Sunday, 7 August 2016

How to save the Labour Party - a contribution to the debate we should be having

It seems very likely that Jeremy Corbyn will be re-elected as leader of the Labour Party on Saturday 24 September. It is unlikely, however, that his re-election will end the crisis in the party. It is quite possible that his opponents will not accept the result. This may mean they set up a new party or a new parliamentary group or they undermine and challenge Corbyn until they finally get their way. 

The country urgently needs a functioning Labour Party. It seems obvious that if Labour is to prosper it needs both Corbyn and Owen Smith, his opponent for the leadership, together with the other MPs who oppose Corbyn. The choice should not be either/or. 

Corbyn can do things that Smith and the other MPs cannot. He has, for example, engaged 100s of 1,000s of people into politics, so that the Labour Party is now the largest political party in Europe. It would be stupid for Labour to jeopardise this achievement.

However, many of Corbyn’s supporters overlook the importance of Smith and the MPs. They have their mandates, achievements, abilities and experience. For many, they also have a credibility that Corbyn does not.

Why is the argument within Labour so bitter?

I am a left-leaning middle-aged member of the solid middle-class and naturally I know plenty of others in the same demographic. In my experience, the overwhelming majority of this group cannot abide Corbyn; they either loathe him or damn him by patronising.

I have met, through supporting Corbyn, plenty of others who tend to be further down the social scale (I doubt there are many home owners among them) and are quite often younger. This group find Corbyn inspiring. 

At a meeting I heard a middle-aged woman who said she struggled to make ends meet and she felt that Corbyn was the first politician for a long time who really cared about people like her. She said he gave her hope. (Hope is a word you often hear from Corbyn supporters. Those who are comfortable tend to underestimate the political importance of hope for others less fortunate.)

The debate between the Corbynites and the anti-Corbynites resembles a bitter marital row. Lots of shouting. No real listening. No one caring who overhears. Nobody caring about the truth any longer - both sides just wanting victory at whatever cost.

Perhaps the party is gripped by “the narcissism of small differences”. This term was coined by Sigmund Freud in 1917. It was his term for his observation that people with minor differences between them can be more combative and hateful than those with major differences. 

The differences between the two camps are relatively small. Corbyn and Smith substantially agree on all policies, except one; Smith has effectively adopted Corbyn’s platform. The exception, replacing Trident, is important but has nothing like the salience now that it did during the Cold War. In any event, Labour MPs were allowed a free vote on this.

This leadership contest has been triggered not because of disagreement over policy but fundamentally because Labour MPs do not like Corbyn’s leadership. Smith’s pitch is that he can deliver Corbyn’s policies better than Corbyn because he would be a better leader than Corbyn.

Compare this to the division in the Tory party only some weeks ago. Ministers lied over the most serious issue to face the country for decades. Ministers accused each other of lying. And now with the discipline that has made the Tory Party the most electorally successful party anywhere in the world, the Tories are, seemingly, united again.

Those who cannot see beyond their opposition to Corbyn should reflect. If Corbyn is re-elected, breaking the party would be an act of political madness. Under First-Past-the-Post divided parties cannot prosper. Challenging Corbyn again would be another act of wilful self-harm. The members will go on re-electing him as long as they see the MPs - and the media - as having undermined him.

So, this is how to save the Labour Party.
  1. Corbyn to show magnanimity in victory
  2. Smith to announce that he will now pursue his desire for a Labour Government by serving under Corbyn and to make it clear that he fully accepts the result
  3. All those who left the Shadow Team to do the same as Smith 
  4. Everyone in the Labour Party up and down the country to seek out the common ground with those who opposed them 
  5. Everyone to stop the insults (each side thinks the other side is worse and this applies to mainstream media as well as social media and elsewhere)
  6. Target the Tories morning, noon and night. 


