Day +1 of Jeremy Corbyn’s reconfirmed reign as leader of the Labour Party, and while there is much self-indulgent and self-involved wailing and gnashing of teeth among those who opposed Corbyn about what horrors may now befall them, there is still precious little introspection as to why the forces of centrist Labour were so thoroughly routed in the first place, twice now in the space of twelve months.
There are, however, a few green shoots of realisation in the left-wing media that it is no longer sufficient to blame the rise of Corbyn on far-left “bullies”, social media “abusers”, Marxist infiltrators or the “party within a party” Momentum. Finally, we are starting to see greater acknowledgement of something that this blog has been saying for months – that people are abandoning the bi-partisan centrist consensus because it was a failure; because it failed to speak to their hopes, aspirations and problems, while it was simultaneously undermined by more ideologically compelling offerings on the Left and the Right.
Here’s Owen Jones, continuing his epiphany from last month and belatedly coming to the same conclusion that this blog reached over a year ago, during the last Labour leadership contest:
Corbyn’s most ideological opponents should also take time to reflect on their own failures. Lacking a coherent and inspiring vision, they left a vacuum and are furious it was filled. When New Labour triumphed in 1997, social democrats were on the march across western Europe. Today, the German social democrats – whose leader promotes Blair-type third way politics – hover between 18% and 22% in the opinion polls. Spain’s social democrats have a telegenic leader, but haemorrhage support to the radical left. If Labour’s right had an obvious route map to power, they would not been in such a parlous state.
Also taking the Labour centrists to task is Dr. Eliza Filby, King’s College historian and author of “God and Mrs Thatcher”, who writes in the Guardian:
So, what now for Labour centrists? They may choose to sit and wait for Corbyn to fail. But by then it might be too late and a split inevitable. Collaboration with Corbynistas might be too hard to stomach and impossible to maintain. One thing that centrists could do is stop blaming Corbyn for everything and take a long look in the mirror. The foundations of leftwing centrism have completely crumbled and fresh thinking is required.
What should be at the forefront of their minds for both MPs and members is the future of the Labour voter. Ukip will redouble its efforts in Labour heartlands and, with the possible resurgence of the Lib Dems and the strength of the SNP, Labour MPs of all shades might find there is no longer a loyal electorate on which they can draw.
Quite. For too long, Labour’s centrist MPs have acted as though the path back to political power for a broadly centre-left social democratic party is quite simple – that all they need to do is tack slightly to the left of the already-centrist Tories while making sure to drone on endlessly about “fairness” and “equality” so that voters know that they are the more compassionate of the two options. But this is a dangerous nonsense.
The Tories under David Cameron (and likely continuing under Theresa May) have pursued a relentlessly centrist course, essentially “Blairism with an empty Treasury”. The so-called austerity which the Left screeches about is largely a figment of the imagination, being largely comprised of reduced increases in year-on-year spending rather than flat-out budget freezes or cuts. George Osborne set a relatively unambitious deficit reduction target, failed to meet it and then lied about the government’s progress during the 2015 general election campaign. It’s hard to see what less the Labour centrists would have done had they been in charge over this period – the NHS and international aid were already ludicrously ringfenced from cuts at the expense of core functions like national defence.
So given this context, what is the Super Secret, Super Awesome centrist Labour plan to get back into power? We don’t know, because they never told us, even as they raged against the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn. And they never told us because they don’t actually have a plan. The Labour centrists have singularly failed to articulate an alternative agenda for government, or to explain what they would do with their beloved big, activist state at a time of limited public funds. If “austerity” is so bad, how much of it would the Labour centrists cancel? They never told us.
All we really know is that the Labour centrists desperately want to overturn the result of the EU referendum, thumbing their noses at democracy and asserting the Westminster establishment’s right to do as it pleases and act in its own interests. And this isn’t a tremendous vote-winning stance, with more than half of Labour-supporting Brexit voters now so enraged with the antidemocratic murmurings of the centrist MPs that they now no longer plan to vote for the party, as LabourList reported:
More than half of Labour voters who backed Brexit in June’s referendum no longer support the party, according to a new poll.
The news will reiterate the scale of the challenge for whoever is announced as the winner of the Labour leadership contest tomorrow – widely expected to be a comfortable re-election for Jeremy Corbyn. The leader will be faced with the prospect of a divided party and an increasingly insecure support base.
Times/YouGov polling released this morning shows that 52 per cent of people who backed Labour in 2015 and a Leave vote in the EU referendum have doubts about their continued support for the party.
Around a third of Labour voters supported an Out vote in June, meaning that over 1.6 million Brexit backers have abandoned their support for Labour.
Many of the biggest margins of victory for Leave came in some of Labour’s traditional heartlands, with areas across the North East, North West, Wales and Midlands seeing large votes to leave the EU.
So in other words, what little we know of the alternative centrist agenda for the Labour Party is that they would immediately take action to drive 1.6 million of their core working class, Brexit-supporting base into the arms of either the Tories or UKIP. That doesn’t sound very politically astute to me, particularly from a group of machine politicians who take every opportunity they can to accuse Jeremy Corbyn of political amateurism.
But that’s all they have right now. The centrists of the PLP know that they hate Jeremy Corbyn because he is “unelectable” (as though the Overton window of British politics has never been moved before, when the right circumstances align with the right person to exploit them), but they don’t have a clear alternative of their own.
The arrogance of the centrists is shocking beyond measure. They exploited a period of political turmoil in Britain to knife their own leader in the back for being too left-wing, and yet not one of them could be bothered to do the homework to come up with an alternative vision for Britain or programme for opposition. They simply expected their chastened party members to submit to their authority as high-and-mighty MPs, asking them to overturn their recent endorsement of Jeremy Corbyn while failing to offer them a meaningful alternative (Owen Smith spent the leadership campaign pretending to be every bit as left-wing as Corbyn, while Angela Eagle whined about being “my own woman” but failed to enunciate a single policy of her own). No wonder the party membership told the PLP to go take a hike, in the clearest possible terms.
Thankfully, there are a few signs that left-wing thinkers are becoming sick of the centrists’ arrogance and their “born to rule the Labour Party” mentality. But it needs to be far more widespread. Instead of chummy, collegiate sympathy with Labour’s centrists-in-exile, the Westminster media need to start asking what Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents would actually do differently, and what their vision for Britain really is. They need to be put under pressure and shamed until they either articulate such an alternative vision or skulk away into the corner of British political life where they currently belong.
At present, Theresa May’s Conservatives hold the centre ground (albeit with a paternalistic, authoritarian leaning) while Jeremy Corbyn holds the Left. If the Labour centrists are as politically astute and as great a potential election-winning force as they want everybody to believe, they shouldn’t have any trouble outlining for us their compelling, alternative centre-left policy prescription for Britain, a manifesto so challenging and inspiring that it will deliver a 1997-style landslide if only they are given the chance to take back control of the Labour Party.
So come on, then. Where is it?
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