2016: disastrous for the world, more so for Labour

by Rob Marchant

It’s clear that 2016 is unlikely to go down in history as one of the world’s much-loved years, one at which people look back with fond memories. Brexit (UK), Trump (US/the world), the death of a seemingly disproportionate number of the world’s best-loved stars. And a general political shift towards a fact-free, far-right (or, occasionally, far-left) populism which, it is no exaggeration to say, could soon pose a genuine threat to freedom and democracy in the West, as it is already doing in younger democracies such as Poland, Turkey or Hungary.

We start 2017 with perhaps the most ugly and uncertain foreign policy landscape since the fall of the Berlin Wall: drifting into a second Cold War but without any of the bilateral balance that characterised the first one. And with a US, formerly the guardian of world order, moving from being a poor and ineffectual geopolitical player under Obama to a who-knows-what under Trump. The world has suddenly become a frighteningly uncertain place.

The vote for Brexit has left Britain, in the eyes of its friends and neighbours at least, hobbled by uncertainty and the promise of a difficult decade ahead as it struggles to adjust. It has also seemingly done for a whole raft of politicians associated with it, mostly Tory.

In any normal circumstances, an opposition party would be laying into the Tories daily and exposing the weaknesses in their Brexit planning and their mediocre running of the country in general. But the main opposition party has been in such a terrible mess, Theresa May could read sections from the telephone book at the dispatch box and her massive poll lead would barely flicker.

Labour had already started this year in a huge hole (in fact, one could be unkind and say that Labour’s disastrous 2016 started three months early, when Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader at party conference).

It is difficult to overstate just how bad a year it has been, in that Labour has scarcely enjoyed a piece of good news from beginning to end. Hardened Blairites and Brownites started to look back at the ineffectual, drift-laden Miliband years with misty-eyed affection compared with the seemingly unstoppable, slow-motion car-crash of the Corbyn leadership.

January kicked off with a shadow cabinet reshuffle which brought the sacking of Pat McFadden, one of the few shining lights in the top team and one of even fewer with actual ministerial experience. In February Momentum, formerly Jeremy Corbyn’s grassroots campaign team, morphed into a full membership organisation which, by the time party conference came around, was already organising its own, rival conference and pressing for deselections of moderate MPs. March brought more evidence of anti-Semitism on the Corbynite wing of the party, culminating in the May suspension of what had been the hard left’s most important figure for decades: Ken Livingstone.

A few days later brought an awful result in the local elections, Corbyn’s first electoral test – “the worst performance for a new opposition leader in half a century”, as Andrew Rawnsley put it – and the only ray of light was Sadiq Khan win in London, a win in a directly elected role transparently not to do with Corbyn, from whom Khan had deliberately distanced himself.

And that is all not to mention coming third in Scotland. Third. In a country which had for decades enjoyed Labour hegemony.

In June, after the Brexit vote left much of the country in shock – including some of those on the winning side – the PLP finally reached breaking point with its leader’s lukewarm support for Remain, the party’s official position and his sacking of Hilary Benn, one of his few remaining Shadow Cabinet heavyweights.

And so it was thus, following David Cameron’s resignation as Prime Minister, that British politics was briefly left in total chaos, with both main parties rudderless, when a swathe of the Shadow Cabinet resigned en masse, and not just from the party’s right.

A no-confidence vote in Corbyn’s leadership was organised and the final result, Labour’s second leadership battle in two years, culminated in the defeat of moderate Owen Smith and the re-election of its existing leader.

For the first time since perhaps the 1930s, the vast majority of the PLP was in open warfare with its leader. But, oddly, this did not lead to his resignation: the PLP no longer had a say in leadership elections (except the nominations required, a right they foolishly waived in 2015) and a majority of the membership clearly still backed him, mostly members who had joined in the previous twelve months.

It had by now become clear to everyone the impossibility of moving Corbyn before the 2020 election, unless he should choose to go voluntarily (an event which would presumably only happen anyway in the event that a hand-picked successor from the hard left would emerge to take his place).

By December, Labour’s polling had reached such catastrophic levels (a virtually solid double-digit lead for the Tories, and Labour’s vote-share consistently in the 20s for the first time in decades) for the first time in decades) that people were openly wondering whether the party would not finish in third place in the 2020 general election. And that was if it still existed.

There may yet be hope for a Labour recovery in 2017. But it clearly ends the year in its worst shape for decades, and quite possibly in its century-long history.

And that is because the recovery conditions which were in place in the 30s, the 50s and 60s, or the 80s and 90s are simply not there this time.

The party has never before been led by its hard left, so their position is uniquely strong.

There is no strong trade union movement providing the political ballast to pull it back towards the centre; most are also in the hands of the hard left.

