Wednesday 2 December 2015

Wednesday, December 02, 2015 Posted by Jake 1 comment Labels: , , , , , , , ,
Posted by Jake on Wednesday, December 02, 2015 with 1 comment | Labels: , , , , , , , ,

There can be no doubt that Jeremy Corbyn was the correct answer to the Labour leadership election in September 2015. After all, in a British democratic election "correct" is whatever the electorate says it is. And Corbyn (59.5% of the vote) was startlingly ahead of the rest of the pack: Burnham (19.0%); Cooper (17.0%) and Kendall (4.5%). In a victory as surprising as the Conservatives winning the 2015 General Election, the Labour Party electorate left no doubt Corbyn was the right answer. But take a closer look at the question that had been put to them.

When the Labour Party asked its electorate "who should be leader" it actually got the answer "who should not be leader". The overwhelming response being: not Burnham; not Cooper; not Kendall. The message from the voters was they wanted none of the above.

However, the box for 'none of the above' had the name 'Jeremy Corbyn' next to it. And perhaps as much to his own consternation as the Parliamentary Labour Party's (i.e. the Labour MPs), Corbyn was made leader by unambiguously being "none of the above".

The Labour electorate voted strongly against 'all the above' rejecting their common policies embracing austerity and generally following the Tories onwards and rightwards. Labour's mistake in recent elections was not that it was too Lefty. Its mistake has been to race to the Right chasing votes as a priority over representing its natural support base. Like Wile E. Coyote running beyond his natural support base, the cliff's edge, in 2015 Labour came crashing to electoral defeat for the second time.

When New Labour under Tony Blair started steering starboard the Labour support base believed their party would take them all together on the trip to the promised land. They were disappointed. Inequality remained at Thatcherite levels
GINI Coefficient is a measure of inequality

manufacturing industry withered

financial companies were left off their leashes to recklessly and ruinously reave away getting filthy rich. Labour supporters' faith handed Blair three successive victories, but each time the victory got progressively smaller: 1997 43.2%; 2001 40.7%; 2005 35.2%. Labour lost in 2010 with 29.0% of the vote, and lost again in 2015 with 30.4%.

As more and more of Labour's support base realised New Labour had steamed off without them, they withdrew their votes. Given the rare opportunity of a leadership election to decide whether they wanted more of the same with Burnham/Cooper/Kendall they voted for 'none of the above' and got Corbyn.

If Corbyn does sacrifice his leadership on a pyre of his principles, the Labour Party should not allow smoke to get in its eyes and rebound back to 'one of the above'. It should realise that while 'none of the above' may not mean Corbyn, it still means 'none of the above'.

It is perhaps not the individuals - Burnham; Cooper; Kendall - who are the problem. It is their, and the Labour MPs in the Parliamentary Party's, misunderstanding of what the Labour Party is for. They need to understand that Labour is supposed to represent the Left. If the Labour Party strategy is to get into government by being like the Tory Party, then we end up with a de-facto Tory government whoever wins. Tory policies by a Labour government are still Tory policies.

Labour should get into government by representing the labouring people - including doctors, teachers and accountants as well as barristas, road sweepers and shelf stackers - to ensure they are getting their fair share in the form of income (e.g. lower inequality; welfare to supplement low wages); services (e.g. education; NHS); and rights (e.g. free access to the courts and legal aid; protection from scamming banks and energy companies). And if Labour can't get into government by representing the Left, it should represent the Left from Opposition.

Because Opposition works too. George Osborne's fiasco in November 2015 when he cancelled his Tax Credit cuts shows even he understood he had taken a step too far. Osborne realised people of all political leanings know the hard working low paid are getting a bad deal from the 'free market'. With the demise of Osborne's Tax Credit cuts perhaps Labour MPs will take courage that they can keep their offices while doing the jobs Labour MPs are actually supposed to do.

After losing the May 2015 general election, the Labour Party set up an inquiry into why they so unexpectedly lost. The Labour Policy Coordinator at the time of the report in August 2015, John Cruddas MP, wrote:
"The first hard truth is that the Tories didn’t win despite austerity, they won because of it. Voters did not reject Labour because they saw it as austerity lite. Voters rejected Labour because they perceived the Party as anti-austerity lite." 
The way the wind was blowing was clear to the Labour electorate: in order to save their seats Labour MPs wanted to turn away from the likes of "Red Ed" to someone more bluish. The Parliamentary Party of Labour MPs thought the purpose of the Labour Party was to get them into and keep them in Parliament. They thought the success of the Labour Party was measured by how many of them sat on the green benches. They thought it was enough for them once in Parliament to do what the Tories do, but feel a bit bad about it. However the rest of the Labour Party, those outside Parliament, didn't see it that way.

Weakening employment protection, cutting access to justice, to health, to education, privatising the public sector, these all happened under Labour, Conservative and Coalition governments in recent decades.

Choosing Jeremy Corbyn was the 'none of the above' option in the Labour Leadership election. If Corbyn decides this is not a role for him, Labour needs to take care replacing him. Perhaps it will be someone who didn't run for the leadership in September 2015. Perhaps even Burnham, Cooper or Kendall may learn the lesson of Corbyn's victory. Perhaps one of them could transmogrify into the 'none of the above' leader.

Britain needs a strong party of the Right, and a strong party of the Left. Each side depends on the other to control its excesses. New Labour's electoral success from 1997 was supported by a Tory Party in disarray, flummoxed at how it should oppose what were Tory policies. The Tories' electoral success may be supported by a Labour Parliamentary Party more focused on ousting its leader than opposing the Tories. 

If Labour becomes a strong party of the left, even if he doesn't stay on as leader then Jeremy Corbyn will have pulled off precisely the sort of coup the country needs. And if he does stay on, with the Tories making life harder for the young, the working poor, public servants, the disabled, those in care, minorities etc. etc., who knows where he may end up.

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