Re-elected Jeremy Corbyn Must Deliver Unity and Credibility
After his place on the Labour leadership ballot was ensured, Jeremy Corbyn headed towards re-election with an unstoppable momentum (no pun intended). However, he made a leap over the finish line with his performance at the last Prime Minister’s Questions before the autumn conference season, where he focused on Theresa May’s plans to reintroduce grammar schools.
This might be a sacrilegious observation to many Corbyn supporters, but he was actually reminiscent of Tony Blair, with his precise and well-referenced but impassioned line of attack on grammars easily besting May. It was arguably the finest moment of Corbyn’s leadership so far.
Since his election Corbyn has been successful in terms of building Labour as a mass movement, with his radicalism and commitment to social justice inspiring many younger people. As Clive Lewis noted, Corbyn’s leadership is described as lurching Labour to the left, but his standpoints on key issues - like the NHS, housing, wage inequality and transport - are addressing mainstream anxieties.
But he has failed to get this across when it most counts. His PMQ performances have usually been staid affairs, where he has read out questions from the public and acted with a reserved formality in the name of a “new politics” and a “man of the people” image. This has had the effect of making him look hesitant and ineffectual in the role.
As highlighted in a Vice documentary, he glaringly omitted to take advantage of current events, such as cuts to disability benefits and tax credits on which George Osborne had been forced to u-turn.
Corbyn must learn from his PMQs success and start to make greater capital of headlines as he did on grammars, in and outside of the Commons. The “new politics” needs to incorporate old-fashioned methods to succeed in practice. It won Corbyn praise from even his strongest critics in the Parliamentary Labour Party.
This provides fertile grounds for reunifying a fractured party and making the Shadow Cabinet more inclusive of the wider PLP. After the mass resignations following Brexit, Corbyn was forced to scour the PLP to fill the vacancies.
This exhibited the positives, albeit haphazardly, of Ed Miliband’s decision to give the Labour leader control of the shadow cabinet by abolishing its election by the PLP: it allowed Corbyn to recruit young and talented MPs from the 2015 intake, such as Angela Rayner and Kate Osamor, who may have otherwise been overlooked in favour of big name MPs.
we need a Labour party that stands for compassion and diplomacy
Re-elected, Corbyn must follow through with his stated desire to hold out an olive branch to those who have opposed him: he must be open to readmitting shadow cabinet members who resigned. In response to calls for a return to shadow cabinet elections, Corbyn has suggested a partial election by the PLP to give room to the leader to build their own team. Those in the parliamentary party who have advocated full election would be wise to accept this compromise.
Corbyn should reshuffle his frontbench immediately. 64 frontbench roles remain unfilled, making it impossible to hold the government to account. His immediate mistake on being elected was appointing two white men - John McDonnell and Hilary Benn - to shadow the great offices of state, which rather negated his “new politics” message.
McDonnell may be a loyal ally but he is divisive and too prone to gaffes, having recently had an expletive-laden row with Alistair Campbell. A solid shadow chancellor if she were willing would be Angela Eagle - the original challenger to Corbyn’s leadership. A more credible figure might give Corbyn a fairer hearing on the economy - the issue which will win the next general election.
Following the Chakrabarti Report, now Corbyn has to take a stronger stand against racism and antisemitism in and outside of Labour. It is simply not enough for him to say that Labour condemns such prejudice: proposals to take action against it must be at the top of his agenda - especially after the surge in violent hate crimes following Brexit.
On foreign policy there has been the damning Chilcot Report, concerns over arms deals to Saudi Arabia fuelling terrorism and parliamentary criticism of David Cameron’s handling of the 2011 Libya intervention. These all give Corbyn room to prioritise defending human rights and promoting international cooperation as an alternative.
With the Tory right emboldened by Brexit and UKIP having assisted the Leave campaign by scapegoating refugees, we need a Labour party that stands for compassion and diplomacy and against xenophobia more than ever.
Corbyn may have reinforced his mandate, but his re-election will not win Labour a general election. His first test is to reunify the party in order to properly oppose the Tories. To actually seem like a PM-in-waiting and reverse his dire polling numbers, Corbyn must also develop a credible manifesto on the issues that matter most to the public. Then he will have a better chance of actually implementing in government the values that matter so much to his supporters.
About the author
Jacob Richardson began his career with Disclaimer and writes on culture, politics and society. Politically he is a democratic socialist and Labour Party supporter. His other interests include cinema, psychoanalysis and professional wrestling.
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