The media seized on Labour’s by-election loss of Copeland, a seat it had held for eighty years, to vent its hostility towards Jeremy Corbyn and demand his resignation.
In blaming Corbyn they provide a fig leaf covering the damage done by Labour’s right-wing’s disastrous attempt to remove him after the EU referendum and their continuing campaign to destabilise his leadership.
The vast majority of Labour members have no interest in another leadership battle. They joined the party to support Corbyn and take the fight Tories based on his radical platform of the ‘Ten Pledges’.
Copeland and Stoke Central
The BBC described the loss of Copeland as a shock, remarking that; “This victory marked an astonishing political moment for the Conservatives.”.
As with other manufacturing areas Copeland has been hit hard and changed by an industrial decline exacerbated by the 2007/08 financial crash. This left the Sellafield nuclear plant as the main employer with over 5,000 workers with many more employed in the local supply chain.
Corbyn’s team pointed to a hostile media and late interventions by Peter Mandelson and Tony Blair, but Labour did not help itself with its weak and confused messaging on nuclear power.
The profound consequences of the Stoke result in regards to UKIP’s challenge to Labour in its heartlands are yet to be fully appreciated by political journalists. Norman Smith, BBC assistant political editor, gave little more than a passing nod preferring to myopically fixate on Corbyn:
“As for Labour, relief that it has at least repulsed the perceived threat of UKIP but its slow painful anguish under Jeremy Corbyn seems set to continue.”
The Stoke Central by-election represented UKIP’s best chance to follow through on their boasts of replacing Labour as the party of the working class. UKIP failed dismally and in the process looks to have inflicted terminal damage on themselves.
Labour should not be complacent, while UKIP is probably finished as a viable force, the conditions and the disillusionment that gave rise to UKIP are still present. If Labour fails to fill the vacuum then it will be filled by apathy or a more reactionary force.
Problems part self-inflicted…
After the EU referendum vote, rather than attack a Tory party in disarray, ‘rebels’ in the Parliamentary Labour Party chose to abandon that battle and launch an attack on Corbyn and his supporters. During the campaign the constituency parties were shut down which crippled the party in its communities for three months.
This allowed the Tories to recover from the resignation of David Cameron as Prime Minister and deliver the new Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May, an extended honeymoon.
Just a few days before the Copeland and Stoke Central by-elections Tony Blair gave a provocative speach to Open Britain where he encouraged remain supporters to challenge the Brexit vote. He also found room to deliver barbed criticism at the Labour Party:
“The second challenge is the absence of an Opposition which looks capable on the polls of beating the Government. The debilitation of the Labour Party is the facilitator of Brexit. I hate to say that, but it is true.”
Peter Mandelson, Labour peer and ex-Trade and Industry Secretary, seemed determined to plough on with his plotting, even if there were two by-elections just days away:
“I don’t want to, I resent it and I work every single day in some small way to bring forward the end of his [Corbyn] tenure in office.”
These ghosts of the past, haunting the party with their discredited neoliberal ideology, have shown themselves to be no friends of labour.
Article 50 – Labour’s predicament
The media’s latest phase of its campaign against Corbyn began with Labour’s predicament over triggering Article 50. Two-thirds of Labour voters voted remain while two-thirds of Labour constituencies voted leave showing the complex and diverse nature of Labour’s electorate.
It was inevitable that this contradiction would play out in the Labour Party and it meant that Jeremy Corbyn had a difficult hand to play in reconciling the two sides. When Article 50 is triggered this debate will become largely academic and the spotlight will be turned on the Tories.
Changing leaders, lessons of Kinnock
Most attempts to draw parallels between Labour now and in the 1980s are misguided, however the experience of the Kinnock, who replaced left-winger Michael Foot, is worth examining.
Kinnock did everything demanded of him by the media, for example expelling the Militant Tendency. The media still dumped on him from a great height, not once but twice with two election defeats. Kinnock got no thanks for his services, the media treated him as a joke.
One big difference between Kinnock and today is that at least he had a programme and a strategy. Beyond getting rid of Corbyn, his modern counterparts appear to have nothing to offer.
Labour ‘rebels’ need to step up
The right-wing spent the year up to the Brexit vote on an incessant media campaign to force out Corbyn, only for them to end up humiliated by a second leadership contest defeat.
Even now, many of Corbyn’s opponents in the parliamentary party have refused to step up and serve in the shadow cabinet. Instead they have been sulking away on the back benches leaving their newer colleagues to shoulder the burden.
The radical platform of Corbyn’s 10 Pledges
Workers are faced with Tory assaults on all fronts including, a social care and housing crisis, the creeping privatisation of the NHS and Brexit being prepared as a trojan horse for a bonfire of workers rights. These problems are actually no longer exclusively confined to the working classes, they also affect large swathes of the middle classes right into the Tory heartlands.
Labour’s Ten Pledges give a platform to address these problems and also represent a refreshing break from New Labour, taking Labour back to its radical roots.
The majority of the policies encapsulated by the pledges are popular across the classes according to reports on polling by Yougov and polling organisations.
To give just a few examples:
- Nationalisation of the railways and Royal Mail is supported by around two thirds of the public including conservative voters. Nationalising the utilities is also popular with over half in support
- Nearly 60% support the building of more social housing, John McDonnell, Shadow Chancellor, has plans to build 100,000 new council houses a year
- 60%, including 42 per cent of Tory voters, support calls to give local councils the power to impose rent controls
- There is nearly 60% support for bring free schools and academies under democratic control of local councils
This doesn’t mean ordinary people will automatically back Labour in their droves just because it puts forward popular left policies. The Labour party is still tainted by a credibility gap inherited from the days of Labour’s right-wing rule and will have to work hard to gain the electorates’ trust.
Unite to fight the Tories
Labour Party members know that with a hostile press, boundary changes and the dire legacy left by the right-wing in the collapse of Labour’s vote in Scotland they face an uphill battle. They have little interest adding to those problems by indulging Labour’s enemies with another leadership contest. Their priority, and the reason most who joined the party since Corbyn’s rise, is to fight for the election of a labour government on a socialist programme.
The message from Labour Party members is quite simple, it is now time to unite behind Jeremy Corbyn and take the fight the Tories.
Gary Hollands – March 2nd 2017
Notes and references
1. Jeremy Corbyn’s Ten Pledges:
- Full employment and an economy that works for all
- A secure homes guarantee
- Security at work
- To secure our NHS and social care
- A national education service, open to all
- Action to secure our environment
- To put the “public” back into our economy and services
- To cut inequality in income and wealth
- Action to secure an equal society
- To put peace and justice at the heart of foreign policy ⇑
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