The Conservative Party may be in disarray over the EU but that’s nothing compared to the division seen within the Labour Party in the 6 months since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader. Every issue of significance which is debated in the House of Commons seems to require a deliberation as to whether the leader holds the same position as the majority of his backbenchers and even most of his frontbenchers. Talk of a leadership challenge has shadowed the entirety of Corbyn’s short premiership with the question seemingly not if a coup will come, but when. Dan Jarvis threw his hat into the ring on Thursday, with a speech which had echoes of Tony Blair, but will a new leader even solve the problems facing Labour?
Leadership aside, Labour has some huge hurdles to overcome before the 2020 general election. The ‘full of what we already knew’ Beckett report into Labour losing the 2015 general election does contain one particularly shocking paragraph. The boundary changes which will undoubtedly come into force by the time of the 2020 general election could reduce the party’s meager 232 seats to 220 before a single vote is cast. Alongside this, throw in an estimated 1.5 million additional over 65s to the mix, the Tories will automatically accrue 570,000 extra votes if they maintain their current vote share. Beckett also highlights the predicted growth of the private sector in comparison to the public sector, increasing the number of workers statistically more likely to put their cross in a Conservative box over a Labour one. As if all of these factors weren’t enough, if Labour fails to regain ground in Scotland (which is looking less and less likely every passing day) a swing of 12.5% from the Tories would be required in England to have any hope of securing even the smallest of parliamentary majorities.
Why do I sound so doom and gloom? I have been, and remain to this day, a proud Labour member, having been inspired by the leadership of Tony Blair (as unfashionable as it is to admit this these days) and, dare I say it, Ed Miliband’s premiership. Since May 8th 2015, I’ve tried to see a way through the wilderness that is Labour’s electoral challenges and the future appears bleak. The electorate didn’t trust Labour on the economy or on leadership in 2015, so why would they trust us when we take three days to perform a shadow cabinet reshuffle and appear unable to effectively cost our economic policies in a relatable way?
Many have stated that the leadership contest following Ed Miliband’s resignation inspired many on the left who had previously been disillusioned by Westminster politics. I agree, I felt a sense of change that I hadn’t witnessed before – political rallies that the Westminster ‘elite’ could only dream of. Despite this, style does not replace substance. You cannot expect to bring the electorate around to a ‘new politics’ and then refuse to take questions at the end of a speech to the Fabian Society and turn down an opportunity to speak at the CBI. Labour needs business to be on side before any swing voter will ever consider trusting us on the economy again. he mountain we have to climb is unfathomable.
It appears to me that Labour’s only current chance of being trusted on the economy is the advent of the next financial crash, for which the Tories would, wrongly or rightly, be blamed. This does not mean I am sat at home waiting for global economic rumblings to strike George Osborne down – a financial crash would be hugely damaging for many of the people who support us. My point is to argue that if this is our only hope of electoral success, we are in a dire situation with no easy way out. Some may say that a scandal in the Conservative party could tip the polls if Cameron were to be ousted, yet the number of credible potential future leaders in comparison to the reluctant opposition benches renders this hope futile.
Deposing Corbyn and replacing him with a less divisive figurehead (the most likely of whom appear to be Hilary Benn, Dan Jarvis and Chuka Umunna) is not likely to solve all of these issues but Labour has never been in greater need of unity. This Conservative government needs a strong opposition or we risk turning the UK into a one-party state. Currently, Labour appears to be arguing with itself more often than it is effectively holding the government to account. As principled and inherently good a man Corbyn appears to be, a leader of any political leaning who is unable to command the unity of his/her party is not a leader who is going to be able to win big in 2020.