The last thing Labour needs is continuity in its quest for a leader who isn’t embarrassed to be a patriot, says Euan McColm
When Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour Party in 2015, he promised a new kind of politics. He certainly delivered that.
Now in the grip of a hard-left cabal, Corbyn’s party is a sectarian mess, a safe place for anti-Semites and crank conspiracists.
But the leader of the Opposition hasn’t succeeded only in creating a new kind of politics. He has also introduced a new way of losing elections.
Clinging to leadership
There was a time when a leader so comprehensively humiliated in a general election would have resigned immediately, offering profound apologies to all in his party who had been failed by him.
Corbyn’s different kind of defeat has involved him clinging on to the leadership, arguing – pathetically – that Labour won the argument, and seeing that the advisers who directed the party’s election disaster are signed up to permanent contracts, protecting them from the fate – redundancy – that is now befalling scores of junior staffers.
Corbyn says he is remaining in place so that the party can go through a period of reflection on its defeat. Once it is clear what went wrong, he’ll shuffle off and a leadership election will tasked place.
This is all bulls**t, of course. Ask any Labour activist why the party lost the general election and, if they are honest, they will tell you that the party’s biggest problem was Corbyn.
Time and again while canvassing, candidates were told by voters – many of whom had backed Labour all their lives – that they simply couldn’t support the party while he was in charge. Among the reasons were anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, a manifesto full of promises that appeared wildly unaffordable, and the leader’s record of siding – throughout history – with the United Kingdom’s enemies.
Now, we witness the pitiful efforts of Labour members to persuade themselves that among those who are tipped to run for the top job there are credible candidates who will turn round the party’s fortunes.
Labour in Scotland has been in crisis for more than a decade. The SNP has slipped into the political space once occupied by its opponents.
But south of the border, things are not yet so bleak for Labour.
This will soon change if members make a foolish decision when it comes to choosing the new leader.
In the immediate aftermath of the general election, there was much chatter about the need for Labour to choose a leader who was both northern and female. The logic ran that voters who had turned their nose up at a London-based leader would return if the leader was someone with whom they could more easily identify.
This is nonsense. Voters in the north of England who turned from Corbyn decided to put their faith in Boris Johnson. The flatness of the Labour leader’s vowels has nothing to do with their decision.
The Corbyn continuity candidate in the coming leadership election campaign will probably be the wholly unimpressive Rebecca Long Bailey, a northerner who was 100 per cent behind the sainted Jeremy, even when it was clear he was unfit for office.
The importance of patriotism
Long Bailey will face challenges from Sir Keir Starmer and Emily Thornberry, neither of whom has done much to make one think they can turn Labour’s fortunes around. Both seem as distant from the voting public as Corbyn ever did. And both, I’m afraid, are tainted by playing central roles in supporting the Corbyn project which has been so roundly rejected by the electorate.
Labour’s media outriders, those columnists and pundits who made careers out of excusing Corbyn’s associations with terrorists and his failure to deal adequately with anti-Semitism, really struggle to deal with the popularity of Johnson with a significant number of working class voters.
At the heart of their confusion lies one of the big problems with the Corbyn project – the failure of its adherents to recognise the importance of patriotism.
In dismissing anyone who declares even the slightest affection for the country of their birth as a petty nationalist, the Corbynista offends the small “c” conservative voter who thinks the UK has often been a force for good.
Accepting this reality is crucial to the Labour Party’s survival.
Swathes of the Labour membership will continue to delude themselves that their man won the argument and that what is needed is a new face to present ideas put forward by Corbyn.
But smarter activists will think carefully about how Labour can rebuild a connection with voters who have abandoned the party. The first step in this process is accepting that Labour cannot expect the voters to come to the party. Rather, the party must go to them.
The new leader should be a social democrat rather than a revolutionary socialist, someone who isn’t ashamed to sing the national anthem, and someone who is as untainted as it is possible to be by association with Corbyn.
Were I a member of the Labour Party with a vested interest in its survival, I’d be encouraging Dan Jarvis to step forward. Jarvis, a former soldier, was spoken about as a possible challenger for the leadership when Ed Miliband quit in 2015.
Instead of stepping into that fight, Jarvis – MP for Barnsley Central – turned his attention to his local area, campaigning successfully to become mayor of the Sheffield City Region.
Jarvis succeeded in the mayoral battle on his own terms, without the patronage of Corbyn.
Recently, Jarvis said it was time for Labour to make a “clean break” with the Corbyn era. That politics had failed, he said, and it was time to start rebuilding credibility.
Unsurprisingly, Corbynistas were horrified by Jarvis’s remarks. He is not one of them, after all, and is therefore to be treated with a mixture of suspicion and contempt.
But Jarvis was right. Labour’s credibility has been shot to Hell by Jeremy Corbyn and a fresh start is essential.
If Dan Jarvis does enter the leadership race, he’ll start as an outsider, but if he can reach out beyond the party to the general public and win opinion poll support, he may force Labour members to ask themselves whether it’s time to think about how they start winning again.