It’s not often that I find myself in the position of wanting to pen a rebuttal to the lead article in the New Statesman. But said article is nothing more than slightly warmed up rehashing of the thousands of blog posts, online discussions and late night conversations over drinks at the LSE bar that have occurred since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour party and the UK voted to leave the EU. What’s worse is it isn’t actually providing any new insight on how to fix the problems affecting this country’s political sphere at the moment, so I feel like I need to step in and add something.
To give the author credit where credit is due, they very succinctly lay out the problems being experienced by UK politics at the present time, namely;
1: Jeremy Corbyn isn’t a great Leader of the Opposition
2: Right now, this country could rather do with a decent opposition
3: The Tories aren’t feeling much pressure from Labour and thus are free to drive the country over a cliff marked Hard Brexit
4: If Labour don’t sort themselves out quick sharp, not only will Labour get hammered at the next election, but things may well be a little uncomfortable for the rest of us as well
The problem is that – for those of us who are likely to read the New Statesman anyway – this isn’t news, unless the person reading it has been in a coma or living in a small cave in the Brecon Beacons for the last eighteen months. We know that Jeremy Corbyn tenure as Labour leader hasn’t been the most spectacular one on record. We know that his media strategy is poor and we know some senior Labour MPs are looking to the lifeboats – or have already jumped into them - in case the 2020 election goes badly. What’s more, we know that Theresa May is sitting on a precarious fifteen seat majority yet feels like she can push for the hardest Brexit imaginable and U-turn on budget proposals without fear of backlash. This is because the official opposition right now appears to be the House of Lords and the combined power of the SNP and the Lib Dems which try as they might can’t do Labours job for them.
None of this is news. We’ve known this for months. Of course, I’m fully aware that the situation is rather depressing, but there’s a limit to how long you can wallow about the whole thing, before you have to tackle the question that one of my Labour supporting friends tosses at me on a regular basis. What. Are. You. Going. To. Do. About. It?
Now obviously, I’m aware that the New Statesman doesn’t have the power to dictate Labour policy, and again to give credit where credit is due, it does make some very vague suggestions about things Labour MP’s could do, saying this:
If Labour’s best and brightest MPs are unwilling to serve in the shadow cabinet, they should use their freedom to challenge an under-scrutinised government and prove their worth. They should build cross-party alliances. They should evolve a transformative policy programme. They should think seriously about why there has been a post-liberal turn in our politics.
What this doesn’t provide of course, is specifics, and I think if Labour is going to get out of the hole it’s currently in, and get back on the road to providing a meaningful opposition, then specifics are what we need to start considering. I’m not saying that I have all, or even any of the answers, but I have been giving this some thought over the last few months, and discussing this with others, and from where I sit, those Labour MPs who want to get back to governing, have three options.
1: Form a New Party
If MPs genuinely feel like Labour is beyond saving, then there is always the option to go full on Roy Jenkins and form a new party. Register the British Democratic Party or the Progressive Party name with the Electoral Commission and resign the Labour whip. If enough people follow suit you might be able to convince John Bercow to recognise you as the Official Opposition.
The downside of this approach – as the New Statesman points out – is that people’s tribal mentality is very strong. While it isn’t true that our electoral system makes it impossible for parties to die, (the old Liberal Party would like a word after all,) even at the lows of 1983, the SDP couldn’t gain more than six seats to Labours 209. Any new party might last the next few years of this parliament, but unless you take the constituency parties with you, it would most likely get wiped out in 2020.
2: Sit Tight
It’s a pretty safe bet that if Labour gets a drubbing in 2020, that Jeremy Corbyn will resign. So, in the meantime sit tight, vote with your conscience as often as you can, work hard to hold onto your seat and most importantly start coming up with strategies to get Labour back on track post-election and find a leadership candidate who can defeat whoever the Left pick as Corbyn’s successor (they could even come from the left, if the right candidate could be found). It’s not the most comfortable strategy but it’s a workable one.
3: Back a new horse.
Now I know what people will say here. That the party tried this with Owen Smith last year. But I think we can all admit last year was an utter shambles, with the umming and the ahhing and the uncertainty over whether Angela Eagle was going to stand or not, and whether Corbyn would be allowed back onto the ballot.
If you want to try unseating him again, find a candidate everyone can back. I don’t care if it’s Tom Watson. Angela Rayner or a throw pillow with a picture of Hugh Gaitskell stitched onto it. Pick one candidate, run a campaign based on embracing all that is good about Labour and all the good it can do, pulling things from both the left and the right of the party, and hope that those three pound supporters of Corbyn will have either forgotten to renew their membership or been distracted by whatever is streaming on Netflix this week. This might, emphasis on the might be enough to shift Mr Corbyn.
None of these suggestions are perfect, but then neither is the current situation. What’s important right now, is that if we truly believe there is no need for fatalism, we need to stop being so damn fatalistic and actually do something.