  1. Your first paragraph says it all. if the smith camp don't get their way they will not accept the democratic will of the party members, so if that is the case why should anyone accept a decision in smiths favour. They need to resign their seats and go to the party they have secretly been setting up for months. if they refuse to represent the people who elected them then they have to go.

  2. Conciliation is a reasonable idea but only if both sides, to some extent, support the central message. I would however question the commitment of some in PLP to the Labour movement in general. From the outside it seems there are a few (No more then a dozen) who are much more interested in preserving the status quo and their seats on the Westminster gravy train.
    Still others are consumed by the fear that the failures of the past will come back to bite them in the arse.
    Despite what the MSM tells us, there can be few now who cannot see abject failure of Tory policy. Across the whole of nation division piles on division, fundamentally driven by personal greed, the cry goes up:
    Fuck You Jack I'm Alright.

  3. You are obviously a kind and intelligent person. I wish I could say that I think your plan could work, but I can't. I'm quite sure Jeremy Corbyn would be magnanimous in victory, and I'm quite sure that Owen Smith and most of the others would pay lip service to the idea of serving faithfully under him. The trouble is that it would only be lip service, and worse, we all know now that they can't be trusted. This would be at least as serious an electoral liability as a split. Like I said earlier elsewhere, the only way out now is through. You are not alone in thinking that this turmoil is a terrible waste of time. We could have had the Tories on the run without all this. It's so wretchedly convenient for them, isn't it?

    1. How can you be so sure that Jeremy Corbyn or his cohorts will be magnanimous in victory? This seems like wishful thinking. Their track records and vitriol (see Lansman and Macdonald)indicate that they are the kinds who hold grudges for years.

      Point 4 of Mr London's prescription is to seek out the common ground with those who opposed them. Another great idea, but where is the common ground in a relatively big-ideas-free left of centre political space and where the Corbynistas just declare that they're anti-austerity and neo-liberalism and Owen Smith follows suit. Can political factions coalesce around slogans? I think it needs something a little deeper.

      Gone are the days when a major work like Tony Crosland's "Future of Socialism" laid the groundwork for a vision of the future, but that is certainly what is needed right now, if the Labour party really is to stay united.

    2. Indeed. Ed Miliband opened Pandora box with this 3-quid membership and the new leader election.

  4. That's a constructive contribution, Tom. Thanks. The BTL comments underline how hard it would be to get the LP into the same head space.

    a couple of points

    a) whatever Owen Smith no says, you exaggerate the degree of common ground between the Corbyn camp and most mainstream MPs, let alone the electorate.
    b) As so often with Labour people you fail to acknowledge the recuperative pragmatism of the Tory party or what makes it tick. Pray that Mrs May decides not decide to stage an election ( I don't think she will)
    c) I know Jeremy C has a lot of support out there, I'd estimate it as high was 20% of the electorate. Do the maths. You can't win elections on that, you have to reach out.
    d) I've know JC a long time, nice chap, bearded Labour leftie etc, albeit with some unpleasant friends and many unworldly views.
    e) But he's not a leader, just not cut out for it, never wanted it, got elected by accident etc, can't do what the situation needs. By way of illustration John McD is a proper politician, interested in policy making and in power, but not so cuddly as JC whose herbivorous qualities are, I suspect, part of his appeal.
    f) Don't be deceived by large crowds who flock to see and hear him. Talking to your friends doesn't win elections. As a Welsh politician put it " The revivalist preachers packs the hall midweek but the chapel is still empty on Sunday"'

    I could say much more, but I'm trying to enter into the spirit you seek to engender.


    1. I keep hearing that voters need to be won back. Well I WAS won back by Jeremy Corbyn's election as leader. I didn't vote Labour in either 2010 or 2015. Just couldn't bear to after the Iraq war and what I perceived as offering no real change from the Tory's

      Now I feel ashamed to be a part of a Labour Party that would not only exclude 130,000 new members from voting but when they won the appeal our Deputy Tom Watson, when challenged about using members money to ban members said
      "I think we should be able to get it back in costs." tweeter responded with "Claiming Labour's legal costs from 5 people fighting for democracy goes against everything Labour should stand for" on that Watson just said "do you think the litigants considered that? Could their case have been underwritten? "
      I have just enlightened him that crowdfunding is now happening and fast to raise the costs.

