Labour staring into the abyss….

The reactions to Jeremy Corbyn managing to get himself onto the ballot for the Labour leadership, scraping in by the skin of his teeth and through the votes of MPs who have made it clear they won’t actually vote for him when the time comes, have been quite remarkable. John Mann MP is reported to have said that it shows Labour’s ‘desire never to win again’, and his words have been matched by a number of other MPs, from Jonathan Reynolds to Rachel Reeves, whilst Dan Hodges has been typically acerbic in the Telegraph, suggesting that Corbyn’s nomination ‘proves the lunatic wing of the Labour Party is still calling the shots’.

They may be right. They may all be right. It may well be that Corbyn’s nomination is a massive step back, taking Labour back to the dark days of the 1980s, to Michael Foot, to the ‘longest suicide note in history’ – but to me the reaction suggests that those reacting need to ask a deeper question: why did Corbyn stand at all? More, why did Corbyn need to stand?

For me, Labour is currently staring into the abyss – but it’s not the ‘old’ and familiar abyss, this is a quite new and qualitatively different abyss.  In the past, it has seemed pretty clear why Labour has lost elections – this time, despite what some commentators seem to suggest, it isn’t quite so clear. Labour’s catastrophic losses in Scotland were not caused by ‘Red’ Ed Miliband being too left wing: regardless of their actual record and indeed their actual policies, the SNP positioned themselves as clearly to the left of Labour, and that was part of their appeal. Labour’s not quite so catastrophic but still pretty devastating failures in England may well have been caused by being seen as economically incompetent – but that’s not the same as by their being seen as too left wing, and in addition isn’t borne out by the reality. Labour’s ‘overspending’ didn’t cause the financial crash…

…but all that is, in a sense, not really the point. The point is that no-one knows for sure what the problem was this time, and that it may well (I would say almost certainly is) be more complex and more nuanced than being ‘too left wing’ or ‘too right wing’. No-one knows. It’s all guesswork – and anyone who suggests otherwise should be listened to only with a huge pinch of salt.  There’s no simple answer – but there are a lot of questions, a lot of issues that need to be discussed, a lot of policies to be thought through – and a lot of debate to have.

That’s the key, for me – and the reason I’m happy that Corbyn got onto the ballot. He won’t win. He knows he won’t win. He’s not ‘the answer’ – and he knows he’s not ‘the answer’. However, without him on the ballot, the big questions weren’t even being asked. Burnham, Cooper and Kendall, despite what the tabloid newspapers say, all come from the same part of the Labour Party – their differences appear to be largely superficial (primarily sex and accent), which means that when questions are raised all the same answers are given and so no debate happens. Austerity is a given. ‘Toughness’ on welfare and on immigration is a given. Defence and foreign policy is fixed and certain.

The result is a sterile debate – and a sterile party. Without debate, without the raising of issues, Labour is lost. I know Labour supporters who in the run-up to the election were attacking the Lib Dems for having betrayed their members in power – and who saw that betrayal as being the reason for the near-total annihilation of the Lib Dems at the polls. Of the many mistakes that Labour could make, a similar betrayal of their members at this stage could well be the worst. Labour MPs need to listen – and to debate the big issues with a more open mind. If they don’t, if they accept the ‘status quo’ as unchallengeable, then they will haemorrhage not just votes but members, and that really is an abyss before them.

Personally, I think there isn’t a candidate on the ballot who can ‘save’ the Labour Party – but I could well be wrong. However, without the kind of proper debate that someone like Corbyn on the ballot could bring about, we may never know. I’d like to tease out what Cooper and Burnham really believe, rather than what their advisers tell them would be most electorally acceptable to say – and a strong, robust and open debate could help that. There might be something there. There might not. Without the debate, we’ll never know – and we need to know. Labour needs a heart as well as a head – more, perhaps, than any other party. Can it find that heart? I don’t know – but I hope we can find out.

10 thoughts on “Labour staring into the abyss….

  1. You’re not wrong about the lack of debate Paul.
    I think the references to ’81,’83,87,92 etc are interesting, but they miss something.
    The changes begun in 1971 to the monetary system, govt operation etc had a consensus behind them, and Labour’s “failure” in the 80’s didn’t appreciate that.
    However, the long-term impacts of neo-liberalism, the permanence of private debt, the inequality, are only now being appreciated – the building consensus of economists, Syriza etc is some kind of starting point.
    Labour cannot return to the past, and I don’t know if the new consensus conforms to Left or Right, but the Neo-liberalism of the Blair and Brown years “worked” with the electorate bcs that conformed to consensus.
    The Labour party needs to grasp that that system is reaching/past it’s nadir, and understand the options available. The austerity debate is the key first step.

  2. Labour lost their ‘mojo’ long ago when they became the willing tail of the Tory dog. Every-time the Tories deliberately poked fun at any of their attempts to show individuality and true values of their own none of them stood up and defended themselves robustly. Instead they took the ‘easy’ way out and took on the same Tory mantra by U turns and then explained their way out of any ‘trouble’. The Tories reeled them in and cast them out regularly, hook line and sinker.

    While not perfect and probably very badly advised (His failing for listening), Labour probably lost their only ‘current saviour’ after the last election when he foolishly resigned immediately to meet Rupert and his friends media demands. Oops, I also should have included many of those same Blairites now electioneering who could not wait to stick their well sharpened knives in his back post election.

    Shame really because young Miliband at least had some remnants of a backbone that maybe could have developed. Sacking Labours Blairite advisor’s would have been a better option for them in the longer term.

    On a side note, I believe Ed Balls appearance at the Bilderberg meeting highlights to me that the the Labour Party itself is becoming more and more part of the overall problem rather than moving forward with any radically needed solutions. They provide no alternatives to western Neo-liberalism which is the root of our current problems. To have any debate you need to see some opposing points of view. There are few differences in those that count. Labour is dead!

  3. I think Kendall has the best chance of being elected. She comes across as business like and articulate Burnham has the best chance of convincing Scots that there has been some movement back to the left but that is a death sentence for votes in England. As for Cooper- I don’t like the cut of her gib.

  4. Sorry folk, but I’m not a member of any political party nor political.

    But the voice from down us amongst the people seem incomprehensible to political parties in this Westminster bubble.

    Labour voters were left behind by Labour more and more over last 50 years.

    Labour lost in 2010 and this time. But the Tories did not win.

    Tory voters are far less than Labour ones.

    But Labour voters are the bulk of the non-voters and those not registered to vote.

    Labour voters do not vote the most in Labour voting areas. This is a growing trend.

    Once the old who vote out of habit, and policy blind, pass over, Labour is stone cold dead in the market, as they say.

    Jeremy Corbyn is SYRIZA.

    Labour with the other Labour leader hopefuls is the dead PASOK.

    Jeremy Corbyn could stand in the middle of nearly half a million anti austerity protestors and feel completely at ease amongst friends. He talks how they feel.

    The Tories, Lib Dems and Labour are trapped in an aristocratic feudalism that cannot even comprehend the basic concepts of capitalism, never mind the people about them.

    If Jeremy Corbyn does not win the leadership of Labour in the autumn, then he can walk out and start his own party ten times bigger than Labour, in England and Wales the next day.

    The Tories will not survive the wrath of the people from the flat rate pension, that is anything but, that will leave huge numbers of men and women with LESS not more pension or even NIL state pension for life.

    Ms Ros Atlmann is canvassing to find out who the losers are under the single tier pension (which it never will be) but makes sure no website gives any such access by the public or the press.

    See end of my petition to the losers under the flat rate pension:

    Something Labour entirely ignored.

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