Archive for the 'Labour leadership' Category

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Unite’s election could be a game changer for Corbyn

Thursday, January 5th, 2017

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Don Brind on the big LAB movement battle

If Len McCluskey had had his way, Jeremy Corbyn would never have become Labour leader. The general secretary of Unite opposed the Miliband reforms to Labour’s election system that gave the serial rebel a path to the job he’d never dreamt of doing.

After his second landslide in 2016 Corbyn looked unassailable. The official line from the Team Corbyn, as well as senior figures like deputy leader Tom Watson, is that the leadership issue is “settled”.

McCluskey’s decision to trigger an early election for his job as Unite General Secretary by resigning and standing again has left things looking very unsettled.

Those Labour MPs – a large majority – who hope for a new leader to take them into the 2020 General Election are delighted as the development. One veteran Left winger and Unite member said McCluskey’s defeat by Midlands regional secretary Gerard Coyne would be a “game changer” for the party. But he has warned MPs not to get too closely involved in the contest because it would undermine Coyne’s key charge against McCluskey that he is too involved in Labour politics.

Central to Coyne’s campaign is pushing up turnout from the 15% in 2013 when McCluskey easily saw off a challenge from the Left winger Jerry Hicks by 144,570 votes to 79,819. This time the Left challenge comes from Fujitsu worker Ian Allison  He accuses McCluskey of “backsliding” on the issue of immigration and is clearly pitching for the votes of Corbyn supporters.

Can McCluskey be beaten? Yes, according to a Coyne strategy paper reported by the Independent.  It says that if turnout is low like in 2013, “Len wins again (probably). If we make it 20 per cent, it’s too close to call, if we make it 25 per cent or more we win.”

But even if McCluskey is re-elected it seems the clock is ticking on Corbyn’s leadership. His remarks in an interview with the Mirror was reported by Labour List as a signal that Corbyn could be gone in time for a 2020 General Election. McCluskey told the Mirror:

“Let’s suppose we are not having a snap election. It buys into this question of what happens if we get to 2019 and opinion polls are still awful.The truth is everybody would examine that situation, including Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell …. These two are not egomaniacs, they are not desperate to cling on to power for power’s sake.”

Although McCluskey denounced “media spin” and insisted “as well as my full support Jeremy Corbyn has support of our elected executive who actually make decisions for Unite”, he is not alone among Corbyn supporters in recognising that dire poll rating could lead to his demise. Before Christmas,  Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said that the ratings needed to improve “within the coming 12 months,”. She was quickly followed by former London mayor Ken Livingstone who said: “If in a year’s time it’s still as bad as this, I think we would all be worried.”

If McCluskey, Abbott and Livingstone are worried Corbyn should be too.

Don Brind



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When LAB eventually gets over its Corbyn-madness Keir Starmer would be an effective replacement

Wednesday, January 4th, 2017

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Nobody knows when Corbyn is finally going to step down but that surely is bound to happen in the not-too distant future. At some point the party will get over its temporary madness and decide that winning elections is once again a priority.

How and when that will happen is hard to predict. His uber-loyalists won’t have anything said against their man and woe betide anyone, as I’ve discovered in the past 24 hours, who raises doubts about JC’s electability.

I was one of the guests on Newsnight’s first programme of 2017 and made comments about the current leader’s electability that have sparked off attacks on me. Sobeit.

Looking round the one LAB figure who appears like a leader and is now clear favourite in the betting is Keir Starmer – the shadow BREXIT secretary – a position that should ensure that he gets a lot of coverage in the coming months. The problem with betting at this stage is that there is simply too much uncertainty.

Some bookies now have him down as tight as 11/2.

Mike Smithson




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Back Sadiq Khan as Next Labour Leader at 33/1

Saturday, December 17th, 2016

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He is well positioned to win a 2020 contest

Who would have thought a year ago that as 2016 draws to a close, both Nigel Farage and David Cameron would have departed the stage while Jeremy Corbyn looks all the more secure in post? It’s a salutary reminder that there are always risks in getting too far ahead of ourselves. But where there are risks, so there are opportunities.

