With national intention polling suggesting just 24% support for Labour compared to the Conservatives on 40%, there has never been a better time for some soul searching amongst labour members and voters alike.
How did we end up here and are we really as disconnected from our voter base as polls suggest? It’s easy to dismiss these results, but the reality is the Labour party is stuck between a rock and a hard place in terms of its stance on Brexit. Two challenging by-elections in previously safe labour seats, Copeland and Stoke-on-Trent Central, will test the waters on how much weight we should place on these discouraging polls.
Supporting the invoking of Article 50 is disorientating its youth base and support from liberal metropolitan professionals, but choosing to oppose the so called ‘will of the people’ would lose support in communities such as Stoke Central and Copeland, who voted decisively to leave the EU. Our stance on Brexit is part of a wider discontentment with the leadership, an issue which has plagued the membership and the parliamentary labour party since our painful defeat in 2015.
Was the Corbyn 2.0 ‘relaunch’ a success following a second leadership contest in just two years? Or have we distracted our membership to mask our incompetence as an opposition to the NHS crisis and the terms of a chaotic Brexit?
Pro-Corbyn or not, questions are beginning to be asked on when enough is enough. Is a shadow cabinet dogged by resignations and a leader who cannot bridge support our best bet at electoral success?
All that is clear is this. The results of the by-elections on the 23rd February will be indicative of where the Labour party is heading, and a loss of either could set into motion a series of movements against the leadership. Even ardent Corbyn supporters will struggle to rationalise a 16.6% swing to UKIP in a seat that has been held by labour since 1950.
As a Labour member, I hate being in opposition. However, I believe the root cause of our present polling nightmare is the first past the post electoral system.
We have no alternative but to embrace proportional representation and a progressive alliance to get back into government. The left is simply too divided as things stand. Second, we must let the Tories carry the can for Brexit. Whether it is a success or failure will be down to them – let the government live or die by its negotiations.
Next, we must be, and be seen to be, a deeply patriotic party, motivated by love of Britain, serious about defence and policing, and we must show that our internationalism goes hand-in-hand with our patriotism. Patriots love their country, nationalists hate their neighbours. We are the former, not the latter.
Loud and proud defence of the record of the last Labour government is a necessity. Let’s hammer home the message that it improved the lives of millions of people, at home and abroad. Ultimately, we must look, act and sound like a party that wants to be in government, and will be competent.
The constant introspection and endless infighting, for which all wings of the party must take blame, makes us extremely unattractive to the electorate. In short, the entire mentality of the Labour Party must change, from being a party comfortable in opposition to one that viscerally hates not having the power to put our principles into practice.
Labour is assailed on all sides by violent winds of change. In-fighting, the loss of Scotland, and a broken First Past the Post voting system are just a few of the issues that compound having an unpopular leader. Drastic change is needed – human life is in the balance.
Let’s be clear. Labour governments are responsible for absolutely everything popularly considered as British successes: the NHS, a welfare state, quality public education, and the bigger increases in living standards all come from Labour. Contrastingly, real wages have declined by 10% since 2010 under the tories. The stakes are very high.
The Corbyn brand is likely poisoned by now, and ideally he should be replaced by someone who is both genuinely charismatic, and able to pull together the broad church of MPs and voters that is so necessary under the current voting system. A candidate from the soft left such as Lisa Nandy could achieve this as well as real social change.
Corbyn has absolutely energised the grass-roots, and any new leader must maintain this connection. He, McDonnell, and many of the new MPs are needed to keep left pressure and represent the new members. Door-to-door activism is a must, but new members are not participating as much as they need to. This is everyone’s responsibility.
However, this is not enough. Practically, either the SNP must be worked with, or smashed out of existence. Because the latter is unlikely, a progressive coalition with the SNP, Greens and Lib Dems is badly needed to overcome a right-wing strengthened by constituency boundaries and a highly supportive billionaire-owned press.
In the long term, strong left-policies and maximum devolution policy could scupper nationalist feeling in Scotland, but a win must come first. To secure this win, Labour doesn’t need a Brexit policy, it just needs to make life hell for the Tories. However, stronger positions on Defence and Immigration are realistically needed to capture mainstream voters.
Past all this, expose the Tories for the hollow corporate zombies they are, and throw in a sprinkling of luck, with a helpful dollop of media management.