Labour needs leadership – Corbyn can’t; Smith can

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

The Labour Party is facing an existential crisis. The party is deeply divided between a wing of progressives who are actively seeking to win a general election in order to achieve real, tangible change and the far left whose politics appears to be that of protest and not of effective opposition.

I preface this article by stating that I gave Jeremy Corbyn my second preference vote in the 2015 Labour leadership election, thus, I would have been partly responsible for his rise to power had the election gone to a second round of voting. As it happened, he won on first preferences with an impressive 59% of those eligible to vote. I, like many others, was partially taken in my Jeremy’s apparently optimistic vision for what the Labour Party could be. I share several of Corbyn’s ideals, but now is not a time for idealism, now is a time for realism. I feel that Jeremy Corbyn cannot continue to be the leader of the Labour Party, as if he does, I believe we could be committing the Labour Party to a state of decline which would be overwhelmingly difficult to reverse.

The first and most fundamental point to make is that whoever is leading the Labour Party has a huge challenge ahead of them. We now stand in third place in Scotland, which means we would need to achieve a 12% swing in England to achieve the most modest of majorities in a general election. This is a significant mountain to climb for any leader and Jeremy Corbyn has failed to even approach the foothills. We are shedding voters rapidly in Northern England to UKIP, principally through perceived fears around uncontrolled immigration.  Following Nigel Farage’s resignation as leader, a less divisive figure fronting UKIP could help the party to gain ground in what has historically been a regional Labour stronghold. Labour are currently polling 11% behind the Conservatives nationally and are notably only currently ahead in one region: the North.

Corbyn is a decent, principled man who has been a champion of several worthy causes during his time on the backbenches. Here lies the issue, though. Corbyn has shown himself to represent the politics of placards and protest rather than providing a coherent narrative as to how a Labour government led by him would seek to change these issues. Owen Smith on the other hand, is also left-wing, but has a much more nuanced approach to policy change within the political system we have in the UK. He recognises that the only way we can seek to achieve the sufficient change we need is through winning a general election. Jeremy Corbyn had to be dragged kicking and screaming into stating that he one day wished to be Prime Minister. A reluctant leader is no leader at all.

I met Owen Smith when I was campaigning in the Vale of Glamorgan in the run up to the Welsh Assembly elections earlier this year. In between canvassing door-to-door, he told me that he had decided to serve under Jeremy Corbyn because of his huge mandate from the party membership. During this conversation, it became evident to me that Smith respected Corbyn’s mandate but now, following the EU referendum campaign and Jeremy’s record in Parliament over the last 9 months has failed to resemble that of a credible Prime Minister in waiting.

Smith has a majority of support from the parliamentary Labour Party. This mandate comes directly from those with a great deal of experience as to how to win elections within their own constituencies. Alongside this, he has shown his clear anti-austerity credentials, given his pledge to invest £200 billion into the infrastructure of the UK economy in order for us to grow our way out of deficit, instead of endlessly cutting public services and selling off state assets through Conservative austerity. I think this shows the die-hard fans of Corbyn that Owen Smith is not your enemy. Far from it. He would provide a better and distinctly different way forward with real leadership.

Alongside this, we need to consider our media strategy. It is insanely naive to ignore the fact that Labour currently has little or no media strategy other than the keyboard warrior style antics of Momentum activists. This is our wake-up call. The electorate is not effectively represented on social media. Whilst some on the left of politics may rightly feel the press can give us a rough ride, an effective media strategy has to lie at the heart of any Labour leadership team. Corbyn professes to be a champion of accountability, yet time and time again he has refused to participate in Q+A sessions with the press following public appearances and several political correspondents have cited the recent lack of press releases coming from Labour HQ. This cannot continue. Whatever our message may be, we need to get this across to a wider audience than merely the party membership.

Jeremy Corbyn did receive a huge mandate last Sepetember, but it is not anti-democratic to challenge this mandate if a significant proportion of MPs and party members feel he is not fulfilling the vision he professed to be able to achieve. Indeed, Jeremy Corbyn himself backed a coup against former leader Neil Kinnock in 1988. Labour MPs have a much greater mandate from the wider electorate which we will have to keep on side at the next general election. And, to those who call the 172 MPs who deposed Corbyn in a vote of no confidence “careerist” and “self-serving”: how can all 172 of these individuals be careerist? How also, as asserted by many, can they all be blairite? Many of the MPs who have spoken out against Corbyn are far from fans of Tony Blair.

I’d like to close this article by making a wider point. I’m genuinely fearful for the future. Not just the future of the Labour Party, but more importantly the future of our country. The rhetoric coming from both the far right and the far left of British politics is, in places, becoming vile. Addressing the latter of the two, I find it perplexing that those activists who consistently claim to want unity within the Labour Party branding those arguing for a different path as “blairite scum”, “neoliberal stooges”, and far worse, nonpunishable insults. It does not make somebody a Tory to visualise a different way forward for Labour. Jeremy Corbyn’s failure to comprehensively address the hatred which has been directed at Labour MPs and members over the last few months has been shameful. If anything, this alone shows his lack of leadership. He has a duty of care to his whole membership and he has failed in his position.

I gave Jeremy Corbyn my second preference vote last year because I thought he was an honourable man. Today, in my mind, he is no longer worthy of being called “honourable” as he has failed to step aside in the national interest. It’s time we stopped talking to a select, relatively minuscule, proportion of society and start to win back power to achieve the kinds of changes I joined the Labour Party to enact.

You can volunteer to get involved with Owen Smith’s leadership campaign here. For further updates on the Labour leadership contest, you can follow us on Twitter @DarrowUK, or follow me @William_Hingley.

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About William Hingley 9 Articles
William is a Geography graduate at Aberystwyth University, currently studying for an MA in Regional and Environmental Policy. Will is also a passionate environmentalist with a keen interest in UK political affairs.

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