Corbyn wins – but did the contest need to happen?


No – and had Labour MPs spent the few days after the EU referendum vote with the line The Tories have crashed the country , they could have won the next general election ages ago – with or without Corbyn.

A huge amount of bad blood has been spilt within the party. For the sake of politics generally I hope Labour doesn’t implode further with scenes of badly-behaved shouty people trying to shout down speakers on the platform.

“So…what should happen now?”

I’m not in the party, so I’m in no position to tell anyone within Labour what they should or shouldn’t do. More a case of posting open questions for which people can ponder over.

“What are the lessons learnt for the centre-right in Labour?”

Compared to the candidates that first put their names forward after the 2015 general election, both Angela Eagle and Owen Smith appeared to be far weaker than the likes of Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper, Liz Kendall and the like. Whether it was the background for both Eagle and Smith’s leadership launches (Smith’s being a set of window blinds – see here), or other basic errors, despite the limitations of Corbyn’s record the alternative didn’t seem any better to the general public. Remember the general public doesn’t eat-drink-breathe-live politics. Most have about 5 mins per day to devote to politics when perhaps watching the news/flicking through the papers/social-media-surfing online.

As things stand, it’s difficult to see where a new leader capable of replacing Corbyn over the next year or so is going to come from as far as the centre-right of Labour is concerned. What was interesting to note was how a number of high profile MPs managed to stay well away from the day-to-day media-spotlight campaigning with Owen Smith. Andy Burnham focused on his bid to become metro-mayor of Manchester, Yvette Cooper joined one of my local (as in local to my neighbourhood – I live on a parliamentary boundary) MPs Heidi Allen visiting and campaigning for child refugees, and Stella Creasy continued her grassroots activism both in her constituency and with Labour’s sister party, the Co-op party.  (See here for how this works between the two parties – an agreement that has been in place for nearly 90 years).

“What are the lessons learnt for the left?”

John McDonnell mentioned that he’d be looking at the substantive criticisms of how Corbyn’s operation functioned when asked for an immediate post-comment result. The toughest task from my perspective is rebuilding trust with the MPs who are not those who from the start said they’d never serve under Corbyn under any circumstances, but those who stated very clearly and concisely how their role was undermined by basic failures from Corbyn’s office. I’m thinking of the likes of Lilian Greenwood MP and Kerry McCarthy MP here.

So from that perspective, the question is “What is going to change as a result of the leadership contest?” Because 4/10 members not being content with the leadership – along with the hostility of the Parliamentary Labour Party is still a sizeable number. On the flip side, Corbyn got an even bigger mandate than when he was first elected as Labour leader. So in terms of massive policy changes sending the party back to the economic policies of the later Blair years, that just isn’t going to happen.

“What does “accepting the result and moving on” mean in modern day politics?”

This is both in an EU Referendum context as well as the Labour leadership context. Does it mean:

“You are now officially banned from speaking out on the issue concerned because the party/the people have spoken and have officially disagreed with you. Therefore you have been silenced!”?

I hope not.

In terms of pro-EU types it seems it’s still in the open for how best to respond. Some are taking legal action, others are campaigning for a second referendum, others are waiting for a general election, others think we should wait & see what the three brexiteers (Boris, Davies and Fox) come up with – the camp I fall in closest with, and others think we should accept the result, accept we’re leaving the EU on whatever terms & be done with it. Note at the same time on the pro-Brexit side there are some who are saying an ‘Australian points style system’ is a promise set in concrete while the £350million per week for the NHS was some abstract theoretical aspiration. It remains to be seen what Brexit actually means for the general public.

Lib Dems local-focus strategy

Social media has been covering the trickle of local council by-elections since the EU referendum, in which the Liberal Democrats are doing far better than their political opponents. Compared to where they were in the run-up to the 2015 general election, the Liberal Democrats have almost doubled their membership – and things appeared to be buzzing at their party conference. The problem for them was that the mainstream media hardly covered it. Outside of Tim Farron’s keynote addresses, none of their elected MPs or their peers seemed to get much media – or even social media traction at all. How many of you could name the other seven Lib Dem MPs? Off the top of my head outside of Nick Clegg and Norman Lamb (leadership contestant who I interviewed in a visit to Cambridge), only Greg Mulholland (follows Puffles), Alastair Carmichael (was in a legal challenge over election campaigning), and perhaps Tom Brake spring to mind.

