Ayesha Hazarika: Corbyn needs to fight Tories, not Labour moderates

Jeremy Corbyn's supporters now have a majority on Labour's 'board' of the party. Picture: Getty
Jeremy Corbyn's supporters now have a majority on Labour's 'board' of the party. Picture: Getty
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Jeremy Corbyn has won another important election. But this was no surprise. Even I predicted a victory. Labour has just elected three new people onto the National Executive Committee (NEC) which is like the board of the party.

It seeks to represent the different branches of the party – members, trade unions, MPs, councillors, MEPs and connected societies like BAME Labour and students. It is also there to make sure the party is governed properly and that the rules are adhered to.

It’s a very important committee and if the leadership owns the balance on power on the NEC, they really do control the party lock, stock and barrel as it is the governing body of the party and in Labour, you can’t fart without there being a NEC-approved rule instructing you how to do it properly.

Until this week, Corbyn did not have a majority on the NEC but he does now thanks to the election of three candidates supported by Momentum, including its founder Jon Lansman who beat three centrist candidates, including comic Eddie Izzard. No-one was surprised by this. Corbyn is still ragingly popular with party members after winning two leadership contests and doing much better than anyone expected in the general election even in areas proving to be very difficult for Labour like Scotland.

Of course, he was going to win this internal election and fair play to him. To the victor the spoils. He is hegemonic and reigns supreme over the Labour party, especially after the general election, and just compare him to poor Theresa May who is so weak she can’t even sack the Health Secretary (and had to give him a promotion) as the NHS falls to its knees. When she declares she will fight the next election, everyone around her starts to snigger. It’s a tale of two leaderships. One achingly weak, one jubilantly strong – but who is in Downing Street and who will be there after the next general election? That is the key question Team Corbyn needs to stay focused on. You can win as many internal elections as you like, but it doesn’t amount to a hill of beans if you can’t ever win power and that task has never been more urgent for the country and more achievable for Labour. Corbyn has a genuine shot at power. May’s leadership and the Conservative party are weak and divided with no big vision for the country. This country has had a Conservative Prime Minister since 2010 and it really isn’t going so well unless you’re super wealthy, run lots of privatised services and are called Richard Branson or Jeremy Hunt. The country feels ripe for a change on a week-by-week basis – people will be dismayed and enraged by the news about Carillion.

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Corbyn has definitely changed the political weather and connected with the anger and frustration that so many people feel. He has given them hope for a decent, values-driven society. But he has to do so much more than the ‘hope thing’ which he is very good at. He needs to persuade people who are worried about boring but important stuff like the economy, law and order, and defence and give them some comfort that he can be trusted. And he is starting to behave like he is serious about power. Last week, he sacked a close ally, Chris Williamson who went off-piste and floated his own ideas for hiking up council tax. Team Corbyn knew this sent the wrong signal to the public and Williamson was sent to the backbenches, although he may well be allowed back at some point.

But this swift sacking showed many that Corbyn does want to make it to Downing Street. And he can’t do that if he allows the party to be hijacked by one faction of the party which supports him. Look, he can do what he likes – he’s the boss. But will it be a smart move if he wants to be boss of the whole country? He can’t win a general election if people are frightened by the Labour party. If they see a nasty, factional organisation that goes after their own MPs just because they do not share exactly the same views as the leadership or Momentum, or because they didn’t vote for Corbyn in the 2015 leadership contest – like it’s a purity test – that will bode very badly for the party come the next general election.

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There are still many MPs and councillors who didn’t support Corbyn but who work their socks off serving their constituents, making a spirited case for a Labour government and fighting the Tories. If the public see the leadership of the party or Momentum going after those individuals and trying to deselect them, it will paint an ugly picture. People don’t like nasty parties – as May wisely said many years ago at her own party conference. I hope Lansman, who is now one of the most important people in the Labour movement, will send out a message not to attack decent, hardworking Labour MPs who have largely shut up and accepted Corbyn as their leader since the general election. It would be terrible and sad to see the might of the Labour machine going after its own MPs, rather than focusing its fire on ousting Tory and, indeed, SNP MPs.

I don’t think the Corbyn himself wants to see deselections. He knows that moderate MPs are well and truly beaten and cowed. He enjoys a much warmer reception from his troops in parliament these days and the ones who maybe still don’t like him respect and slightly fear him, which is a rare sweet spot for a political leader – just ask poor Theresa.

There are also many positive things Corbyn can do with his control of the NEC. He wants members to have a greater say over policy making and, to be fair, one of the reasons the last manifesto was so popular was because his team listened to them more and there were consultions and compromise – even from him on his life-long opposition to Trident. This is a good thing and members want more of this – although things may get tricky over Brexit and the Single Market. Involving members in a meaningful way makes for a better, more human and more vivid policy package than a group of Oxbridge boys making it up in a darkened room, which is what used to happen in my day as Labour adviser – before Corbyn – and what clearly happened in the Tory party, except with them it was one bloke with a beard called Nick Timothy.

I applaud Team Corbyn, Jon Lansman and Momentum on yet another stunning win. But please, please, please can we focus on winning the next election – which I think we can – and not focusing the cross hairs on Labour MPs and councillors who work dead hard and who probably agree with you on a whole load of good progressive causes.