At the risk of setting up an almighty hostage to fortune, I don’t believe that there’s any way that Jeremy Corbyn can win a general election. He is quite simply unelectable. His values and history do not match far too many people’s and he has the skills and temperament of a back-bench rebel, not a leader. Labour, under the right leader, certainly could be electable – the Conservatives have a tough job negotiating the shifting sands of Brexit while keeping the economy, health, education and the rest (prisons, for example) ticking along – but Corbyn isn’t.

So the first big question in trying to hazard a guess at who might replace Corbyn is when it will happen. It could well be in Summer 2020; it might be earlier. If it is earlier, it can only be because either someone has mounted a successful challenge, because Corbyn has vacated the post or because of an early election. The memories of this year’s challenge will, however, scar and there can realistically only be one more challenge this parliament. If it is to work, it’ll need to be by a heavyweight and it’ll need Labour members’ opinions to move from where they are now. Of the two, I’m not convinced that any of Labour’s mainstream big-hitters have the desire to run the risk.

The chances of Corbyn standing down are higher but still not particularly strong. If he can weather a storm like last summer, facing down mass resignations from his cabinet, an overwhelming vote of no confidence from his MPs and a full-on leadership challenge, he’s unlikely to quit easily in the future. Yes, he might be double digits behind in the polls but the far left have the leadership and only need to get lucky once to win the big one.

I certainly wouldn’t rule out either pre-2020 departure scenario but by some way the more likely date is immediately after an election defeat after a full parliament. Of course, were he to win, the betting market (and much else) would be utterly transformed. Again though, let’s set an appropriate percentage against that contingency and then file it away for now.

So, who would be well-placed to succeed after a defeat, perhaps a catastrophic one? To my mind, Sadiq Khan looks a decent bet. He does have the disadvantage that he’s not in the Commons at the moment, though that also means that he’s spared having to choose between openly rebelling, equivocating and becoming a Corbynite lapdog.

As Mayor of London, he has a powerful independent position from where he can promote his own brand of Labour politics direct to a very large proportion of the Labour membership. So far, he seems to be doing well. His term also conveniently ends at the same time that the next parliament starts. Boris proved that it’s possible to re-enter the Commons even while Mayor; Sadiq wouldn’t even have to double-hat.

Would he want to return? He seems ambitious enough to aspire to the top job but he’s only 46 and could easily run for and win a second term; national ambitions could then wait until after the 2025 election, assuming no early polls. However, were he playing that long game, he’d have to factor into his thinking the two outer scenarios: on the one hand, that Labour might win in 2025, in which case there’d probably be no vacancy until he was about to turn sixty at the earliest; on the other, that if Corbyn’s successor went from bad to worse, there might not be a Labour Party worth taking over. And to wait over eight years gives huge scope for talent to come through. 2020 is the better bet for him by some way.

If 2020 is the date and if Sadiq is a candidate, how would he do? Obviously, there’s a lot of water to flow under the bridge between now and then but he looks to me like the kind of unity candidate that a party looking to put pieces back together again could go for. He shouldn’t struggle for nominations and, as mentioned, should start with a natural advantage given the weight of London’s vote. Certainly, for the bet to come in requires quite a lot to line up. On the other hand, at 33/1 with Bet365, you’d be well rewarded.

David Herdson





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Joff Wild says keep an eye on Keir

Sunday, October 9th, 2016

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If the Holborn and St Pancras MP is not the first to leave the shadow cabinet, his new Brexit role makes him a decent outside bet in the Labour leadership stakes, writes Joff Wild

With Tory ministers briefing against each other as they fall out over Brexit and the Trump campaign seemingly on the verge of implosion in the US, the recent Corbyn Labour shadow cabinet reshuffle has, understandably, not grabbed many of the headlines. But it is noteworthy, nonetheless.

Emboldened by his recent convincing re-election, Corbyn – who yesterday was speaking at an event organised by the Socialist Workers Party, much to the chagrin of some of his media supporters – has put together the front bench team he believes will take the battle to the Tories and defeat them. So, alongside the IRA-apologist shadow Chancellor and the white van man-trashing shadow foreign secretary – who both kept their briefs – in came a Mao-apologist as shadow home secretary and an anti-Trident campaigner in the shadow defence role; the latter replacing Clive Lewis, who had the temerity to suggest supporting party policy at the Labour conference.

