Labour has five years to reflect on why it lost but it won’t stand a chance in 2024 unless it picks a credible leader nowby Jonathan Lis / January 16, 2020 / Leave a comment
Jeremy Corbyn has announced his resignation, and five candidates have won the backing of fellow MPs and MEPs: Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Lisa Nandy, Jess Phillips and Emily Thornberry. They will now begin the process of securing support from affiliated bodies, trade unions and constituency parties before the voting begins next month. The result will be announced on 4th April.
And yet none of it will matter if the candidates do not face truths about why the party has lost so often. Truths about the necessity of compromise in order to win power. Truths about who Labour exists to serve.
This leadership election is in some ways even more important than the 2015 ballot which elevated Corbyn to power. It could spell the difference between a return to Labour government in five years and a further generation under absolute Conservative rule. Still reeling from its worst defeat in 85 years, to follow three previous losses, Labour is deciding whether to seek the comfort of what it already knows or confront the realities it may not want to hear.
The first task is perhaps the hardest: to accept why the party lost. There are long-term and short-term reasons, and one inescapable hard truth. The long-term reason is that the “red wall” seats in the midlands and north of England have been drifting away from a seemingly metropolitan-focused Labour Party for some years. Scottish voters, meanwhile, have never felt more alienated from what increasingly feels like an English party unwilling to fight Scotland’s corner. There is a counter-drift—middle-class and densely populated urban seats in England which 30 years ago voted Conservative and now return Labour MPs with huge majorities—but it is nowhere near substantial enough to balance the exodus elsewhere.
The short-term reasons are more fiercely contested—above all, Brexit. Everyone can agree that the Brexit policy went down badly on the doorstep. The disagreement begins when assessing how things could have been done differently. The Corbynite, referendum-sceptic wing of the party has been quick to blame the referendum policy for defeat. That is false. Labour was never going to out-Brexit the Conservative or Brexit parties. The Leavers who abandoned the party did so over the customs union, long before the people’s vote policy. In May’s European elections Labour polled under 25 per cent. If the party had not…