working for 15% tax (or a lot less). Our tax is sort of round the middle 40s. We really do have to ask why. In both the Asian cities people at work can afford a house (flat), they can eat out when they need to, they can travel by excellent public transport.None of these things are easy for the same kind of person in London. And they are both safe.
    2. The way to make money in the NHS and Education and the Law is to get into management. You can make a killing. When you get sacked for incompetence, you are re employed immediately – with a golden handshake. That is where the money goes – ask the nurses, the striking doctors and the consultants all of whom have now become pawns to be pushed about.
    Bleating about the vulnerable and the NHS and Comprehensive Education will not solve or even address any of this. Meanwhile the brightest people move out. and the people who flood in are not, how shall we say?, quite as educated, are they. But even to make a remark like that is racist.

  7. Tafia says:

    Know thine enemy Atul, know thine enemy. That’d how Corbyn and Momentum crushed you and they haven’t finished yet.

  8. Yellow Submarine says:

    Wise words Atul

  9. Nick Wall says:

    “The contest came too early” ? This is self-delusion of a high order. The contest happened when it did partly because MPs knew that a new NEC might be less inclined to rig the rules in their favour. 150,000 members were excluded from the ballot, the great majority of whom, I can assure you, are Corbyn supporters. Some got themselves back on the ballot by signing up as registered supporters. Those members won’t be going away : they’ll be on the ballot in any future election. And the fallout from today’s result is likely to further strengthen Corbyn’s position among the membership.

    Given that the right don’t have the numbers to challenge Corbyn, what is the agenda ? In this wretched piece there is not one word about building unity. Not one word about looking for ways of working together to beat the Tories. Instead only this – “If they don’t believe Jeremy Corbyn is fit to be prime minister without major changes to his approach and policies, they should say so on air.” Well that’s going to achieve a lot isn’t it ? Instead of comradely debates within the party, go on national television to chuck mud at the leader. The one thing that you could do which is guaranteed to hurt Labour’s standing in the polls. And you publish this on the day that the man is re-elected with an increased mandate. Ever heard of democracy ?

  10. john says:

    A huge crisis of capitalism and it is the right that are the benefactors across the globe. Crazy. Everything now started in the 80’s everyone is to blame but do you keep pushing the tried and failed methods or listen. We must shift the overton window, we need to be more critical about the flaws in this crony global capitalism there is too much wrong that is plain to see. If you can’t see it, move over and let those with vision take charge. Let the movement grow.

  11. DJ says:

    When Corbyn was calling for a broad church in 2015 Chuka and Kendall were saying that they would not work with him.

    Chuka is now also saying that Labour needs to be a broad church and if the more right of the party (not sure there are many who can claim to be moderates considering the slurs from all sides over the past year) can join in Jeremy’s call for unity and focus then it’s time for those who want labour to be a winning political party to come back and work with Corbyn.

    Or you can continue to create a self-fulfilling prophecy (the country won’t vote for a party in such a civil war) and allow for May to drag this country further right til Kendall faces the slurs Corbyn has in 10 years time.

  12. DJ says:

    “Clarity of purpose that the next challenge needs greater preparation and organisation to finally remove Corbyn.

    Moderates should take a leaf out of Jeremy Corbyn’s book.

    In the thirty-two years he was an MP before winning the leadership, he remained doggedly in the party, despite his hard left corner of the party being marginalised and discounted.”

    The next challenges are: creating what Corbyn wanted in the original leadership contest (the labour party being a broad church), presenting a united front, creating trust in labour values (including when it comes to the economy) and winning in 2020.

    If your list starts and ends with opposing Corbyn then labour will lose in 2020 but if will be your fault and no comment on his leadership.

    People in this country have no clue what “hard left” is if Corbyn is how its pictured. If your list starts and ends with opposing Corbyn while May drags the country right then Kendall will be called “hard left” in 2025.

  13. Tafia says:

    Mike In Hong Kong and Singapore, poor economies have been transformed by Chinese who are working for 15% tax (or a lot less). Our tax is sort of round the middle 40s. We really do have to ask why. In both the Asian cities people at work can afford a house (flat)

    I lived in Hong Kong for three years. That is bollocks. You need to be a millionaire to afford a house, and not far off to afford what we in the west would call a flat. There, a teacher or highly skilled workers and middle classes invariably live in rented ‘flats’ that consist of one bedroom, one lounge-come-diner-come second bedroom at night, a very small bathroom (asian squat bog with a shower above it) and a communal kitched shared by every flat on that floor. People work their tits off, there is no welfare state and if you haven’t got private health insurance you doie simple as that. (we used to raise money for a ward of children dying from kidney failure because their parents couldn’t affoerd dialysis. Not to pay for treatment – we couldn’t afford that, but to pay the ward TV rental and to buy food and pay for clean bedding)

    You can stick Hong Kong and Singapore up your arse unless you are a gweilo.

  14. Mike Homfray says:

    I have no interest in supporting the failed right wing of the Labour party – I think the party needs to provide the socialist alternative

  15. ad says:

    PLP moderates – who, based on the number that voted against Labour’s leader in the motion of no confidence, constitute 80% of the party in the Commons – should unionise.

    I have to agree. I’ve always thought that the most disasterous trend in British politics over the last generation has been this idea that the leader of the Parliamentary Party should be elected by people other than the Parliamentary Party. It was Tory MPs trying to curry favour with Conservative party members that gave us Brexit.

    The more power is returned to the elected representatives of the people, the better.

  16. Tafia says:

    buttley says: its like you are having a private competition Rob Marchant, as to, who can be Uncut’s “most unhinged”.

    Perhaps some rebranding and triangularing a la New Labour, and relaunching the site as ‘Labour Unhinged’.

  17. Daniel says:

    Just reading this after also hearing May’s speech at Tory conference.

    I have been a Labour member from 2006 to 2008 and 2010 to 2015.

    I simply cannot envisage that the Labour Party will have anything credible by 2020 to say to the “ordinary working people” the PM referred to in her speech.

    It has been captured by a combination of ultra left socialists, public sector/charity/NGO special interests, and minority groups. It does appeal to younger people but these are a minority of the electorate, and it is a well known phenomenon that radicalism fizzles out with age.

    I think May’s Conservatives and what Tim Montgomerie calls “the Good Right” now share more with Labour moderates than the Labour Party can in the short to medium term. I for one will be voting Conservative now although it is a step too far to join the party 😉

    Meanwhile Lib Dems are returning to their traditional role as a Janus-faced party of protest.

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