Luke Akehurst: As centrists we must find the people and policies to inspire – and reject the politics of electoral suicide

Luke Akehurst


Labour politics is going to get a bit more boring for a while.

Anyone expecting a split or very public infighting between Jeremy Corbyn and his critics in the PLP is going to be disappointed.

Neither side got everything it wanted from the last few months.

Corbyn got a renewed impressive “mandate” from the leadership election.

And his supporters got a narrative they can use to excuse the fact that Labour is now 17 per cent behind the Tories. It’s all apparently the fault of the “coup” that Labour is on its second lowest ICM rating ever since 1992, and the Tories are on their joint second highest rating ever since 1992. They conveniently ignore the polling by YouGov published here that shows that only 16 per cent of people who don’t trust Labour cite the leadership challenge as a reason, while 46 per cent cite weak leadership, 41 per cent/40 per cent cite spending too much in government/borrowing too much, and 40 per cent cite allowing too much immigration.

But inconvenient facts can’t stop a good narrative in the new age of post-fact politics, so Corbyn’s critics know they mustn’t fuel the ability of the leader and his allies to claim the victim status that is their traditional persona in Labour Party politics, so they will be backing off from confrontation.

It’s clear to anyone who understands psephology that Labour is heading towards an electoral meltdown. The headlines in the polls say this. The detail of the polls says it – ICM has Labour behind the Tories among social classes D and E, the poorest in society, for the first time ever; 47 per cent behind among the oldest voters who are the most likely to turn out; 30 per cent behind among women. The loss of safe seats in council by-elections says it. The reaction on the doorstep when we go canvassing says it.

This was all eminently predictable. Voters told Labour in the last general election we were too left-wing and needed to sort out weak leadership and our stances on the economy and immigration. We wilfully ignored them, doubled down on all these flaws and then chucked in some new deal-breaking fears around national security. It is simple maths that if you move leftwards you will get fewer votes as British voters are not particularly left-wing.

The leadership election has emboldened Corbyn and given him the “mandate” to present the electorate with the full, uncompromised Hard Left Monty.

It turns out all the stuff about olive branches and party unity at conference was nonsense. This is a guy that wants to lead on his own terms, and given that he is completely disinterested in conventional electoral politics – who cares about winning MPs or councillors when you can build a social movement? -, is completely relaxed about the potential electoral destruction of the party.

The moves he has made also have the collateral aspect of being attempts, by crossing red lines, to provoke moderates into a rage so that they start attacking him again, and can be blamed for disunity and causing the electoral problems.

A top team consisting of Jeremy, John McDonnell and Emily Thornberry, and Diane Abbott in a brief covering security and immigration where her views are diametrically at odds with the British public, is designed to provoke a reaction.

Removing Jon Ashworth from the NEC is designed to provoke a reaction.

Putting a  unilateralist with no interest in defence as Shadow Defence Secretary in place of an ex-soldier – who, although from the left , was trying to build a consensus around agreed multilateralist party policy – is designed to provoke a reaction.

Spending your Saturday speaking at Stop the War and Stand Against Racism events which are anathema to half your party because of the involvement of ultra-left groups like the SWP is designed to provoke a reaction.

If MPs can be provoked into raging denunciation that suits Jeremy. It casts him as the victim.

If moderates can be provoked into saying “not in my name” and ripping up their membership cards, that suits him even better.

If they can be provoked into marching off into the political wilderness by forming a new SDP, that suits him best of all.

Sadly, many good former comrades have risen to the bait and resigned. I understand why people are in despair, but every member who leaves Labour is a victory for the people they misguidedly feel they are protesting against. The only protests that count are votes cast for moderate candidates in selections and internal elections. You can only cast those if you stay and fight.

There may be a ceasefire on the parliamentary front, but the battle for Labour’s future is far from over in other parts of the party structure.

Some  193,000 people voted against Jeremy in the leadership election. That’s a minority but it’s a very large one that provides a pool of support meaning moderates can win in other levels of selection and election within the party.

The annual conference was a great success for moderates, winning all the major votes. If you don’t believe me, check out the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty analysis of what happened.

Labour’s NEC remains finely balanced because of the rule changes passed at conference. Corbyn does not have a reliable working majority that would guarantee him being able to push through the left’s changes to the party rulebook or moving against the general secretary. Even if he did manage to advance some rule changes, they would have to be passed at a special conference, which would have the same delegates as just delivered moderate victories at annual conference.

The major unions remain disillusioned with Corbyn, with the exception of Unite, where upcoming internal elections may see the political orientation of the union shift.

As I write, results are trickling in from CLPs showing that moderates are doing well in elections for upcoming regional conferences.

Momentum activists’ online shouting about deselections is almost everywhere turning out to be more mouth than trousers.

Labour moderates need to show by example that we are the best, most energetic, smartest campaigners against all the errors and damaging policies perpetrated by the Tories. There’s a lot of hot air about “taking the fight to the Tories”. We are the only people who actually know how to do that properly in a way that actually beats them as opposed to protesting with no effect.

We need to develop a new policy agenda and new candidates which will inspire both existing party members and potential new recruits to believe that it is possible to be visionary and idealistic without embracing electorally suicidal politics.

We need to organise, organise, organise, to ensure the strongest voice for our politics at every level of Labour’s structures from branch to CLP to regional to national.

Politics is a marathon not a sprint. The mentality we need is the steady, measured, high-stamina pace of the distance runner. We know that our politics will eventually prevail within the party for the simple, democratic reason that it is closer to the beliefs of the British people. We must not allow the emotion and anger about the very serious damage being done right now by the Hard Left to the party we love – and through weakening Labour, damage to our country and our people – to cloud our judgement.

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