Party grandees must pull Labour back from the brink

With two by-elections and a Scottish spring conference to negotiate over the course of the next seven days, it could be another uncomfortable week for Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn will address the conference next Sunday in Perth. Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty
Corbyn will address the conference next Sunday in Perth. Picture: Christopher Furlong/Getty

His task has not been made any easier by Tony Blair’s decision to enter the Brexit debate, urging reversal of the referendum result and giving support to the notion that Scottish independence now has a more credible case – just as Scottish Labour attempts to launch a coherent constitutional strategy after months of mixed messages.

The by-elections in Stoke and Copeland would normally be cause enough for concern. Both may once have been considered Labour strongholds but have become marginal. Party insiders believe one may be held, but the other could be lost.

Sign up to our Opinion newsletter

But it is in Scotland where Corbyn could feel most uncomfortable. He has been given a Sunday slot, after Kezia Dugdale’s keynote address on Saturday, in what feels like a 
move to minimise potential damage. Meanwhile, opinion polls suggest Scottish Labour could fare even worse at the forthcoming local elections than in their desperate showings at the Scottish and Westminster elections, with some estimates of support as low as 15 per cent.

If such a scenario comes to pass, who is to say that Scottish Labour will ever recover?

Dugdale has shown bravery in the face of adversity, and may have good reason to be nervous about how events play out this week. But in the face of potential meltdown, it has to be asked: where are the Scots who famously filled Labour’s front benches at Westminster during better times? The very future of their party is at stake, and virtually all have gone to ground. We can understand why, because the risk of reputational damage is high, but there is something bigger at stake here.

Labour’s decline in Scotland has often been put down to taking its support for granted. There is a grave danger that the party’s recovery is being taken for granted; considered to be inevitable when the current mess is resolved. By then, it may be too late. Grandees: your party needs you now.