Dear Labour Plotters
I’m not quite sure how I should address you – in a way I’m sorry to have chosen the word ‘plotters’, but after a little thought it seemed the best word, because what you seem to be trying to do does look very like a plot. Other words have been used – ‘coup’ is perhaps the most common – but ‘plot’ seems the best. Or at least I hope it’s the best, because ‘plot’ suggests there might actually be a plan behind your actions, a plan more than just ‘let’s get rid of our leader, and everything will be better’ along the lines of the Leave campaign’s ‘let’s win the referendum vote, and everything will be better’ plan which seems to be unravelling with remarkable speed since the hideous and momentous events of Thursday and Friday.
Of course I understand why you have not yet revealed the details of your plan – revealing those details might defeat the plan itself – but I do hope it’s a good plan, because you really need one. In making that plan, I’m sure you’ve taken full account of the need to persuade the Labour membership (including me) that your plan is a good one for Labour, and indeed for the country. I’m also sure that you must have learned all the right lessons from both last year’s Labour leadership contest and last week’s referendum. I do hope so, because from the outside it is a little hard to see that you have – but that may well be because all your plans are, quite justifiably, kept nice and secret from the rest of us.
Last year’s Labour Leadership contest
The thing is, last year’s Labour leadership contest was quite something, and I do wonder if some of you aren’t still smarting from it so much that you can’t see what actually happened. Jeremy Corbyn didn’t just win that contest, he absolutely thrashed all his opponents. It wasn’t just a victory, it was a crushing victory. That victory was produced by a great number of things and has been subjected to a good deal of analysis – but one key part of it was how abject the campaigns of his opponents were. They weren’t just bad, they were useless. So the first lesson that I’m sure you must have learned from the contest is not to campaign on the same basis as last time. And, to admit to the failure of last time’s campaigns.
Most of all, what I’m sure you’ve realised is that you can’t just turn back to the members and say ‘look, hasn’t Corbyn been useless, we were right all along, and you made an awful mistake in electing him’ and then expect them to smile and say ‘yes, you were right, and we were terribly stupid last year’. People don’t like being told they’re stupid – regardless of whether they have been stupid or not. If your approach to replacing Corbyn is based entirely around convincing Labour members that they got it wrong last year, then your plots and plans are doomed to the same kind of abject failure as the last time.
I’m sure you realise this. I hope you do. I really hope you do, because if you don’t, all you’re doing with this plot is causing even more damage to the Labour Party at a time when the Labour Party is needed more than ever. To have driven the results of the EU referendum off the front pages just a few days after its momentous result is quite something – a depressing something.
The next Labour leader
I am sure your plans include plans for Corbyn’s replacement – and I understand in a way why it is not at all clear who that leader might be. I can understand why no-one would want to show themselves right now – but it is a little strange to stage a coup without any idea of what the regime after that coup would look like. The ‘leave’ campaign may have had no plan of any kind after winning the referendum, but at least we knew that it would probably result in Boris Johnson becoming Prime Minister – after all, that was the only reason he chose ‘leave’ over ‘remain’. With your plot, no-one seems to know who you’re planning to put in Corbyn’s place – but given the amount of time you’ve had to work out your plan, I’m sure you have an idea. Whoever it is, I assume it’s not someone that Corbyn defeated so easily last time around, or someone whose main claim to fame is having made a speech that had the Tory benches roaring in applause in favour of military action. With the Chilcot report due very soon, that might not be a very good look.
I hope that whoever you have in mind for the next leader is able to engage with both the Labour membership and the electorate – because both are needed. It’s no good being ‘electable’ if you can’t convince your own party to support them – and as some of you point out on a regular basis, it’s no good getting the support of the Labour membership whilst not being ‘electable’. It’s hard to be both – but whoever you have waiting in the wings to unveil as the next Labour leader and future Prime Minister needs to be able to do both. I look forward to seeing who they might be – and how they can meet both of these requirements, whilst providing something new and different.
The EU referendum
…because new and different will be needed. Last week’s referendum can be interpreted in many different ways, but one thing it wasn’t was an endorsement of old politics. The idea that there was a consensus around the current Tory approach – elite austerity – has been shattered, so an approach based on the assumption that we need to accept that would be self-destructive at best. Many voters last week believed they were voting for more funding for the NHS, for example – there was a reason that particular lie was on the side of that bus. This gives Labour a real chance – a chance that would be lost if we simply went back to what was offered last time around by all the candidates except Corbyn. Labour needs to offer hope and a way forward – but a way forward not based on lies, on hate, on fear. I’m sure you all realise this, and will share your vision of this way forward at some point soon.
Whilst the EU referendum offers an opportunity in this way, it also offers a huge trap – the trap of how to address people’s concern over immigration. Labour should be under no illusions that immigration was the critical issue in the referendum. It wasn’t a coincidence that the polls shifted towards ‘leave’ when Farage put immigration on centre stage – people are genuinely concerned about it. Many really believe, despite all the evidence, that immigration is what has caused the problems with the NHS, with housing, with education, with crime and so forth. The trap here is to accept their beliefs rather than addressing those beliefs. Silence is not an option – that much should be clear to everyone – but neither should sinking into the kind of populist xenophobia that UKIP uses and that the ‘leave’ campaign harnessed. It is equally useless – indeed counterproductive – to just tell people they’re wrong (just as you will find if you try that approach on Labour members who voted for Corbyn last year). If Labour had been strong enough and brave enough to take this issue on a decade or more ago, we might be in a very different situation – but it didn’t seem to matter so much back then, so it was all swept under the carpet. It can’t be any more.
There isn’t a magic bullet here – on immigration, or on replacing Corbyn. Both require intelligence, imagination, and a proper plan. Something new and something better has to be offered. On immigration, something real has to be offered to deal with the real problems that are being blamed on immigrants – and not just vague promises. On replacing Corbyn, you’ll need to convince us that you have something better to offer – a new leader that can inspire us, as well as fulfil the ‘electable’ requirements. Given the coordinated nature of your apparent plot, I’m sure you’ve got someone waiting in the wings.
I look forward to their inspiring appearance.
A Labour Member.