My good friend and political sparring partner wrote the following blog for me in June, 2019. I agreed with him that I would publish it when Jeremy Corbyn was truly central stage in British politics. This week is probably Jeremy Corbyn’s moment in history.
JEREMY CORBYN TWO YEARS ON: CONFUSION
by David Greensmith
Following Labour’s remarkable performance in the 2017 General Election, when they repelled a viciously right-wing media and a dedicated ‘fifth column’ of Tory Blairite Labour MPs to come within a whisker of power, two years later there is a sense of confusion at the heart of Labour policy-making and presentation.
Central to the confusion is Labour’s endless fence-sitting regarding the biggest political upheaval since the Second World War. I refer, of course, to the disaster that is Brexit. With the Conservatives tearing themselves apart over Brexit and maybe entering a terminal decline, it is tempting , politically, for Labour to simply sit tight and watch them self-destruct. This cannot however continue indefinitely and at some stage Labour needs to announce a proper, coherent policy – hopefully a second referendum to pull the country back from the Brexit abyss.
With the Tories in turmoil Labour should be way ahead in the political opinion polls. Instead, support is going to the Brexit Party, the Greens and the Liberal Democrats. Labour is still in front, but only by single digits. The confusion and incoherence over Brexit is, I believe, a major factor in their relative lack of progress.
Corbyn is not, I feel, helped by his secretive and somewhat sinister inner circle of advisors, centred on Seumas Milne. This group are way too prominent and too Eurosceptic, and have made a big contribution to the long-term Brexit fence-sitting which is damaging Labour.
In mitigation, Corbyn still has to deal with the problem of unreconstructed Blairites in his party – politicians who would prefer continued Tory rule to a left-wing Labour government. This problem can only finally be dealt with by deselecting the Blairites and replacing them with proper Labour candidates who support the party’s policies. Back in Blair’s time, many good quality local candidates were rejected by Blair and his henchmen as too socialist, thereby allowing Blair to parachute in one of his Tory chums. The Left is in the ascendancy now and the situation is reversed.
It is helpful that a number of uber-Blairites, including my own former MP Angela Smith, have formally severed their ties with the party and shown their true-blue colours, rendering a formal deselection process unnecessary. They should, of course, now resign their seats and fight by-elections, but this is unlikely.
Another worrisome issue for Corbyn is that many traditional Labour voters, swayed by the barrage of lies from the Brexiteers, voted strongly to leave the EU. A call for a second referendum might not be popular with such people.
Politics in the era of 24-hour news is, more than ever, a trade where image and presentation matter. Jeremy Corbyn recently celebrated his 70th birthday. He is an intelligent and likeable man with some good policies – but he is not a star. Would it make sense for him to hand the reins over to somebody younger and more charismatic ? Given Corbyn’s age, that question is sure to be asked. The Tories are in the process of selecting a new leader as I write (June 2019), and maybe Labour should do the same. I recall the early 1990s when the Tories, heading for electoral defeat in 1992, ruthlessly jettisoned the Margaret Thatcher and brought in John Major. Labour failed to replace Neil Kinnock, and paid the price at the polls.
In summary, Corbyn and his party still face some formidable challenges and their cause is not helped by incoherence and dithering on the most important issue facing the United Kingdom.