Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Why Labour needs a new leader

It should not be controversial to say that things are not going very well for the Labour Party at the moment.  Some thoughts from the perspective of a leftie Labour supporter about what's going wrong and what to do about it.

Jeremy Corbyn's unexpected victory in the Labour leadership election came before the organisation and wider infrastructure was in place to build support for socialist ideas and values, or he had the chance to learn the basic skills needed to be leader.  

As a result he and his advisers have been a target for the press, internal opponents within Labour and the Tories, and the majority of the public have already decided that he is not fit to be prime minister.

At present, the Labour Left's energies are soaked up by coping ineffectively with day to day crises, and working towards winning a vote at conference on Trident which will not bring the day of nuclear disarmament a single day closer.  Meanwhile, support amongst activists and voters is being eroded by the poor opinion poll ratings and failure to hold the Tories effectively to account.

Jeremy Corbyn's unpopularity is also damaging wider social movements as well as the Labour Party.  For example, the effectiveness of the peace movement will be affected by the fact that its most prominent advocate is someone who a majority of people do not trust to keep us safe.  This makes it harder to persuade people to support unilateral nuclear disarmament or other similar causes.

On current trends, what will happen is that Labour will limp along until 2020, and then suffer a heavy election defeat which makes left wing ideas impossible to put into practice in government for another generation.

There's a reason why Labour's most successful leaders have been elected part way through a parliamentary term rather than just after an election.  It is better to split the five years so that one leader creates space for new ideas and soaks up the initial attacks, and then someone else who has had a chance to think and prepare can come in, introduce themselves effectively to the voters, keep what's been popular and neutralise the weaknesses.

I think that the implications of all this for the Labour Left are that our priorities should be:

Prepare for Jeremy Corbyn to step down from the leadership next year.  It is not in his or anyone else's interests for Jeremy to fight the next election as Labour Party leader and be blamed for our heavy defeat.  If, instead, he steps down at a time of his choosing, he will become a much respected elder statesman and known as the man who put the good of the movement ahead of his own personal ambition.

In the mean time, focus on promoting those socialist ideas which have majority support amongst the public, and downplay those which do not.  We need our ideas to be seen as common sense, reassuring, and relevant to people's day to day lives.

Develop a cadre of future leaders, and ensure that they have the opportunity to develop their skills, experience and profile.  Invest in our policy development and organisational infrastructure so that by 2020 we have the ability to mobilise millions behind policy goals which can be implemented in government.

Strengthen the Left's strategic position by building bridges and seeking unity.  Back Dan Jarvis as the obvious outstanding candidate to be the next leader, drop the attempts to change policy on Trident, and in exchange ensure that popular left wing ideas feature heavily in Labour's manifesto for the next election, that rising left wing stars get the opportunities to become MPs and shadow ministers, and that the Labour has an open and welcoming culture which makes use of the skills and talents of its members to win power in 2020.