Labour’s divisive leadership election has come to an end. Although technically a resounding victory for Jeremy Corbyn, neither of the contestants really won. All that has been achieved is a demonstration to the wider population of the dire state the Labour party is currently in.
The election was the result of a vote of no confidence in Corbyn. There seem to have been two qualms that led to this rebellion by the majority of his own parliamentary party. Firstly many of his MPs claim that his policies are unelectable as they are too ‘left wing’ for the general public. This disagreement is unsurprising given that there are a considerable range of views encompassed under ‘Labour’ today. The leadership election and the build up to it have highlighted a disunity that has been bubbling under the surface for years – since the days of New Labour if not before. This disparity is not in itself necessarily terminal – there are a wide range of views within the Conservatives today as well – but the spotlight that Labour has placed on its internal disagreements are life-threatening.
Corbyn is also accused by his MPs of lacking ‘leadership qualities’. His campaigning in the run up to the EU referendum has been denounced as only half-hearted. More generally, he is very different to the average politician, championing a more real and open approach. As those whom he most directly leads, Labour MPs’ misgivings about Corbyn’s leadership abilities must be taken seriously. However, too much emphasis is often placed on personality in politics. Corbyn’s reluctance to embrace spin and rhetoric does not render him unelectable as prime minister. It is true that some feel he lacks credibility, but this can be solved if he surrounds himself with a strong and experienced team from across the Labour party. Hopefully going forward he will ensure that, whatever the means by which it is selected, his shadow cabinet contains names that both reflect the diversity within the Labour party and are trusted by the electorate.
The leadership election and the build up to it have highlighted a disunity that has been bubbling under the surface for years
Corbyn’s supposed inability to lead seems to have been the main premise of Owen Smith’s campaign in the election. Economically, his views are not dissimilar to Corbyn, the only dramatic differences between him and Smith are their conflicting views on issues such as Trident and NATO. Corbyn’s opposition to both of these is frequently tied into the accusations of his being too much of a ‘leftie’, but in fact these beliefs are inherently neither left nor right wing. Perhaps, then, if Corbyn were willing to abandon these more extreme and purportedly ‘dangerous’ ideas, he might be able to unite his party. There is a potential common ground to be moulded out of a shared desire to move away from austerity, reduce inequality and help those who at the moment are missing out on the benefits of globalisation. The Brexit vote demonstrates that if Labour were to unite on such a platform it could garner considerable support.
It will be difficult to regain the public’s confidence in the Labour movement after its recent ‘political colonoscopy’, as one commentator described the leadership election. A balance must be struck between principle and pragmatism. Corbyn will most likely have to jettison some of his more radical principles. He must also work on appealing more to the general public rather than the easier audience of his numerous avid supporters. Equally, however, right-leaning Labour MPs should have the confidence to believe that Labour does not need to be New Labour to get into power and enact much needed change. Drawing the limelight back onto the contrast between Labour and the Conservatives rather than the contrasts within the Labour party are where its salvation lies. As well as his new campaign to oppose Theresa May on grammar schools, Corbyn could emphasise rising inequality and the record levels of food bank use since the Conservatives came to power. All of Labour can certainly unite over a desire to end these injustices in our society.