It's been a tough week for the Labour Party, that much is obvious. The result in Stoke was a relief but the swing away from us was worrying, while Copeland was nothing short of a disaster - no opposition party had lost a seat to the government since 1982, and that doesn't really count since Mitcham and Morden was a very marginal seat and this was during the Falklands War, at the peak of Thatcher's popularity; one has to go back to 1878 to find a similar scenario.
There have been many excuses made by those at the top of the Labour Party. Cat Smith described only losing by just over 2,000 votes in a seat we had held for over 80 years to the government as an incredible achievement. Shami Chakrabarti said that the voters of Copeland were so angry with the establishment that they voted for the Conservative government because for them Labour represented the establishment: a not-so-subtle dig at the former MP Jamie Reed, who was in fact very popular compared to his predecessor. John McDonnell, in true John McDonnell style, blamed New Labour – apparently it's Tony Blair's fault that we lost votes in 2010, 2015 and 2017, years when he wasn't involved in British politics at all because we were steadily losing votes from 1997. This is ridiculous; Blair won on a message of change in 1997, but, like any government in power for a while, his Labour Party lost votes over time, as some people weren't as impressed by it in power as they were by the vision of 1997 and desired another change in direction for the country, but this is only natural when you're in power for 10 years! As someone once pointed out, remembering Blair as a man who lost millions of votes is like remembering Edmund Hillary as a man who climbed down a tall mountain.
The Messiah himself, Jeremy Corbyn, says he's going nowhere, which is puzzling for a man who openly admitted in 2015 that he didn't particularly want to be Labour leader; one would think he'd be searching for a way out. But no. When asked if he'd even considered whether he played a part in the loss of Copeland, he replied, 'No. Next question.' One can only presume that his spin doctor Seamus Milne thought this would sound tough but in fact it sounded arrogant and out of touch - he was even criticised by supporter Giles Fraser, who, in an otherwise dull article warning of the return of the terrifying Blairites and their election-winning ways, condemned Mr Corbyn for failing to engage in self-criticism and humility.
The reason why is clear to me: Jeremy Corbyn knows that if he resigns he will be the last Labour leader from his wing of the party ever. This is because of the Labour Party rules and the way in which he himself was elected. To get on the ballot, a candidate requires 15% of the Parliamentary Labour Party to nominate him or her, which at the moment is equal to 35 MPs. In 2015, Corbyn only just made it on to the ballot because of MPs nominating him to widen the debate, MPs like Margaret Beckett, who later described herself as 'stupid' for having done so. This will clearly never happen again, as MPs won't nominate someone they don't want to be leader - look what happened last time. Because of the 2016 ruling of the Labour NEC which decided the leadership election before it started, a leader doesn't need the nominations to fight off a challenge, so Corbyn could carry on as Leader with the annual leadership election he once claimed to favour for years to come. However, should he resign, his preferred successor, presumably John McDonnell, would have no chance at all of getting 35 MPs to back him; he's even more despised among the PLP than Corbyn.
|John McDonnell has been tipped as a potential successor to Corbyn|
Hence why there exists a proposal dubbed the McDonnell Amendment, which, if passed, would allow a leadership candidate to go on to the members' ballot with just 5% of MPs' support. This would, let's be clear, be a disaster for Labour as a parliamentary party. In a parliamentary democracy it just isn't feasible for a leader to do his job without the support of 95% of his colleagues. The counter argument is simple: it's more democratic for the hundreds of thousands of Labour members like myself who pay their subs every month to choose the leader almost all on their own. But this prioritisation of the membership is what will doom the Labour Party. The membership of the Labour Party, while impressively large for a European political party, represents a tiny fraction of the electorate. Corbyn's 2016 mandate, much boasted about by his acolytes and supporters, was made up of less than 1% of the overall voting population. It is also on average way further to the left than 2015 Labour voters, among whom the leader elected on a landslide by the membership has a negative approval rating - and of course we need more support because we lost pretty badly in 2015 (an election three years before which we won the ominously named Corby constituency with a 10% swing, for comparison).
Having elected a leader who has an approval rating of –40 among the general public, it's clear to anyone that the Labour Party membership does not represent national public opinion at all. On the flip side, Labour MPs know the mood of their constituencies because of their surgeries and other community engagements and, out of pure self-interest (which certainly is not the only thing motivating our hardworking and talented MPs), they would vote for a leader who could win votes in their constituencies, and by extension, other similar constituencies which we have lost since the glory days of '97.
I'm not arguing for the membership's right to choose the leader to be taken away completely. In an ideal world, an amendment would be introduced to force a leader who has lost the confidence of his PLP to get 15% of nominations and perhaps the threshold would even be increased. We could even use the same system as the Tories and let the PLP narrow it down to two candidates for the membership to choose between. However, these wishes are for another day. For now, with the Labour Party where it is, just keeping the current rules is what we must fight for, from constituency parties to the National Conference, if Labour is to rediscover the art of winning elections that it mastered in 1997.
Labour Must Put Voters Before Members if it Ever Wants to be in Power Again | Euan O'Connor Reviewed by Student Voices on 23:20 Rating: