After Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide victory to retain leadership of the party, The Gryphon asks: is Labour doomed?
Yes – Daniel J. Levy
At his re-coronation as Labour’s leader on Saturday, Jeremy Corbyn pledged to draw a clean slate under his party’s bruising post-Brexit civil war. Old adversaries would be welcomed back into the fold, and hopefully Labour would go on to effectively challenge the hated Tories along with all their elitism and austerity. Not only was Corbyn victorious, but his mandate to lead Labour had risen by 2%. Membership had also impressively risen in the year since he began leading Labour, to the point where it had become Europe’s largest political party. Although for the typical Starbucks-drinking, Guardian reading, Tory-hating, middle-class faux revolutionary Corbynista there is much to be optimistic about, the reality is starker. Under his leadership, Labour is not far from doomed.
The backbone of Team Corbyn may be found in Momentum. Describing itself as “the successor to the campaign to elect Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party”, Momentum is dedicated to “increasing participation and engagement at local, regional and national levels” while reaching out to the politically apathetic and uninvolved. In reality, though, Momentum may be credited for consolidating the weak and poorly organised British far-left within Labour’s ranks. Accordingly, Labour has taken a significant lurch leftward in the past year. Elections are fought at the political centre in bellwether constituencies such as Watford, Harlow and Basildon. Ed Miliband is widely credited as having lost the 2015 general election for being too left wing. On the other hand, Team Corbyn believes that this victory was because of not being left wing enough. Corbyn’s full-blown socialism may resonate in the north’s most economically deprived communities, but not so in metropolitan and upwardly mobile Harlow or Watford. Unless Corbyn can reach out to these types of voters – an area he is dismally failing in – Labour will be electorally doomed as more and more swing seats turn blue.
As a leader, Corbyn is woefully lacking. More alarming than his lack of charisma and debating skills is the low esteem his MPs hold him in. After the debacle of his failure to properly support the Remain campaign, Labour MPs held a vote of no confidence against his leadership, which passed with an overwhelming majority of 80%. In the leadership race, other MPs overwhelmingly backed Owen Smith. Unfortunately, their man lost and they remain saddled by the leader they so detest. Despite overtures of unity, Labour led by Corbyn is weak and divided. As the Tories’ drubbing in 1997 soundly proved, a weak and divided party is also an unelectable party.
For Tory spin doctors, Labour under Corbyn has become the gift that simply never stops giving. If you thought the 2015 poster showing Ed Miliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket was as bad as it could get, then guess again. Any attacks on Corbyn will be far harsher, and largely the result of his own disastrous leadership. In short, Labour under him remains doomed.
No – Luke Maunsell
With the Labour leadership election firmly marking its place in history, it seems only right to reflect on the current state of the Labour Party and if Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election marks the party’s doom. As a ‘moderate’ I might be expected to herald his stunning victory a disaster but that would be overstating it, as would claiming that it was a good thing. Put simply, neither are the case.
Whilst I am dismayed by him retaining the leadership and fearful for the many good and sensible Labour MPs and Councillors who will undoubtedly lose their seats by or in 2020, the party will survive. From 1979 – 1997, despite loss after loss, trapped in a wilderness of its own making, the party still survived and then thrived. It may not be a reassuring thought that the Tories could again rule for two decades, realistically more like three, but eventually Labour will again be in government. It is easy to forget that political parties go through these phases; the Tories had thirteen years in opposition until 2010 and have technically only won one election since then (if you base victory on a party securing a parliamentary majority), yet are now seeing a resurgence.
This should not, however, undermine the significant problems the party will face in the near future. The next few years will be an uphill struggle for Labour, next year’s local elections will likely show a decline in its support in the County Councils, followed by underwhelming results in the 2018-2019 election cycles before a potentially destructive general election result in 2020. Even though future elections may not be this dire, Labour is still significantly divided; its MPs do not trust Corbyn’s leadership and are fearful of deselection, over 190,000 of the party’s selectorate did not vote for him with many seemingly jumping ship and his pre-re-election pledge to do nothing different is hardly reassuring for the party’s future success.
Even with all of this pain that will likely emerge before 2020, it is still not enough to doom the party. A peace deal, no matter how unpalatable, will be found that may just save the skins of some Labour MPs (at least from deselection) and hopefully more focused campaigns that can help unify the party to a point. Further to this, the developing movement of ‘Labour First’ will likely keep many moderates still interested and determined, emboldened no doubt by their technical majority on the NEC, the ruling board of the party.
Ultimately, before or most likely after the 2020 election, Corbyn will have gone and the glorious dream over. Hopefully by then moderates will have galvanised themselves to once again become a dominant voice, changing the party’s course. A long and painful road lies ahead but, like it did by 1997, the party will restore itself and return to government. I just hope the country does not suffer as much as I fear it will in the meantime.
(Image courtesy of Jeff J Mitchells)