      The point of this is what the hell has happened to the Labour Party. Most parties would be falling over themselves to get 130,000 new members to say nothing of the previous numbers who have joined since JC was elected.
      Many seem to think it doesn't matter about the number of members there are but of course it does because we will be the people out in our communities convincing others.
      In all the years I have followed politics, and it's a lot as I'm 62 now, I have never seen the party treat a leader as badly as JC has been treated and his press has now been proved to have been appalling, which his supporters always knew

      I was wavering on whether or not I was going to vote for JC but with each nail that the party itself puts into it's own coffin my resolve to vote for him has strengthened.

      I applaud you for your words Tom but I fear the Labour Party has shot itself in the foot by choosing to challenge JC now, actually more likely in the head!

      I completely agree with what Owen Jones said here
      The Labour Party clearly needs change, 2 elections were lost before JC not because of him..
      It is just JC's unworldy views that make him so attractive to so many, who are tired of spin and lies. Politicians are generally not trusted at all, with a few notable exceptions, Corbyn is because he has been on the right side of history so often... and doesn't give us endless bullshit..

      Now I am off to attend a meeting where Owen Smith is speaking.. needless to say I will be asking him about the appalling way 130,000 members have been treated.

  5. A united party with a consistent anti austerity programme would have a decent chance at the next election. Corbyn will win the leadership again, the question is whether the PLP will accept the decision. Whether or not you think he is leadership material or not is irrelevant. He will be the leader and the PLP have to accept that and back him

    1. England has only twice in the past nearly 80 years voted for a Labour Government. That means that without Scotland, there would only have been two Labour Governments since 1938. And Labour is nothing in Scotland just now. So Gareth Pugh sort of encapsulates the problem in that he unrealistically thinks the impossible can happen, and that everyone should just accept the unreality (except Gareth thinks it's real). Labour should be looking to take back Scotland, and reconnecting with what used to be its heartland. Forget the next two elections. They're lost. Start building now, from the ground up, and Labour might have a shot in 2030. The size of the membership is irrelevant, by the way. It's been far bigger than it is currently and made no difference to electability whatsoever.

  6. It is not unrealistic to suggest Corbyn will win the leadership, he almost certainly will. Are you suggesting, Paul, that the answer is to constantly undermine and challenge Corbyn so that the Labour Party is in a constant state of civil war and sacrifice the next two elections? What makes you think a lurch to the right will deliver Scotland back, or the heartlands? I am suggesting you accept the reality that Corbyn is leader and get behind him. Your definitions of reality and what is impossible are subjective. Labour just lost two elections on a 'centrist' platform. That really happened.

  7. It is not unrealistic to suggest Corbyn will win the leadership, he almost certainly will. Are you suggesting, Paul, that the answer is to constantly undermine and challenge Corbyn so that the Labour Party is in a constant state of civil war and sacrifice the next two elections? What makes you think a lurch to the right will deliver Scotland back, or the heartlands? I am suggesting you accept the reality that Corbyn is leader and get behind him. Your definitions of reality and what is impossible are subjective. Labour just lost two elections on a 'centrist' platform. That really happened.

  8. Hi Tom London,
    just reading that the NEC are to appeal against High Court ruling regarding the non voting rights of post January 2016 members. Actions like these are going to leave a mountain to climb for people such as yourself who want to bring the party back together. Not to mention the hole it will blow in the party's finances.
    Have the feeling that the PLP and current majority on NEC would rather take the party down than relinquish control to Corbyn and his supporters, never mind looking ahead to future elections.
    Have you done a post on what ever happened to Labour in Scotland? When, and why, did that bedrock of support (and the advance it gave Labour in the fight to get a majority in Parliament) disappear? And how can it be got back? Or has it been written off? Has anyone asked Gordon Brown about this?

