This opinion piece is a contribution to Soft Left Politics by Rabbil Sikdar.
It has been a rollercoaster few weeks in British politics: Britain leaving Europe, the United Kingdom more fragile than ever, the Tories in disarray, knives drawn amidst a resigning leader. Meanwhile in Labour it’s a business as civil war.
A leadership challenge has been issued to Jeremy Corbyn. The outcome of which could either spell deep apathy amongst much of the membership or result in a party split.
On one side stands the challenger, Angela Eagle, with a voting record that does not exactly inspire excitement. Her track record includes voting for the Iraq War and against investigations into it, for air strikes in Syria, for tuition fees and abstaining on the recent Welfare Bill.
She is no Blairite, as some would suggest, but the problem is that she is not Jeremy Corbyn.
Jeremy’s unwavering and uncompromising principles energised the leadership contest and propelled him to victory. It was a Corbyn I liked. He discussed issues that mattered to people. For a while it seemed Corbyn understood that Labour could tie an anti-austerity message in an electable language. That’s why I voted for him.
How things have unravelled since.
In Jeremy’s defence, those who blame him for Brexit are being wilfully disingenuous. This was the culmination of blaming immigrants for cuts to services, social security and living standards over a significant period of time.
New Labour failed to recognise, or seemed uninterested in, how globalisation left behind many of the working class, particularly in the North. Even if Corbyn is ousted this does not necessarily mean victory. A move to the right could be an electoral disaster for Labour. We must be ideologically distinguished from the Tories.
Consider the successes of Corbyn as leader: retreat on tax credits, disability benefits; steel plants; defending junior doctors and a government backtrack on Saudi Arabian contracts.
We live in a society with a mass shortage of council homes, poverty paying jobs, a rent crisis, an exploitative energy market, a crumbling health service and deep economic insecurity. It requires someone to put these issues on the agenda.
But, though he may try, Corbyn hasn’t put these issues on the agenda enough; in fact they were there before the last election, yet we lost – we can’t win on these issues alone. What’s more they do not and will not resonate with a public who do not trust us to govern.
We seem to spend more time scoring own goals than moving forward when we should be far ahead. We discuss Hamas, Trident, Ken Livingstone, and the Falklands – which dominate perceptions of Corbyn – rather than the issues that matter to regular people the most. Instead of helping Labour, it has damaged the party and created the perception of a party that is uncoordinated and weak on security and defence.
Without the public’s trust, we will be incapable of governing and addressing some of the incredibly important issues that plague peoples’ lives – the issues which which Jeremy principally wants to address.
Consider Corbyn’s comments about the IRA, Hamas or Hezbollah. He was unaware, until questioned by Keith Vaz that the Hamas charter contained sections about murdering Jews. This will be incredibly damaging when the media decide to attack us for it and we can be certain they will when an election comes.
Those who think they can simply contextualise this simply don’t understand this media. It will pounce on what we say or imply and twist it into something else. Why give them such a glaring opportunity?
Corbyn’s failure to communicate effectively has been reflective in his failure to clearly articulate policy on security, terrorism and foreign affairs. Uncertainty over these issues are not what is needed. Particularly in the age of modern day terrorism it will not be accepted.
The polls are grim for Corbyn, worse than Miliband – and that is saying something. We never recovered Scotland though he placed himself as the candidate capable of doing so. We have taken a beating across England and Wales and our victory in London owed itself to Sadiq Khan.
Corbyn supporters should not just dismiss this as mere spin. It isn’t. I’m a working-class socialist. My disagreement with Corbyn isn’t over ideas; I voted for him. It’s over his failure to understand the public and sell to them. Compromise where it’s needed isn’t a dirty thing. But this isn’t who Corbyn is and that’s the problem.
Any leader in a democracy needs to be flexible and unite a broad church. Corbyn and many of his activists, unfortunately, are not. They have dismissed the ‘coup’ as purely Blairite – this is purely inaccurate. They marginalise, and some abuse, those who are disillusioned with Corbyn yet talk about a kinder politics.
They treat electability as something purely belonging to the Labour right.
Reports of bullying, misogyny and anti-Semitism have erupted. The party is in chaos and everyone else can see it. Many of Corbyn’s problems are not of his own making; he has faced a ferocious media and disloyalty from some of his own MPs throughout the year. But an effective leader must adjust. Especially a Labour leader.
Corbyn couldn’t. He, and his team, have been completely ineffective at communication and strategy. This has cost Labour dearly. We are seen as a party not only distrusted on the economy, but on security as well.
Is the answer Angela Eagle? Not necessarily. I’m not voting for either. But right now Jeremy Corbyn is ripping apart the Labour Party without a second thought.