Without the big hitters regularly on TV – due to new guidance saying the Lib Dems don’t have enough MPs to justify their previous higher levels of coverage, the party doesn’t really have much choice but to adopt a strategy that bypasses the mainstream media. One thing that is noticeable is that the party is already selecting prospective parliamentary candidates – whether Julian Huppert’s reselection in Cambridge through to long-time rising stars such as Kelly Marie Blundell in Lewes (Norman Baker’s old seat) and Daisy Benson in Yeovil – David Laws’ old seat.

And of the Greens?

At the moment they are caught between a rock and a hard place with Corbyn’s leftward shift and the loss of the environmental safety net that was EU law and directives that helped force up the UK’s environmental standards in a number of areas. Think beaches for a start. Despite her criticisms – in particular her TV media appearances, it was under the leadership of Natalie Bennett that the Green Party’s membership rocketed. That didn’t happen by accident. It was a result of her visiting town after town after town to meet local members and the local media – of which I was one in Cambridge. Note in the run up to the EU Referendum Nigel Farage did similar. Yet with its Westminster focus, the mainstream media completely missed both of these.

Now with two joint leaders John Bartley and Caroline Lucas MP, it remains to be seen how the two will divide responsibilities. Natalie Bennett’s decision to stand candidates in as many constituencies in the 2015 general election meant that with a significantly higher voter share than in past years they got a big rise in ‘short money’ from Parliament to fund their political activities. It was noticeable that the number of jobs the party posted on w4MP (where many Westminster vacancies are posted – interesting viewing if you want to see who is trying to influence what) rose – as did the seniority of the new roles.

And of the Tories – and UKIP?

The former have their party conference in a couple of weeks, the latter have selected Diane James MEP as their new leader. It remains to be seen whether Nigel Farage will still be ‘the person to go to for comment’ by the media or whether he’ll re-direct things to his successor. That said, Diane James when on TV has struck me as a politician I could see traditional Conservative voters being persuaded by. What happens to UKIP as a party depends on what sort of deal Boris, Davies and Fox can negotiate.

As for Prime Minster Theresa May? A stroke of tactical genius with the appointment of Fox, Davies and Boris leading Brexit negotiations given their high profile role in the Leave campaign. If they succeed in negotiating a good deal for the UK, she gets the credit. If they mess up, the three men get the blame given May stood back from both sides of the EU referendum campaign. Note too that at the same time we’ll be hearing from Cameron and others who have left government when they publish their memoirs. Given where the likes of Osborne and Gove currently are, expect one or two of them to be explosive. While Cameron sails off into the sunset of the corporate directorships world, I get the sense that Osborne’s not done with politics. As with Iain Duncan Smith who launched the Centre for Social Justice think tank after he lost a leadership challenge in 2003, Osborne foreseeably could follow in his rival’s example.

And finally…


Don’t underestimate the amount of civil service policy resources that will now be thrown at Brexit-related policies. Given that the Conservatives won’t want to increase spending on what they see as ‘administration’ or rather ‘the cost of politics’, other policy areas are going to be put on the back burner – they have to be. For a start there simply won’t be the staff to do the necessary policy development. Perhaps more importantly, parliamentary time is inevitably going to be taken up with the huge amount of legislative changes that will need to be carried out assuming Article 50 (which starts the 2 year count-down for exiting the EU) is triggered. Finally, there are a whole host of other outside shocks that could hit the UK and global economies. The ongoing wars in the Middle East are not making things any easier for the EU and the refugee situation. The US elections are looming, and every year climate-related news seems to get that little bit more worse.

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One Response to Corbyn wins – but did the contest need to happen?

  1. Marie Ferguson-Smith says:

    It needs someone like you from outside to see the things as they are.  Marie F-S, Coleridge and Cambridge Labour Party. Marie Ferguson-Smith  16 Rustat Rd, Cambridge CB1 3QT, UK  +44 (0) 1223 246277

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