Some may say that these appointments reflect the views of a man who is totally incapable of leaving his comfort zone and who is utterly removed from the realities of British politics, but I could not possibly comment. All I would say is that they are the choices Corbyn has made; they were not forced on him, they are entirely his responsibility. He has the people he wants sitting by his side. That this has precipitated another falling out with the parliamentary party and a possible mass exodus from the whips office is by the by – Jeremy has his team and an extra NEC seat, and that is what matters.

In the great scheme of things, the make-up of an opposition frontbench that no-one seriously believes has a chance of ever replacing the government is no great shakes; and that may explain why – as yet – there do not seem to be any betting opportunities on who may be first to leave the shadow cabinet. What’s more, given Corbyn’s lack of support-base in the PLP his room for manoeuvre in terms of hiring and firing is severely limited: if he were to sack a shadow frontbencher, it’s not clear there would be anyone available to fill the gap. But if an exit book is to be put together, there is a stand-out candidate for the favourite’s slot.

It would be fair to say that the one Corbyn appointment last week which attracted praise from across the Labour party was Keir Starmer’s as the shadow Brexit minister. As a QC and a former director of public prosecutions, the MP for Holborn and St Pancras (the constituency in which I was born and raised) is well-qualified to offer forensic examination of the government’s plans for leaving the European Union.

In taking Brexit away from Emily Thornberry, Corbyn showed an unexpected and welcome ability to put the good of the country first. Alongside Hillary Benn, who is expected to chair the Commons Brexit select committee, Starmer could form a formidable team to provide a voice for the many millions of Remain voters who are currently watching, wide-eyed and open-mouthed, as debate inside the Conservative party begins to boil down to just how hard Brexit should be.

However, I used the word “could” advisedly; for there are plenty of reasons to believe that somewhere down the line Corbyn or McDonnell will do something that flies directly in the face of what Starmer is seeking to achieve. As anyone who followed the leadership election will know, a string of ex-shadow cabinet ministers told the same, depressing story about how they were undermined by the leader’s office or by the shadow Chancellor; about how policy was made without consultation, about a total lack of communication and about the complete dysfunctionality of the decision-making process. That is not going to change – Corbyn and McDonnell are what they are.

What’s more, neither the Labour leader nor the shadow Chancellor give any impression of being remotely interested in the UK remaining part of the single market; while for many years they were avowed Euro-sceptics who saw the EU as a right-wing, business-friendly institution that stood in the way of the implementation of socialist policies at the national level. While claiming to have changed their minds about EU membership, their low-key presences during the referendum campaign told a different story, as did their undermining of Labour’s Remain strategy. And who can forget that just hours after the referendum result became known Corbyn was live on national television calling for Article 50 to be invoked immediately?

Now, it could be that Corbyn and McDonnell are right about the EU, but that is not the point here. Instead, it is that their views are very different to Starmer’s and their history shows that they have a persistent habit of developing policy and making pronouncements without consulting colleagues. I suggest that probably sooner rather than later this is bound to happen on Brexit. If it does, Starmer is strong enough in his constituency party – where is very well liked – to have the confidence to walk away. He is not someone who need fear reselection; while, a few adjustments aside, Holborn & St Pancras is unaffected by the boundary review.

With Brexit so high profile, views so opposed and passions around it so intense, I don’t see how a confrontation – accidental or otherwise – between the Labour leadership and the shadow Brexit minister can be avoided; so once the odds appear, my money will be on Starmer to be the first to leave the shadow cabinet.

But there is an alternative scenario. Corbyn and McDonnell could shock me and pursue a collegiate approach. They could give Keir Starmer the space and the authority he will require to develop a strong, credible Labour line. Who knows, Starmer may find enough Tories agreeing with him to force the government into making concessions to get its plans through the Commons. If that happens, with Brexit set to dominate all political discourse for the foreseeable future, we will be seeing a lot of the media-friendly Starmer over the coming few years. That will raise his profile considerably – both inside Labour and in the country generally. Should he enjoy a level of success, that will do him no harm at all.

I believe that the next Labour leader will be a woman, but with Stan James currently offering 20-1 I will be putting a few speculative quid on Starmer, too – I might just win; that is, if I have not already collected my winnings on his shadow cabinet departure.

Joff Wild

 




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Is peace breaking out in the Labour party? Don Brind hopes he’s not indulging in wishful thinking.

Thursday, October 6th, 2016

“Matt Wrack and I do our bit for Labour unity” was the caption on an arresting Twitter photo montage on the last day of the Labour conference. It showed Richard Angell, the director of Progress, donning firefighter gear for a photocall with the said Matt Wreck — general secretary of the Fire Brigades Union.

What made it interesting is that Angell is the man many Corbynistas love to hate. They regard Progress as indelibly “Blairite”. Wrack is one of the most vocal supporters of Jeremy Corbyn. He was sent out to denounce London Mayor Sadiq Khan when he declared support for Owen Jones in the leadership election. If they were ready to stand shoulder to shoulder was it a sign, I wondered, that peace in Labour ranks was in prospect?

The thought was further encouraged the call from Momentum leader Jon Lansman for an end to the personal animosity between leading figures in the party. “John McDonnell, Tom Watson, Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis, we need you all to work together so Labour can transform Britain.” He specifically rejected the idea of a challenge to Tom Watson for the deputy leadership.

Before anyone accuses me of wishful thinking let me get my confession in first. I am prone to (over)optimism, evidenced by my recent posting suggesting that the leadership election was too close to call and that YouGov might be wrong. I’m happy to report that I have had a polite exchange with Anthony Wells in which I recognised that YouGov have been vindicated.

In reality my hopes for Labour a more nuanced and looking into the future. They are based on the emergence of two leadership contenders who are Corbyn backers but who are capable of reaching out across the party.
Kieran Pedley has noted the leadership potential of Shadow Defence secretary Clive Lewis  but the star of the Labour conference for many was Shadow Education Secretary Angela Rayner . “The teenage mum” earned a rave review from Channel Four’s Cathy Newman in the Telegraph.

My hope is that having kindred spirits like Lewis and Rayner as potential successors may help persuade Jeremy Corbyn that he is an electoral liability to Labour. Team Corbyn are keen to scotch such talk, of course, with Jon Lansman asserting that with a second “mandate” Corbyn, is now “untouchable”. Corbyn’s triumph Owen Smith’s chief number cruncher, Ian Warren, uses the word “unassailable” but adds the important rider “for the time being.”

In a thoughtful analysis of the reasons for Corbyn’s victory Warren says Labour members were reluctant to see Corbyn removed because they felt he was unfairly treated by the PLP. “That doesn’t mean the same reluctance will be there a year from now.”

By then, of course, Theresa May might well have called a General Election. With her metaphorical tanks parked on Labour and Ukip lawns she really does look untouchable and unassailable, doesn’t she?

Don’t be so sure, tweets former Blair and Brown adviser, Theo Bartram. Things can change fast. At the equivalent point in his premiership Gordon Brown swept Labour to 44% — a 13% lead over the Tories. “By the year end we were at 27%,” Bartram recalls.

Now that’s real optimism for you.

Don Brind



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Clive Lewis can be Labour’s future if he plays his cards right

Monday, October 3rd, 2016

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The Shadow Defence Secretary is one to watch after a good conference says Keiran Pedley.

On this week’s PB/Polling Matters podcast I was joined by Leo Barasi and Rob Vance to discuss Labour’s future. You can find the episode below. After a thumping re-election victory Jeremy Corbyn looks here to stay and we discussed where Labour goes from here. Emotions are strong on all sides but clearly some form of accommodation between the leadership and Labour MPs will need to be made so that the party can start looking outwards. How that works in practice remains to be seen.

What is clear is that to all intents and purposes this is a new Labour Party. An ‘exit poll’ conducted by Ian Warren of Election Data via YouGov showed this clearly. Owen Smith won 2:1 among those that had been members at the last General Election but Jeremy Corbyn won 83% of those joining since he became leader. Labour’s challenge now is to harness this new energy in the party in a positive way whilst uniting the party and gaining more support in the country. This will be difficult given Corbyn’s terrible personal poll ratings versus Theresa May butit is the position the party finds itself in.

Elsewhere, one person that had a very good conference is Clive Lewis. The Norwich South MP hit the headlines last week with his apparent furious reaction to having his speech on Trident edited via autocue at the last moment. He has since been attacked at an anti-Tory rally in Birmingham for being disloyal to Jeremy Corbyn. This is clearly ludicrous given that Clive Lewis has done more to get Corbyn elected as leader and keep him there than most although Lewis seems to be taking it well.

He is wise to be relaxed by such criticism. Labour’s future belongs to those that can be seen as the ‘acceptable face of Corbynism’. In loyally serving Corbyn whilst showing a greater degree of pragmatism than his leader (especially on Trident) you get the impression that Lewis could be that face. A little distance from Corbyn is no bad thing for his long term prospects. It is worth remembering that Lewis does not possess the baggage of Corbyn and McDonnell and his service in Afghanistan is of obvious credit to him. He is also well connected in the union movement and a much better media performer than Corbyn.

Leadership material? He is the current 8/1 favourite with Ladbrokes to be the next Labour leader. I can understand the appeal of that bet but I am not so sure he will be the next one. When the day comes that Corbyn goes I can see there being a fair amount of pressure for Labour’s next leader to be a woman. Right now Emily Thornberry (33/1) and Lisa Nandy (who I backed at 25/1 but is now at 20/1) are good bets. Though it isn’t obvious if either wants it.

But Lewis is only 45. He can be the leader after the next one. He clearly has a big future. There is a long way to go of course but he is certainly one to watch. Many will look to the Umunna’s and Khan’s for Labour’s next PM but Lewis can’t be counted out either. It will be fascinating to see how his career develops in the next few years. However, even if he never makes leader, I expect him to be a major figure in Labour’s future. The main thing he has to worry about is keeping his seat.

You can listen to the latest PB/Polling Matters podcast below.

Keiran Pedley tweets and politics and public opinion at @keiranpedley



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Joff Wild says the key to a Labour moderate fightback is understanding the Corbyn tribes

Sunday, September 25th, 2016

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Just because you know something bad is going to happen does not make it less painful when it does. Since the day that the Labour leadership contest was announced I had been pretty sure that Jeremy Corbyn would win again. I knew with absolute certainty that it would be so one Sunday in late August when I went – nervous, but excited – to an Owen Smith phone bank in the upstairs room of a pub around the corner from my house in Leamington, only to find that no-one else had turned up. So, yesterday was no surprise; but it still hurt like hell.

For Labour moderates like me, the question now becomes what happens next. Some have already made their decision – Twitter is full of pictures of torn up membership cards and the hashtag #LeavingLabour. But while I understand such sentiments, I am not ready for that yet.

I may be hopelessly naïve, but I still think there is a chance to pull the party back from the precipice. I hold onto the fact that among long-standing members – the ones that go to all the meetings and vote in all the internal elections – Owen Smith was a clear winner, as he was among those in the 18-24 age bracket. I tell myself that with 194,000 paid members, the Anti-Corbyn Labour Party is now the second biggest political party in the UK. This excellent blog by Nora Mulready pretty much sums up where I am – now is not the time to give up.

I think there are a few practical reasons for hope. Most significant in the short and medium term is that Corbyn and the hard left do not have control of the NEC. Without that it is very difficult to change the party’s rules on issues such as reselecting MPs and how to nominate leadership candidates, or to get rid of Labour staffers like general secretary Iain McNichol. If, as expected, this week’s conference votes to give specific representation to the Scottish and Welsh front benches then the non-Corbyn bloc on the NEC looks like being in a majority for the foreseeable future (and if that does happen, the oft-criticised Kezia Dugdale deserves the lasting thanks of every single person who wants an electable Labour party).

Corbyn’s big NEC problem is that it is divided into different blocs: MPs, the shadow cabinet, the unions, constituency Labour parties, councillors and others all have guaranteed places. The NEC is not elected on one member one vote – the method Corbyn would dearly love to introduce – and that is highly unlikely to change. The unions, for one, would not stand for it.

Then there is Corbyn himself. Yesterday morning, the newly-elected leader was preaching unity, by the evening it was clear he wanted to overturn the NEC vote on Welsh and Scottish representation, while continuing to stall on shadow cabinet elections. Today on the Andrew Marr show he again refused to rule out mandatory reselection of MPs, while being far from furious about the boundary review. These are not the acts of someone looking to bring the party together.

It is also clear that whatever does finally happen with the shadow cabinet, Corbyn is not capable of leading it effectively. Too many on-the-record stories from too many ex-shadow cabinet members (mostly women) speak of the same thing: someone who lives in a bunker, is not collegiate, does not consult and does not abide by majority decisions. That will not change. Neither will Corbyn’s lack of interest in issues that matter greatly to most Labour members, such as Brexit and the new constituency boundaries.

What the leadership campaign exposed was someone who is inflexible in his views, uninterested in engaging with anyone who does not agree with him and who is more concerned with building a social movement than winning power. Those who voted for Corbyn saw this as much as those who did not; which brings me to the Corbyn tribes.

It is common currency to view those who voted to re-elect Corbyn as one bloc of like-minded people. I have been as guilty as anyone; but it is wrong and it is lazy to see things in that way. Instead, Corbyn got backing from different kinds of Labour supporter and it is only when moderates understand this, and absorb it, that they will have a chance. There are, in fact, at least five types of person who voted for Corbyn:

  • The Trots – these are the entryists, the people from the SWP, the Socialist party and other far left fringe groups who see Corbyn as their way into the mainstream. Corbyn, John McDonnell and the Momentum leadership are probably closest to this group than any other, which is what makes it so significant and dangerous – but it is small. The vast majority of Labour members, new or old, are not Trotskyists.
  • The implacable lefties – not Trots, democratic socialists who see the Blair/Brown years largely as a betrayal of what they think Labour should stand for and who feel that they have their Labour party back with Jeremy Corbyn. They see Corbyn’s weaknesses and they are worried by them, but when push comes to shove they will always support him. To do otherwise would be to risk returning Labour to the “Blairites”; and that would be worse than the Tories winning the next general election. This is the Owen Jones camp.
  • The lefties – they do not subscribe to the idea that the 1997-2010 government was to all intents and purposes a Tory one. Instead, they believe that Blair and Brown did some good things; but could and should have achieved much more. They regard Corbyn as a means of ensuring that Labour becomes more left-wing in outlook and less managerial. They also understand Corbyn has many flaws, but for now (key phrase) are prepared to overlook them because they do not see a more electable alternative. I’d say PB’s Nick Palmer belongs to this camp.
  • The angry – there is a fair bit of overlap here between these folk and the lefties. They are furious that the PLP precipitated “a coup” just at a time when, they believe, Labour could have had the Tories on the ropes. Whatever they think about Corbyn, there was no way on earth they were going to allow the PLP to ride roughshod over the mandate that members had given him in 2015.
  • The anti-Smiths – for me, the leadership election was about whether Labour is primarily a party that seeks to gain power through Parliament or is, instead, a social movement. That’s why I voted for Owen Smith, even though he is to the left of me and clearly was not a great candidate. Others, though, saw the contest in terms of who had the best policies for beating the Tories. Some of those are not lefties or angry, but just did not rate Smith as a candidate – so they voted for Corbyn.

The above is crude and if I had more words to play with I would go into more detail and probably break things down further, but you get the picture: the 314,000 votes Corbyn got were not all from the same kind of people. There is no way on God’s earth that the first two categories are redeemable; the following three are: they want a Labour government above all else and will do whatever they can to secure one.

My contention is that over the coming years Corbyn’s words and deeds will alienate more and more of his supporters: this is a man who cannot unite, cannot lead, cannot collaborate and cannot engage with non-believers. Labour will continue to languish in the polls under Corbyn and will continue to do badly in real elections; his personal ratings are unlikely to improve all that much. This will all be happening as the government – mediocre and unloved – continues to flounder over Brexit and panders to the Tory right over issues such as grammar schools. That will concentrate a lot of Labour minds – especially in the unions. But it will not be enough.

Moderates cannot just wait for Corbyn to fail. They also have to reach out, to think through what it is that they want and to develop policy platforms that can win broad support. Corbyn is in place because Labour moderates failed to make their case, because they were too timid, because they took the Labour membership for granted. Managerialism really isn’t the answer; policy and projection are. So, now is not the time to be planning the next leadership contest. Instead, we need to be working to develop a coherent, left of centre vision that reflects the realities of Brexit Britain. It is only when we have done this and stopped seeing the Labour membership as our enemies that we will deserve to succeed.

Joff Wild

 





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The chart from the highly accurate YouGov poll that shows how totally split LAB is

Saturday, September 24th, 2016

It was the newcomers into the party wot did it