An excerpt from my latest column for the International New York Times, on the results of the Stoke-on-Trent and Copeland by-elections in England, and their meaning for national politics:
As party leader, Mr Corbyn has been a disaster. He is opposed by a majority of Labour members of Parliament, and has signally failed to win popular support outside the party’s base. Yet the party’s problem goes much deeper than its leadership. At the heart of its crisis lies the question: What is the Labour Party for?
Labour lost its status as the party of the working class long ago. A recent opinion poll on party popularity found that among working-class voters, Labour had fallen far below the Conservatives and even into third place behind UKIP. Over the past 30 years, Labour, like many social-democratic parties, has transformed itself into a party appealing primarily to the metropolitan middle class, a large proportion of which voted to remain in the European Union. In the wake of the referendum, many such supporters are switching allegiance to the Liberal Democrats, the most pro-European of British political parties. One poll suggested that the Liberal Democrats could overtake Labour at the next general election.
The trouble with Labour is that the party simply no longer works. It is neither a social-democratic nor a liberal party, neither a plausible alternative government nor an effective opposition. It is difficult to know how it could find a role in today’s Britain.
Read the full article in the International New York Times
The image is ‘The Potter’s Glow’ by Stoke artist Sid Kirkham. His works are available via the Artbay gallery.
Corbyn came to power with the help of young enthusiasts, most of then, I expect, strongly pro-European . Yet he has embraced the illusion that we can leave the EU and remain in the Free Trade Area on our own terms.
The roots of Labour’s present disarray dates back at least as far as Blair. I thought at one time that Corbyn would offer a way out of its morass (does a morass have roots, I wonder?) Sadly, I was wrong
Good one Keenan. You the right. It is about more than the leader. Labour has few specific policies and no plan to pay for them. Best wishes, Peter
I had hoped labour would embrace short term unpopularity to have time to understand how its principles apply in the 21st century, develop a clearer policy base and also to create more diversity and intellectual depth in its shadow cabinet and future MPs. I hoped too Corbyn is drawing fire in order to shelter and develop a pool of talent in the rapidly promoted shadow cabinet, one of whom could replace him with new vision and energy. I am sure none if this would have happened under the alternatives to Corbyn, but I fear he too has failed to re-invent the party. The problems are much wider than the leader, but don’t absolve him also of responsibility.
The Labour Party should not be written off, even if it does appear to be ‘Kodak in the age of Instagram’.
Every Corbyn supporter should dwell on these realities:
1) He cannot lead – never has wanted to and never will. What do you think all those years on the backbench’s and waving placards were about? Leadership?!
2) He refuses to accept that Labour winning an outright majority in a GE is now unthinkable. Blair’s Big Tent has long since collapsed under its own contradictions.
3) Yet despite #2, he fails to embrace the obvious, staring-in-the-face strategy – support Proportional Representation and an alliance with other parties to put it in front of the British people.
4) He shows no sign of having the intellectual curiousness and depth of thought to ask what a 21st century Labour Party should be for and what its ideas are, in a world with ever fewer manual jobs and more robots; a world of increased national identity over class identity; a world where mainstream media and democratic politicians are routinely seen as untrustworthy; a world where new corporate giants lack geographically based assets and can routinely avoid national taxes whilst benefiting from effect monopoly profits, and so on.
What will it take for Party Members to act? One, two, three GE defeats?