Labour Leadership

Ethan Humphreys

This blog will be split into two parts: what has happened during the election and what is happening now, after the elections, and what needs to happen.

Well, well, well… Jeremy Corbyn has been re-elected the leader of the Labour party with a 2.3% increase on his mandate from last year of 59.5% to 61.8% this year. Unsurprising given he got the backing of 84% of the Constituency Labour Parties (CLPs); played an instrumental role in mobilising masses of people to increase labour membership to 640,000, making it the largest left-of-centre, or left – whatever your preference… – in Europe; and the polls had him ahead for the entirety of the election campaign, with support consistently wavering around 60%. One thing is for certain, regardless of political preference within the Labour party Owen Smith got crushed in this election.

Let us turn away from the destruction of Owen Smith and look back to the destructive, divisive campaign that has ran its course within the last two months. Carrying on in a similar sentiment to the Brexit campaign, this leadership election has been littered with abuse, including racism and antisemitism, death threats (and every other type of threat you can think of) and every kind of political move in the playbook.

Separate from either of the individual candidates’ campaigns, all else that has gone on has been disgustingly dire. The NEC attempted to block new members signing up, many of whom were believed to be Corbyn supporters (or ‘Trotskyist Entryists’ if you’re Tom Watson), raising the fee to £25 from £3 the previous year. The perversity of this downright alienating politics even extended to a court case going in favour of those who had registered since January being overturned by labour lawyer’s, basically using the hiked £25 fees of affiliated members to exclude other members from joining. So a fee of £25 was maintained just to vote in the leadership election, who said Labour did represents the working class? Using money from seemingly exclusive tactics to further exclude more people, oh how wonderfully twisted politics can be.

A court case was even brought against Corbyn being the ballot paper for the elections, by Labour donor Michael Foster, without nominations from MPs. Some might make a joke about how politics is all about money, not me though… Either way, a lot of attempts were made to stop Corbyn getting elected (conspiracy for anyone out there?), but either way, he still won.

Corbyn’s victory does not completely ruin the credentials of his much-forgotten counterpart Owen Smith. After all, he himself – ignoring all of the surround chaos of the party – did run a decent campaign with some very labour-like good policies. Policies you’d expect like ending 0 hour contracts, ending public sector pay freeze, raising the upper tax threshold, increased spending on NHS, building new homes. As well as other impressive suggestions such as Scraping the DWP and replacing it with the Department for Social Security and Ministry for Labour.

Where Owen Smith falls down, like much else of the Labour party, is his seeming lack of desire for a re-united party, contrary to his claims. He may have stood as the ‘unity candidate’, but it does not mean he is the only one who can unite the party. Better yet, it’s oxymoronic to stand as the unity candidate and still claim that he ‘won’t be serving in Jeremy’s cabinet’ (said to the BBC following polls closing). A couple days after the election and seems to have brightened up somewhat, saying he would support Corbyn in the ways he saw appropriate and that “despite present divisions, we have to stick together in for the long term” (from Smith’s statement Saturday morning following the election result).

Many of those haven’t brightened up whatsoever though. According to the Independent the most searched thing after the leadership election result was how to leave the labour party, Richard Wilson – who stood as the Guildford Parliamentary candidate for labour in 2015 – posted a picture of his labour membership card torn up, claiming the party had been taken over by the hard left.

This approach is the exact way to divide the party. All of the 172 MPs who voted against Corbyn need to unite behind him if they really want to provide the credible opposition in government that they claim they want to become. A government will not even be possible if the party continues along these lines of factionalist self-destruction. As Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester (who also ran against Corbyn in 2015) said to the Guardian:  “[MPs should] serve on Corbyn’s frontbench and do so in the right spirit”.

The sword cuts both ways, however. It is also very much down to Jeremy Corbyn to take a conciliatory and holistic approach to this result. He has proven himself twice in the last year, he has lead the party to successes in Parliament such as U-turns on Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and tax credits, one of the highest percentage of council seats won (47%) ever for a first time leader of a party, winning back London for the first time since 2008, winning Bristol for the first time ever and even delivering a damning question time recently on Teresa May’s proposal on extending grammar schools. All show leadership credentials to some extent.

To go deeper, Corbyn credentials for electability surpass that of what many claim. He has been given a mandate by the largest left-of-centre (or left) party in Europe, he has successfully withstood a rebellion of 172 of his Parliamentary MPs and still carried on performing his role and offering opposition to the Tories and he has weathered – and come out on top – against an extremely anti-Corbyn dominated media that has tried to convince people he is unelectable for the last year.

Some of you may be confused to be reading a blog post not solely focusing on the negatives of Corbyn, ‘how could you even speak positively about such a terrible leader?’ you might ask. Well, Corbyn has some very interesting, innovative policies as well. Such as the wider us of social media (you might even have received a couple of texts from him before) including the wider of digital consultation to enable members to have a great influence over policy direction. He has some admirable policies on the environment and pushing towards greater use of renewals, he wants to have a cabinet split 50-50 of men and woman and he has made a dedicated position for a Mental Health minister.

However, the matter of the fact is, his campaigning in the EU referendum was feckless and simply an outright let down, giving many MPs justification for their rebellion. There is no saying that Jeremy has been a paragon of leadership, either (that cannot be said about any leader true be told). But this has passed now, the members have spoken, they want Jeremy.

There is still controversy over the election of MPs to the shadow cabinet, whether they will be chosen by MPs or a three-way split between leader, MPs and members remains to be decided by the NEC. But, regardless of any infighting that had occurred over the last couple of months, if the labour party really wants to pose a serious threat, win elections and become a credible government as they claim, they have to unite.

After all, regardless of any Trotskyist, New Labour, Red labour, hard left, right-left blah blah blah (watch Jonathan Pie for the best version of this) the party must: firstly, give Corbyn a chance (as Andy Burnham said when Corbyn was first elected last year “I’ve never seen in 15 years [as an MP] a Labour leader treated like that; it was disrespectful).  And secondly, they must unite to have any chance of dethroning the Tories and giving to Britain a more socially just style of government they want to deliver.