  9. Speaking as an interested party, but not a member, I don't know if I can see their being a reconciliation over this, which does pain me somewhat. I don't really see how Scotland can be won. Which is why I favour a Progressive Alliance. However if we apply the same Freudian idea of the "narcissism of small differences" then there would no doubt be some problems there.

  10. I do not believe that the differences between both groups are small. One significant difference is Neoliberalism vs Keynesianism. That difference is fundamental; It is a difference that cannot be bridged. The right wingers wish to continue down the road of Austerity. I believe that herein lies the biggest dichotomy facing Labour.
    Then of course we have the shift towards the right with Tony Blair: I saw my job to carry on where Thatcher left off? That shift to the right was and still is significant with the appearance of those right wing MPs being more part of the Establishment than I can ever remember in all my 66 years.
    Cronyism is a huge part of politics and MPs from all parties are tied to their cronies. It is those cronies who make the decisions. Self interest in terms of financial gain seems very much at the forefront of our political system.

    The needs of ordinary people is way down the list of priorities. As some MPs have insisted all through this divisive period, members of the Labour Party are not important. The coup leaders have been particularly fond of saying that the Labour Party "is our party!"

  11. I think it's time to accept that Corbynism will retain its grip on the sentimental side of the Labour party, regardless of the upcoming disasters of the next general election. Better to split off what can be saved, let Corbyn march his fans into the wilderness and work to construct a viable left/liberal alliance party for the future.

  12. I have been a Labour Party member for almost 50 years. I have covered more miles than is good for me, door knocking and leafleting
    I welcome the influx of new members. I understand how rallies enthuse people.
    If only they would be willing to take the enthusiasm they have for labour onto the doorstep. Help canvass and engage people and persuade them to vote labour

  13. This article fails.

    All of the points are about restoring unity.

    For actual external politics 'Target the Tories'. And that's it.

    Targeting the Tories does not and never has won elections.

    Labour needs voter-friendly policies.

    Targeting the Tories is just oppositionism.

    There is no mention here of policy.

    There is no evidence that Corbyn's policies actually attracts voters. But then actually winning elections is not a priority in today's Labour.

    The hard fact is that the 2020 election is already lost. It is a matter for debate if the 2025 election cane be won.

  14. Tom, I appreciate your attempts to find a way forward for Labour; your suggestions could make a useful contribution but it would require good will and trust on both sides - which, sadly, seems in short supply at present.

    For the record, I'm a 70 year old, house-owning, 'Remain' & Corbyn supporter. I supported JC last year because the other three contenders were so uninspiring. Now, I support him because I like the way he has performed under relentless attack and because the PLP are not behaving in a principled way. I am outraged that they have pee'd on the membership. So what they think Corbyn is wrong/rubbish; welcome to the real world. A crap boss is exactly how millions of working people feel about their boss everyday - and still get on with their job.

    It's common knowledge a Director/CEO is only as good as their team (precisely why so many take their teams with them from one post to the next).

  15. This is a genuinely horrible and deranged rant:

    "It is why I, as a lifelong Labour supporter, funder and former parliamentary candidate, last month took Jeremy Corbyn to court to have the law decide whether the leader of the party could self-nominate for leader. To me, respect for the rule of law is fundamental to a democracy. Once political parties believe they are above the law it ends with all opposition silenced, whether it is my grandparents in Dachau, or the Left in Erdogan’s Turkey rounded up and held uncharged in prison.
    The courts decided that the rules as they stand allowed it. This decision advantaged Corbyn and his Sturm Abteilung (stormtroopers)..."

    Short version: he took Corbyn to court and Corbyn won! So Corbyn = a Nazi Q.E.D.!