Finally, the natural replacement cycle for members, which brings party renewal after a down, is broken. The anomalous “crowding out” of long-time members by new ones is proving corrosive and cuckoo-like. When those new members leave, as they surely will before long, the party may by then be merely a hollowed-out husk.

Oh, the centre-left will recover: it always does. But we are living in a Darwinian era of great turbulence, and time is running out for Labour to be the vehicle for that recovery.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

Tags: , , , , , ,

14 Responses to “2016: disastrous for the world, more so for Labour”

  1. Alf says:

    It’s been a great year. Jeremy elected again! And we now have the 10 Pledges to work with. New Labour is finished!

  2. Richard MacKinnon says:

    Rob Marchant sums up 2016 reasonably well. But what about 2017? Looking back is easy, I would be interested to hear his predictions for the year ahead.
    Let me get the ball rolling.
    Copeland byelection? I can see Labour vote getting sqeezed out by Liberals and UKIP. Will others follow Jamie Reed? There must be quite a few Labour MPs like Reed still with some self respect that just cannot take the humiliation any longer.
    The Scottish council elections in May. That will be wipeout. The last two councils run by Labour Lanarkshire and Glasgow are mired in accusations of dodgy deals between Labour councillors and family run companies with council contrcts. After that Kezia will be the PTB.
    A general election? Maybe not.
    Jeremy, Dianne and John on TV. Definately. Marr, Neal and Peston cannot get enough of them. Sunday morning is better than sex these days.
    So after weighing up all the pluses and minuses I would say to Rob Marchant, if he thought 2016 was a bad year for Labour then 2017 is something that he is never going forget, Rob, you just ain’t seen nothing yet.

  3. Dave says:

    Re: Poland. The British Left are far off the mark. Poland endured 25 years of almost unbroken rule by Ultra Thatcherites that left it bottom of the heap in the EU in terms of social welfare spending – 0.8% of GDP – humbled by impoversihed Romania and Bulgaria. Just because the Ultra Right cloaked themselves in free-of-charge LGBT policies doesn’t make them friends of the Left. The Polish govt has introduced child benefit, and at generous levels. Can you imagine a modern EU country where there’s no child benefit? They’ve started a social housing program – on a let-to-buy basis. Wakefield has more social housing than the whole of Poland. The Solidarity trade union supports the govt. Foreign Big business is scared, as the taxman cometh! What we have in Poland is post-colonial politics – the sons and daughters of yesterday’s Communist elite are literally today’s judges, generals and media bosses. All the culture-war guff about abortion and gender exists to muddy the waters. Look at the money and power issues. Incidentally, ever heard of the priest Popieluszko? Got murdered by the Communists … and the investigation was stymied by Judge Rzeplinski, just fmr chief justice of Poland. Who was wholeheartedly supported by the EU. So, Global Capital (cloaked in LGBT) or Social Justice (cloaked in sometime unpalatable Catholicism)? The choice is yours.

  4. John P Reid says:

    And London is a Labour area, labours percentage of the vote actually went down a bit on the Assembly in 2016 meaning even a high vote would look like a lower percentage, and due to the low turnout in 2012, when it was obvious Boris would win,

    A low turnout compared to the highest turnout for a Mayoral election in 2008, the 2008 mayor election where labour increased its assembly members on 2004′ yet he lost, a clear case ,in 2008 whn people were voting labour on the assembly, but also to get rid of Ken

  5. paul barker says:

    This is all true but there have been a few bright spots for Britain & The World, if not for Labour. There was the Liberal victory in Canada & the first, tentative signs of a Liberal recovery in The UK. Given the very high political risks involved in trying to call an Early Election, there is time for Labour to get out of the way & let The Libdems take on The Tories in 2020. Labour Centrists could help by defecting to The Libdems or even just by dropping out of Politics altogether. When you no longer have anything useful to contribute, even silence can be an improvement.

  6. Adam says:

    Just wanted to say Merry Christmas everyone! If you need a laugh, and who doesn’t, you might like this piece on Father Christmas being refused a UK visa http://theoccasionalpigeonuk.blogspot.co.uk/2016/12/misery-for-millions-as-father-christmas.html

  7. Richard MacKinnon says:

    What is the point of making a comment on Labour Uncut if the editor chooses not to publish them? I admit my comment yesterday was scathing but it is justified as the present situation Labour finds itself, the self inflicted situation is with out precedent. Labour supporters need to hear the criticism. Labour needs to quickly do a risk assessment. There is the possibility that in the next few years we will see The British Labour Party disappear as a political force.

  8. AnnoyingMess says:

    Just as Labour Uncut hangs on to Blair as its anti-spam, so does Rob Marchant hang on to a past long gone.

    Labour not only ditched the tier of society that it was set up to represent, it trod its former constituents’ faces into the mud.

    I am splashing around in Rob’s tears – this year has seen a breaking out of the loathsome ‘Progressive’ new world order.

    No more ‘progressive intervention’ in the form of foreign invasions; no more EU presidents; and a chance to modernise our democracy.

    I don’t ever wish to return to the Blair/Campbell/Mandelson sewer.

    Have a Merry Christmas Rob – this Christmas will be my happiest for years; I haven’t had so much hope for the new year as that which I am experiencing now.

  9. Tafia says:

    What a whinging pointless twat you are Rob. And yet again you aren’t even bright enough to camouflage that your real problem is your distaste of Corbyn.

  10. John P Reid says:

    Alf ,new labour was finished when Gordin Broenn in 2008 didn’t start cutting quicker when Alastair wanted too, this was re assured when Ed Miliband, said new labour was over in 2010, and in 2015 when Ed M, agreed that it was right Gordon, shouldn’t have started cutting quicker

    I also take it Alf .bveung 16% behind in the polls, isn’t important

  11. John P Reid says:

    Richard McKinnon, on labour needing white London liberals who will nice nootenLibdem back, and working class socially conservative people back, who’ll voteUkip

    Via blue labour, some people who will vote libdem,because of Iraq and the fact they dislike Labour rather than voting libdem,as they lik them, might actually be social democrats ,in the way of right wing old labour of the 50’s agree with some Blue labour views David Lammy has about discipline in school, and the ex labour person who votes Ukip,who recalls, charity and community groups of London in the 60’s like the Co-op, also the fact the liberal elite has a snobbery against the working class,who they dislike the idea if the blue collar working clas had moved out of London, or large demographic changes overnight they dislike, Taatoo park ours, betting shops, abattoirs selling too much goat to be Curried,
    The one thing, social democrats,who’ll vote libdem, due to disliking Corbyn,and the working class ex labour voter, who’ll vote Ukip. Have in common, is the political class,telling us, that they know best what we have to feel, rather than letting us concentrate on issues that are more important to ourselves, such as worrying about our pension, how the skills our kids will learn at schools,will help them in later life,

  12. NickT says:

    I find it amazing that the hard left fanatics so completely fail to grasp the extent of their own self-destruction. Britain has taken a long look at Corbyn, McDonnell, Abbott and their Nomentum comrades and rejected them overwhelmingly. A competent opposition could have smashed Theresa May’s credibility as she dithers and bumbles and babbles out nonsense at every turn. Instead, Corbyn’s clowns have gifted her a huge lead and the certainty of a huge majority at the next election. We shall have to waste 2017 hearing increasingly laughable predictions of how one big push will put Corbyn over the top while it gets ever more obvious that Labour is dead in the water and cracks are opening up all over the boat.

    I wasn’t a big fan of Blair, but he’s streets ahead of anything the hard left has ever had to offer – he actually won elections and did some good things. All Corbyn has done is enable Brexit and ongoing austerity as a result.

  13. Peter Carabine says:

    The British Centre Left are in a difficult place given JCs second win. Paul Baker is right there is much opportunity for a combination of Lab Moderates and LibDems given 48 % or more of the voters are Remain, socially progressive , centre leaning and most likely to vote. How that alliance could be shaped remains problematic but there will be many Remain groups in the GE exposing the MPs who are Brexit.

    There are many Labour voters too who will not vote for a Corbyn PM and the YouGov figures show this is very high. How it will play out without some big hitters and funding God only knows but it’s not beyond the intelligence of the UK people to find some solution to avoid the twin dangers of the Hard Brexit Right and the Hard Corbynite Left. Tactical voting perhaps to stop them. With 83% of voters telling You Gov they cannot choose JC as PM we need some solutions and quick.

  14. Peter Kenny says:

    Fascinating that the web site that awards Corbyn the ‘Post Truth award’ indulges in such clear lying about the leadership contest.

    Hilary Benn was sacked for leading the pre planned ‘coup’. He acknowledged himself that his sacking was justified. It was not the cause of the coup, which was already underway.

    If the coup had succeeded you’d have lauded the plan to the rooftops. Can you not try to have just a little rigour and coherence.

    It is clear that at thestart of 2017 that we are in a bad place re the polls. Have a look at them and see the clear fall from a low number to an even lower one at the time of, yes, the coup!

    What is your analysis of the role of the PLP in our current position or are we in some magic land where they have no influence on public perceptions?

    Now you say that Corbyn will remain as leader. Good, so you got that. What follows? What’s your way forward to support our party, given that political fact?

    You could at least try to think about it.

Leave a Reply