I’ve deliberately kept updates limited for a while, partly to give more space to others and partly as post-Brexit I’ve been busy myself with some non-political projects. But a number of Broxtowe Labour members have asked for input on the Labour leadership election, and some who aren’t currently members may be interested.
First, as usual, I’d like to discuss it amicably – with all that’s happened in the last few months, feelings have been getting heated. My views are simply my personal opinion, and naturally anyone is free to disagree.
There is a reasonably broad consensus on two things:
Jeremy Corbyn has a number of likeable personal qualities: he is entirely focused on improving Britain’s policies rather than personal glory or amassing wealth; he avoids personal abuse, even of people he strongly disagrees with; he maintains a steady, even temper despite sometimes considerable provocation. I’ve known him on and off for 40 years: he’s just the same equable, civil figure in private.
Labour is not at present successfully challenging Theresa May’s honeymoon, even though she has yet to actually do anything very much and the policies which worry many about the Conservatives have continued unchanged, while the post-Brexit economic outlook continues to look bleak.
The question is how far the problems relate to Corbyn personally and how far it’s due to the intensive barrage from many nominally on his own side that he’s endured since taking the leadership last year. The impression given is that the party is massively divided, and in my view the main responsibility for that are the disparate forces who have been briefing against him – first anonymously, then in public – since day 1. This isn’t to say that he doesn’t need to shoulder some of the responsibility, but he’s not actually been given a fair chance.
The reason he was elected is that his opponents last year seemed not to be offering a coherent policy programme. The sardonic comment of an adviser that our 2010 programme sounded like “Vote Labour and win a toaster” stung because it was partly true. After a range of genuinely good reforms introduced under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown which tend now to be forgotten (the Northern Ireland settlement, the minimum wage, the massive improvement in NHS and education funding, much greater attention to social reform and humans rights) and the twin disasters of Iraq and the world banking crisis, the party seemed to have lost its way.
Corbyn offered a new focus on developing an alternative to austerity – which by 2016 even its architects like Georg Osborne were admitting had proved ineffective in dealing with the debt issue – and a new focus on industrial and services growth.
The challenge this year is curious, in that Owen Smith is arguing that he broadly supports the new direction; he simply feels he’d do it better. The problem with that is threefold:
1. It’s not been evident up to now that he was particularly engaged with that: if we are following Corbyn’s policies, doesn’t it make more sense to have Corbyn putting them forward?
2. The evidence that Labour would do significantly better under his leadership is scanty
3. Many of his backers clearly see him as an interim solution to be replaced by someone else down the line, once Corbyn was defeated. In pursuing that, frankly undemocratic measures have been taken, first trying to prevent Corbyn from standing at all and then preventing over 20% of the membership from taking part because they’d mostly joined as they were attracted by the new approach.
If Owen is elected on that basis, I think he’ll struggle to be accepted by members as legitimate, and we’ll extend the internal feuding for a further year until another round 12 months from now. Meanwhile, the people whom we represent are looking on the perplexity at the internal battle, which is leaving Britain without an effective opposition.
Bottom line: I’ve always wanted in politics to argue for a progressive agenda with civility and reason rather than ranting and abuse. Jeremy Corbyn epitomises that spirit of “positive politics”, and I would like to stand by it.
I’m therefore voting to give Corbyn a decent chance, and I hope other members will do the same.