Labour Leadership Crisis: What is the problem?

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'Houses of Parliament' / CC
Photograph: 'Houses of Parliament' / CC / CC

In the Labour Party split, there are two main factions that formed after the general election. They both hold different outlooks on the same conventional wisdom in British politics. This division derives from those who are seen as more left within the party and those that are seen as more moderate. The conventional narrative of British politics, which both sides have a different reading of, is that the Labour party was unelectable for 18 years because of disputes over how left wing or moderate the party should be. The party took unpopular far left policies thereby ruining its electability.

This narrative is what has pushed the party to see the situation with two different truths. The moderates read the Corbyn left, as disconnected with what the country would desire and is unelectable, just like the Labour of the 80s. The more left-wing in the party see Corbyn as having formed a different left. The similarities between them and 80s Labour are not problematic because the change in the world since the Cold war has made it so the issues should be viewed in a different light, such as nuclear disarmament.

On the Corbyn remain side, he wants to defend the left and its reputation. He worries that if he loses power, the narrative will remain, possibly forever. This is part of the reason why he and his team are so entrenched in their position to challenge any contenders for the leadership.

However, his leadership has been questionable. He has portrayed himself as different, perhaps even revolutionary, as exemplified in his first Prime Minister’s questions and the hype around his change to British politics. His honest, straight-talking politics has the problem that it indirectly means an unwavering conviction in many areas. He is seen to have longstanding, non-negotiable principles, almost a relic in politics, who has always stood for the same thing. This causes uninclusive leadership, which is viewed as unable to change by the moderates, which has encouraged the uncompromising challenge to his leadership.

This is not to say that Corbyn has not had success, as he has been immensely popular for some. Those who support him, support him in almost a cult-like manner. Intentionally or not, he has been made a figurehead of a new movement. Since the start of his leadership, he has been portrayed as different. His policies are often accredited to him and not to the party as a whole, creating further distance between himself and the moderates. As a result, he has built up a following that wants nothing but Corbyn. This will prove problematic if Corbyn is to step down. In this scenario, Corbyn will be obliged to endorse another leader in order to overcome this obstacle and ensure the success of a future Labour movement.

On the moderate side, they are worried they will be stuck with Corbyn until the next general election. Convinced by the unelectable narrative, they are blind to seeing any positive results in the Corbyn leadership, such as the membership mobilisation and increased vote shares in elections which have assisted the Labour party’s popularity in some areas.

Tactically, the best chance to undertake a change in the Labour party leadership is now. Driving their ambition in ousting Corbyn while the Tories are weak and having their own divisions and so, relatively, avoid damage to the party’s image. Additionally, the Conservatives will make a limited amount of decisions while their leadership race is underway. So calls that a strong opposition is needed now more than ever are an exaggeration as their function will be limited while there are no decisions being made.

The excuse that Corbyn provided no leadership in the referendum campaign is rather unjustified as most of us hardly saw any of the PLP at all in the campaign. Instead, much of the PLP have bought into the conventional wisdom first, then have sought to find excuses to oust him.  

However, some concerns that mirror the 1981 split are justified, such as reopening the Falklands dispute, has little public support and many fear they affect his electability and representation of Labour voters, not just members.

Still fresh in the memory of the PLP, and reinforcing their reading of the conventional narrative, is the perceived problem of Ed Miliband’s leadership: that he was unelectable. People just could not see him as Prime Minister. They fear the same is for Corbyn and want a better leader.

However, the fundamental flaw in the coup is that there is no figurehead or leader. I put this down to the fact that the PLP also have no idea where the direction of the party should move. It seems they are just certain that they do not want Corbyn. Angela Eagle, identified as the possible challenger, seems to have very similar qualities to Miliband and would not solve the electability issues. If she were to become the leader, I think we would see the same problems arise down the line, with the issue of electability.

Ultimately, if we separate the people from the problem and focus on the aims of the party for the next general election, there is not much difference in the party on priorities. They need to recognise this if the party is to continue united, whoever is in charge. These main priorities are: that all want to make sure that the inevitable cuts and tax rises, made by the Tories in the post-Brexit economic shock, do not affect the most vulnerable people in our society; that they protect all working rights from the EU and continue to encourage more working rights to be made; and to protect and improve the quality of our public services. These are where the party can unite.

Both sides must come out of their entrenched positions. If Corbyn remains, his leadership style will need to change and some of his policies too, especially on foreign policy. If there is a new leader, they must look Prime Ministerial, not deviate too much from Corbyn’s policies and portray themselves as the middle ground between the members and the PLP. Whoever the new leader, Corbyn will have to endorse them and potentially attain a high position in the shadow cabinet in hopes of protecting his left’s credibility.

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About Luke Osborne 5 Articles
Luke Osborne is currently studying for an undergraduate degree in politics at the university of Kent. He has a keen interest in the politics of the European Union, identity and multiculturalism.

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