As an inevitable September victory for Jeremy Corbyn awaits, Labour must move forward more united than ever.
The deep chasm dividing the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and Labour membership continues to widen, as Jeremy Corbyn’s second leadership bid appears to be unassailable. In light of accusatory remarks from Deputy Leader Tom Watson that “Trots that have come back to the party” and the insistence of Tristram Hunt, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central, that the top one per cent should take control of Labour because the party “is in the s**t”, it is easy to deduce the membership’s generally negative perception of the PLP. And upon taking into further consideration undemocratic attempts by the Labour NEC to prevent 130,000 newly-registered voters from voting in this month’s leadership election, there is no doubt in my mind that Jeremy Corbyn’s vision for the Labour Party is the only way forward, in spite of dwindling poll numbers.
From the moment Mr Corbyn claimed an unprecedented landslide victory in the Labour leadership election last year, there has been a determined– and frankly, desperate –campaign to systematically undermine his leadership, be it from the media or certain sects of the PLP. Seeing as rumours of a coup emerged as early as July 2015 – preceding his election – the recent attempt to oust Mr Corbyn should come as no surprise. As we weigh the odds stacked against him from day one, why does Mr Corbyn continue to garner twice the support of Owen Smith, the Labour MP for Pontypridd who is his challenger in the upcoming Labour leadership election?
From gaining 84.4 per cent of CLP nominations to increasing Labour membership to its highest since the late ‘70s, Jeremy Corbyn has enthused voters in a way recent former Labour leaders never could. If anything, Labour lost the previous two elections due to its formerly centrist, pro-austerity policies. As journalist Owen Jones wrote recently, the rise of Jeremy Corbyn stemmed from anti-establishment sentiments and a desire for a true left wing opposition – something a former Pfizer lobbyist like Mr Smith is unlikely to resonate with. By eliminating a democratically elected leader ousted by the establishment, the Labour membership would be bound to suffer an alarming decrease – hence eliminating any possibility of increasing political engagement between the PLP and Labour membership. In effect, disillusioned voters would not be as willing to engage with another leader. Considering the triumph of Brexit due to anti-establishment sentiments, it appears unwise to oust a leader who resonates with the membership.
And Owen Smith, it must be noted, seems unlikely to make any positive impact considering his stance on the recent Brexit vote. In the second Labour leadership hustings, Mr Smith was seen refusing to accept the outcome of the referendum whilst questioning Mr Corbyn’s “lukewarm” campaign. Furthermore, Mr Smith chose to speculate on Mr Corbyn’s reaction to the Brexit vote during the recent Glasgow hustings — in addition to calling into question whether Mr Corbyn actually voted to remain. Mr Corbyn, on the other hand, has continuously acknowledged the will of the majority to leave the EU, rather than crafting ad hominem attacks designed to weaken his competitor. Despite the disagreement of most Labour voters with the outcome of the referendum, we must acknowledge the veracity of the anti-establishment vote with nuance instead of outright petulance.
Statistics do not lie – or do they?
The coup appears to be nothing more than a convenient excuse to conduct an ill-constructed plan. Whilst supporters like myself are not unaware of his lack of outward “enthusiasm” during the EU referendum campaign, facts remain facts: two-thirds of Labour supporters voted to remain, something the Conservatives are unable to claim, with approximately two-thirds voting to leave the EU. In the London Borough of Islington – to which Mr Corbyn’s constituency of Islington North belongs – 75.2 per cent of votes were to remain. Upon closer inspection, it is hard to believe that Mr Corbyn should bear the blame for the outcome of the EU referendum. A just deconstruction of this fallacious claim is seen in an article by John Curtice, on why former Conservative Prime Minister, David Cameron, is to be blamed — not Mr Corbyn. Mr Curtice notes that several polls indicated a sharp decline in Conservative support for remain during the campaign. On the contrary, Labour managed to maintain a stable amount of remain votes throughout — in the face of a nationwide decline in pro-remain support.
Notably, there is an argument being made by anti-Corbyn proponents regarding his plummeting poll numbers against the new Conservative Prime Minister, Theresa May. This, however, should be taken with a pinch of salt. As noted by YouGov’s Anthony Wells, every new leader in British history since James Callaghan has enjoyed a honeymoon surge in poll ratings. Furthermore, Mr Wells wisely postulates that this positive pattern is caused by a lack of time to ascertain the new leader’s competence. Thus, a reasonable assessment of Mr Corbyn’s electability based on Prime Minister May’s current boost in poll ratings would require more time.
In fact, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has not been the striking disaster hoped for by many. In a Britain Elects poll released post-Brexit on 26th June, Labour was neck-and-neck with the Tories. The self-inflicted destruction by a specific set of the PLP, however, has caused a stark reduction in poll ratings, as seen in another Britain Elects poll, post-attempted coup. Arguably, Labour would stand a legitimate chance of victory under Mr Corbyn if he had the backing of the PLP. More importantly, Labour needs a clear direction – one without petty internal arguments. If the constant undermining seen throughout Mr Corbyn’s tenure continues, the party does not stand a chance to win the next general election.
With that being said, Owen Smith gives off the impression of being a moderately competent politician – despite his ludicrous comment about getting the so-called Islamic State around the table with the UK. Given another political climate, he would have been a reasonable choice. As Paul Newman once said, however, “I have steak at home. Why should I go out for a hamburger?” With the meteoric rise of solid left-wing policies, it is time for Labour to continue its journey toward reviving the democratic socialist ideals it was founded upon. Only time can tell, but there seems to be no one more suited to that task than Jeremy Corbyn.