The past year has been disastrous for Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. Characterized by disputes and disunity, the role of Labour leader has been tougher than Corbyn could have ever imagined.
In late June the Labour leader emphatically lost a vote of confidence with a 172-40 vote, triggering this leadership election. In most cases a Labour leader who had such little support amongst MPs would probably resign, but Corbyn finds himself in the unique situation of retaining the strong backing of party members. He does after all have the biggest ever mandate of any Labour Party leader. This prompted Corbyn to defiantly declare that ‘today’s vote by MP’s has no constitutional legitimacy. We are a democratic party’.
But while the bulk of party members continue to support him, disillusioned MP’s will point to the party’s poor poll ratings both before and after the shadow cabinet resignations. This is exemplified by nearly 3 million Labour voters saying they would pick Theresa May over Corbyn as Prime Minister. Furthermore, Corbyn has been widely criticized for his lacklustre performance during the EU referendum campaign.
Supporters of Corbyn will point to the large increase in the party membership and his victory of preventing the Conservative tax credits cuts. Nevertheless, the fact is that both those achievements have been completely overshadowed by Corbyn’s inability to lead the party competently and it is quite frankly impossible to see a Labour victory in the next general election.
Divided parties will always struggle to achieve electoral success and as long as Corbyn is leader divisions will always exist. But the problems that the Labour party have are as much ideological as they are to do with Corbyn’s lack of leadership skills. At the 2015 general election voters simply didn’t trust Labour with the economy and a hard left leader will never restore that trust. Indeed, a video has recently surfaced from 2012 in which the Labour leader’s shadow chancellor John McDonnell appeared to suggest that the financial crisis was a good thing.
The 2015 general election demonstrated that the British public simply do not want a government with hard left views, as even Ed Miliband, a social democrat, was deemed unelectable.
The Labour Party, in order to make itself electable again, must broaden its appeal and reach out to Conservative voters who see the party as anti-aspirational and not to be trusted with the economy. As Alastair Campbell said recently on Question Time, the hard left belief that ‘anyone who’s a Tory is a bad person’ will not win Labour elections. The greatest strength of New Labour was its ability to win support amongst people who wouldn’t traditionally vote Labour. While Corbyn can rightly point to his ability to connect to young people and attract them to the Labour Party, this is far too unreliable a voting group to build your hopes around, as in 2015 turnout was only 43% amongst 18-24 year olds.
Corbyn’s recent victory to retain the leadership of the Labour Party will stave off many of his detractors from inside the Parliamentary Labour Party for the moment, but there is little suggestion that this gives any more than a temporary solution to the leadership issue. The Labour Party did not choose Owen Smith, but there aren’t many who think that the country would choose Corbyn. It seems that Labour may have to embrace the centre ground more, if they intend on being in government. Say what you will about Tony Blair, but he did win three elections.
Image: Adrian Scottow via Flickr