Jeremy Corbyn asked for a period of reflection. So I’ve been doing some reflecting.
The first and most obvious response to this catastrophic defeat should be Corbyn’s immediate resignation. He’s spent most of his time in parliament demanding the resignation of far more electorally and politically successful leaders so he knows the drill.
He needs to go and he needs to go now. Today.
We need an interim leader. My suggestion would be that we ask the PLP to elect a leader that will allow us to hold Johnson to account over the coming months. The process of Brexit requires and demands a leader of the opposition to scrutinise and oppose. Corbyn has proven himself incapable of fulfilling this role and certainly cannot remain as leader during the process of debate and discussion that we need if we are to renew the party. And when he goes his office needs to go as well. The playboy revolutionaries have done enough damage.
But we need to recognise that this defeat was not only a defeat for the man but a defeat for what he stood for as well. His failure was personal, political, policy and principle. Corbyn must go but for Labour to recover Corbynism must go as well.
I hear the recipients of Momentum’s emails making their excuses. Of course Corbyn was subject to appalling and unacceptable personal attacks from the right wing media. But then so has almost every Labour leader in history. Many of these people seem to have forgotten the treatment that Neil Kinnock endured with a quiet but angry dignity.
And then we are told it was Brexit that forced working class communities to vote Conservative. Not Jeremy’s fault. Wrong. It was Brexit that shone a sharp light on the wider failures of his dysfunctional leadership. Brexit is the defining issues of today. I know where I stand. And I didn’t need a focus group to tell me. My values drove me to an instinctive response to this project of the far right. But I still don’t know what Corbyn thinks. Doesn’t he have a values set that drives his beliefs and actions? The impression is gained that he says one thing but believes something different. He doesn’t feel honest on it. And everyone can sense it. In many ways it has been Brexit that defined the chaos and dishonesty of Corbyn’s leadership. After three years we find ourselves in a situation whereby leavers believe that we’re a remain party whilst remainers think we’re a leave party. Quite a triumph. It was a policy failure on the most important domestic issue of the day and the issue upon which the election was called. His disastrous decision not to have a view on Brexit compounded and confirmed people’s disbelief in, and distrust of, him. And we lost far more remain supporters than we lost leave supporters. It was a political failure rooted in hubris.
The other issue that defined his leadership was antisemitism. Time and time again I was ashamed to be a member of the Labour Party. His actions and his refusal to act made me feel deeply embarrassed. The constant excuses for friends and for antisemitic acts and words helped to create the toxic culture of bullying and abuse which has infected the party under his leadership. He must take personal responsibility for this distasteful culture which has driven good people like Luicana Berger to leave. The hounding and abuse of journalists like Laura Keussberg was also a reflection of this toxicity. And women always abused more than men. It’s no accident. His refusal to apologise for the hurt and pain he has caused the Jewish community left me not only angry but also a feeling of being humiliated as well – how could I justify to myself staying in a party led by this man? Over the last five years he has had time for every cause you can name but no time to visit Yad Vashem or Auschwitz.
And then the manifesto was published.
My heart sunk when I read it. Whilst many people will agree that individual elements of the document may be attractive to different groups of people. The whole thing simply wasn’t a credible programme for government. And many people hated that we thought they were daft enough to believe that Labour could deliver it. In many ways it simply confirmed people’s worst suspicions about Corbyn’s Labour. He’s not a serious leader.
And this speaks to our most significant failure. It includes Corbyn but is not limited to him. For a decade Labour has been a shouty spectator on austerity. Had we been serious then we would have done the hard work on economic policy as Brown did in the 90s. But we didn’t. Playing with numbers on the back of an old fashioned fag packet. Raising more money on the back of a (probably) smaller economy where no-one pays more except the toffs. I didn’t believe it. And neither did anyone else. But why on earth wasn’t this the point of serious debate in the leadership? And if they believed in the manifesto why didn’t we campaign on it? Save the NHS?
The centre-left has failed to articulate an alternative to austerity. And the fact that it is as true in the US rust-belt as it is in the heads of the valleys isn’t an excuse. And printing monopoly money isn’t the same as challenging the economic orthodoxy that has failed so completely since 2010. And the fact of that failure makes our own failure to provide an alternative all the more calamitous.
And this lack of seriousness was validated with additional unfunded pledges on WASPI or broadband. I spoke to people who were genuinely angry that they thought Labour assumed they wouldn’t see through it.
So we lost in the face of nearly a decade of austerity which has ripped the heart out of our communities and public services. Most people that I met during the campaign didn’t want to vote for either Johnson or Corbyn. This election did not see a groundswell of support for the Tories. They didn’t see the increase in support that they anticipated. This election was lost because the Labour vote crashed. It is a Labour problem. Neither party leader enjoyed widespread respect but at least Johnson wasn’t Corbyn. We were told this on doorstep after doorstep. And we knew it before we knocked a single door.
And this wasn’t an accidental election or one of Johnson’s choosing. Tony Blair was right back in September when he warned that we could not win an election until Brexit was resolved. Knowing that were woefully ill-prepared to win an election, many of us argued for and campaigned for a referendum with an election afterwards. But we were told that the party wanted a general election. And then Corbyn forced Labour MPs to vote for it. This was an election of Corbyn’s choosing.
And finally we fought a campaign which was confused, self-indulgent and incompetent. Too many of the people speaking on behalf of the party simply weren’t up to it. They were not credible and were unable to articulate a compelling vision of the future. And now we’re told that these same people – Rebecca Long Bailey or Richard Burgon should be part of a leadership team? Seriously?
The decisions we take now will determine whether Labour can challenge seriously in 2024 or 2029. Or whether we continue with Corbynism without Corbyn. We don’t simply need a new leader. We need a cultural and political renewal. And unless we address these issues seriously then most people will assume that the party’s over and will act accordingly.