The next Labour party leader will still have to win over members who voted for Jeremy Corbyn as leader, writes Ayesha Hazarika.
If you’re on the left, this has been a rotten way to end the decade. Labour has become a party of serial losers and we’re acquired a real knack of picking people who the voters cannot bear – no matter how much we know and like them personally.
The question is, do we want to end the next decade in exactly the same situation? Are we ready to change our ways and pick a winner who can beat Boris Johnson? This is where you’re expecting the soaring, positive feel-good rhetoric, right? Well, I’m sorry. It’s probably not going to happen.
I keep being asked who will be the next Labour leader, and I think it should be. The truth is, I don’t know right now. I think I know who might have a chance of winning the country, but I don’t know if they can win the party members.
I chaired an event with Tony Blair on Wednesday where he made a powerful punchy speech analysing what went wrong and what Labour should do next. And before anyone starts moaning, given Labour can’t win a raffle right now, he has every right to express a view.
There was much I agreed with him on. The Tories had a strategy for victory. We had one for defeat. Jeremy Corbyn and his high-profile supporters were repellent and turned people away from Labour in their millions. They were the Tories’ greatest asset. We all knew this was going to be a Brexit general election, yet we chose to face in both directions and our leader remained neutral. We were led by a self-proclaimed man of peace who brought war to the Labour Party. The list goes on.
But here’s where I disagree with Blair: on what comes next. We need to get real. We are not going to have some period of honest, humble reflection while the architects of this calamity are still in charge and Corbyn’s cheerleaders rant and rave on the airwaves about the how massively popular our policies were and how we won the argument.
I agree with Blair that we need to send a message to the public that we heard that they hate us, but any candidate has to win with a membership still made up of a lot of people who supported Corbyn. The mistake is to assume that you can magically by-pass this selectorate.
They are the gatekeepers, whether you like it or not. You have to operate in the world that you find yourself in. So what does that mean for the candidates?
Blair would have them denounce every member of Momentum to send a signal to the public that never again will we tolerate the hard left. The problem with that advice is that they would probably do about as well as Liz Kendall did in 2015.
I also think we should be judicious about who we say is responsible. It’s the people at the top. The advisers, the acolytes, the outriders with vast social media profiles who collectively shaped the strategy, bullied their opponents and frightened the public.
I don’t think it’s fair to blame every Momentum member or person who voted for Jeremy Corbyn to be leader. They aren’t bad people. Many were are young, idealistic, hopeful, naïve and fell for the charms of left-wing populism. It’s hard to resist those who say you can have it all and have it now in a period of austerity.
I genuinely believe and hope that we do have a decent chunk of members who will have the critical thinking to at least consider a candidate not endorsed by the vandals who created this mess. But why would they change their views if they are labelled as thick extremists?
I am heartened that so many people are joining the party to have a say in the leadership contest, but I don’t think entryism is going to win the day. This message won’t be met with much enthusiasm from my dear centrist mums and dads, but it’s the truth.
The fight to make Labour an electoral force again isn’t going to be swift or easy. I’m as angry as the next person, but blind rage alone isn’t going to create a strand of Labour politics which can win power. And whether you like it or not, as things stand right now, you cannot have a shot at winning over the public unless you first win over the members. Sorry.