Corbyn versus Smith: What is Labour’s Purpose?
millions now have a tarnished opposition
As a Labour supporter, you can colour me pissed off. The party - supposedly the best hope for Britain’s working classes - has become consumed by in-fighting, and no one’s coming out of it well.
Not Jeremy Corbyn, who’s locked in an echo chamber, preaching to the converted at rallies and on Twitter but with no coherent plan for winning over the wider population. Not the MPs, who missed a huge open goal by launching their coup immediately after the referendum and diverted attention from the Tories’ biggest blunder in decades. Not the NEC, who trawl through members’ social media profiles like Big Brother seeking out thought crimes.
I agree with several of Corbyn’s principles: an NHS free from privatisation, greater investment in public services, an end to economically-illiterate austerity. The right ideas don’t automatically mean the right leader, and my optimism soon faded in the face of shabby organisation and leadership.
In fact, strong left-wing values are precisely what make me sceptical of Corbyn. If he goes down at an election, his ideas die with him. Owen Smith is hardly Labour’s Obama but he could present a potential way forward, which feels ever less likely under Corbyn. Last year was a time for introspection, for putting principles before power and asking what sort of Labour we wanted. Now, however, with the Tories’ catalogue of sins growing unchecked, Labour can’t become some ideologically pure but electorally impotent protest movement.
The Tories - fuelled by ideology, but always with power as their main priority - could have crumbled post-referendum. Instead, they got their house back together within days, leaving the left to go into meltdown. With one faction screaming “Blairite scum!” and the other shouting “Entryist Trots!”, millions now have a tarnished opposition incapable of representing them come election day.
What is the point of Labour in the 21st Century?
Labour is in an existential crisis, probably the most divided it has ever been. With the parliamentary party pitted against the leader and the membership, nobody is going to come out of this looking good.
The problem for the rebels is that they have no clear alternative leader or vision. Owen Smith has rather predictably failed to electrify members, the majority of whom did not want a leadership vote in the first place. When a vote is seen to be forced upon someone by an outside party (in this case the labour PLP) people’s natural instincts is to reject what is perceived as a stitch-up. Corbyn will romp home again.
If this does happen, where does Labour go from here? As an outsider, I have never got the point of the Labour party in the twenty-first century.
Corbyn may be living in a perpetual time warp but so is the party itself, built on principles of organised labour that really no longer exist to any meaningful extent. Most people aren’t members of unions anymore and many that are don’t vote or care about the Labour party, those that do often do so out of a vested interest. The result has been a rather dull set of manifestoes that don’t offer change, terrified to go against groups such as the NUT and the RCN (who believe they should direct policy in their fields).
Labour needs to make itself into a national movement for people not lobby groups, working for the vast majority who aren’t part of a union. A split may therefore be the best option for the Labour PLP, although they must offer something new for the 21st century and a dynamic leader wouldn’t hurt.
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