We’re into month two of Jeremy Corbyn’s famous New Year re-launch don’t you know, and it’s fair to say things aren’t exactly going swimmingly. Apart from Ken Loach winning a BAFTA, it’s not exactly good times on planet Labour. Or Blah Blah Land as we have become known.
The latest YouGov poll published on Monday has Labour on 24 per cent which is 16 per cent behind the Tories and only 10 per cent ahead of Ukip. As John Rentoul of the Independent pointed out, the last time Labour in opposition was lower than 24 per cent was 23 per cent - just once - two days before the election in June 1983. And remember how well that went for the red team.
There have been some new additions to the leader’s office as part of the re-launch. If I was a betting person, I may take a punt on them being Tory sleeper cells. To coin a phrase from Ed Miliband back in the day: “It’s hurting but it’s not working.”
If course, any criticism or mere reporting of fact around these dismal polling numbers results in Corbynista howls of “FAKE NEWS”, “You’re a Blairite” or my personal favourite which is the charming refrain “Why don’t you just *%&£ off and join the Tories. You’re just the same” Wel, there is something in that. Labour has become the new Tory party because when it comes to Europe, we are completely divided. Oh the irony. Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to put a three-line party whip on triggering Article 50 went down like a cup of warm vomit amongst the PLP and all those party members who are ardently pro-remain, and we had a number of resignations, most notably Corbyn loyalist and rising star Clive Lewis who was the Business Secretary. Then, as night follows day, once again we hear the jungle drums of a Labour leadership challenge. And once again, I feel I’m trapped in a really bad left wing production of Groundhog Day.
Now, I’m no fan of Jeremy Corbyn and he’s no fan of mine. We had an awkward breakfast following the Andrew Marr show where where I said hello and he gave me his best geography supply teacher death stare (whatever happened to kinder, gentler politics?) but his comms chief Seamus Milne and I had a nice natter over our sausages. But that’s neither here nor there. It matters not what I – or any other commentator for that matter – thinks, it’s about what the public thinks and right now, they ain’t exactly feeling the love. No Valentines from the voters for Labour.
Despite all that, I find myself in the surprising position of being totally against any talk of another leadership contest. I have heard a number of Labour insiders who actually like Corbyn raise the possibility of a contest with a quiver of excitement in their hushed voices and I find myself yelping “No no no no no! You cannot do that!” like I’m now the big Corbynista. “You’ve changed” they hiss back. We’re all very confused at this point.
My logic is this. Despite the polls being terrible – even amongst Labour working class voters. Despite the Labour Party being pretty much non-existent as an official opposition - although I do have to say Jeremy did have a corker of a PMQs on leaked texts about the social care crisis last Wednesday. Despite the fact that the public think Corbyn has the charisma and leadership skills of a Hula Hoop. Despite all that, we just can’t have another contest because the one thing that Corbyn still does have is a sizeable mandate and considerable support amongst a very large membership.
Now, I know a lot of people will say that people are angry with him because he backed Article 50 last week and basically gave Theresa May a blank cheque in the House of Commons and that support is ebbing away, but get real. This is not fresh hot news. He didn’t throw his heart and soul into the EU referendum campaign because he just wasn’t really into the whole Remain shizzle and the morning after the Brexit vote, while Nicola Sturgeon was hot-heeling it over to Brussels to do everything she could get a deal for Scotland to stay a member, Corbyn was on television saying we should crack on and trigger Article 50 immediately. We then had a painful leadership contest where Brexit was a key issue for poor Owen Smith who pledged to fight for a second referendum, so Corbyn’s position on Europe was already priced in and he still won with an increased majority.
His fans are his disciples and it’s like a political cult. They largely mistrust the mainstream media, and refuse to accept any criticism of Corbyn and blame the bad polls on the PLP and anyone who publicly voices concern about the leadership. They are fiercely loyal to Jeremy and what he represents and they will support him to the hilt if there is a challenge. Clive Lewis would be called a traitor and his views on Trident would be an issue. No ‘moderate’ candidate would stand a chance as they would still be labelled as a “Blairite/Red Tory.” And despite people talking up Angela Rayner and Rebecca Long Bailey, the Labour Party is unlikely to pick a woman over Jeremy as much as I would like to it happen. There is no candidate from any wing of the party – including the left – who could realistically take Corbyn on.
And to be fair, Corbyn should be allowed to carry on doing the job. He has earned that right, fair and square – twice. And the truth is that the PLP have largely retreated and are letting him get on with it - there is hardly any public bitching and a couple of the most critical MPs have even thrown in the towel and left parliament.
What’s interesting is that this new talk of challenge is coming from the left of the party which supports Corbyn. So, without the internal battle with the more ‘moderate’ PLP, the Corbyn project is struggling with its own supporters. Those pesky MPs gave Team Corbyn an enemy to unite against and some helpful definition. Now that the PLP and the party has slipped into a dead-eyed, lethargic acceptance of his leadership and authority, there’s nowhere to hide and they can’t be his human shield.
Corbyn must be allowed to own his success or failure on his own terms and the left of the party should let him get on with it (words I never thought I’d have to say). I leave you with the wise counsel from one of Corbyn’s own aides Gavin Sibthorpe who shot to fame in the VICE film about the leader’s office and has become an unwitting political guru and icon due to the Sibthorpe doctrine - “the best thing to do would be wait and let Jeremy fail on his own.”