Politics is a closed shop. This is one of the messages of the current Labour leadership contest, in which some potential Labour supporters have been out priced from voting.
Non-members or members who joined after January were made to pay £25 to apply to be a registered supporter if they wanted to buy a ballot in the upcoming leadership contest. Potential supporters were given one week to scrape together this fee. As many as 180,000 people have signed up to vote – so what’s the problem? The issue is the cost has been hiked up by almost eight times the original amount from last September – from £3 to £25 – at a time when 11.6 million people are experiencing in-work poverty. This is not the decision of a party on track to help people in poverty.
They made sure there was no way around this fee. A fund set up to help people who couldn’t afford to vote in the leadership election was shut down after the NEC found it to be in contravention of Labour’s rules, voting through affiliated organisations and unions was reserved for people who had signed up before January. The aim of these rules was to disenfranchise people who want to sign up to vote for Corbyn. The result was it made it harder for people on lower incomes to participate in Labour politics – the same people the party claim to represent.
This speaks to one of the party’s big problems: its propensity for navel gazing. Focused on its own future, Labour has a tendency to seem inaccessible for “normal” people. Look at the coup itself. Labour MPs chose the immediate days after the Brexit vote to launch a destabilising attacked on Jeremy Corbyn. This was their moment; a time when the Tories were in a unique crisis, xenophobia was tumbling out into the streets and the pound was plummeting. This should have been a time for Labour to be in their element – to come together behind their leader (even if momentarily) and capitalise on this disarray.
But there were no words of calm for the public and no stinging criticisms of the Tories. Labour sought to engineer it’s own crisis through a poorly executed plan. It took over two weeks for someone to challenge Corbyn, in that time the Tories had lost a Prime Minister and appointed a new one. Then when Angela Eagle stuck her head above the parapet to throw her hat in the ring, she wound up sacrificed in favour of a man – Owen Smith. In short, the coup has been a strategic mess.
There are surely problems with Corbyn’s leadership, for which he alone is not responsible. There are big questions to ask about strategy and communications. But the current debate is all wrong. From near electoral collapse in Scotland to UKIP sweeping up votes in the north, Corbyn did not create all of Labour’s current failings. There seems to be almost no recognition from the Parliamentary Labour Party that many of the people who’ve been itching to overthrow Corbyn since the day he was elected are the same people who watched as the rot set in across Labour’s so-called heartlands. They arrogantly thought voters have nowhere else to go. How wrong they were. But few of the rebels seem to have any meaningful response to this electoral landscape, vastly altered from the last time Labour was in power.
The issues that plague Labour will not disappear if Owen Smith is leader. There are no quick fixes to the party’s problems and if its response to this crisis is to try and disenfranchise potential supporters, they have some serious thinking to do.