Megan Cole is the Chair of the University of Birmingham Labour Society.
On December 12th, 2019, the Labour Party experienced its biggest losses in a general election since 1935, losing sixty seats up and down the country. These losses were predominantly in areas that had strong grassroots links to the party and could be depended upon to vote Labour for decades.
On election night, Blyth Valley signalled the start of this decline after it was the third seat announced after several recounts, ultimately switching from Labour to the Conservatives. This set the trend for the results to follow. We saw seats in areas that were Labour for decades becoming disenfranchised with the party and turning to the Conservatives. There are several reasons behind this, and I believe there are lots of changes we must make to not only win these areas back but to secure ourselves a future as a party.
There are no doubts that Jeremy Corbyn has been one of the most divisive Labour leaders we have seen and of course, this leaves him accountable to some of the fallout. Obviously, it is easy to pin all fault onto him. However, it is also unrealistic and a cop-out as there is a combination of reasons, all of which accumulated over time to lead us to the position we see ourselves in now. These issues are the leadership as mentioned but also our response to anti-Semitism and, of course, Brexit.
Firstly, I think the biggest issue we face as a party is the way we let factionalism divide us. With Labour now split between the “Corbynites” and the “Blairites,” the future seems bleak. Not only do these two clans vehemently oppose each other, but they are also very public about it. For example, we have seen MPs such as Jess Phillips lying about Dianne Abbot but equally new MP’s such as Zarah Sultana branding the Blair era as continuity Thatcherism.
Therefore, the blame lies across the board. This differs from the Conservative party who despite their differences seem to still appear as a united front. They also have a more pragmatic approach in dealing with their divisions and are more likely to engage in discussion rather than resulting to petty insults and name-calling. This makes us as a party seem immature and more divided than we are. When we see high profile MPs engaging in and encouraging factionalism it justifies it to the members and thus trickles down throughout the party.
Then we move onto the issue of Brexit. It is important to acknowledge that we were wrong on Brexit. When going to the polling station individuals in Brexit voting areas were never going to vote for a party that has undermined them and their beliefs. As a party, we have disengaged so many life-long Labour voters purely because we told them that they were wrong. This paternalistic approach to politics needs to stop, I am not advocating for more referendums by any means but condescendingly telling the working-class electorate that what they think they want is wrong for them is not effective and is downright offensive.
In general, a huge issue for our future is acknowledging the mistakes of our past. So, when we see leadership hopefuls like Rebecca Long-Bailey rating Corbyn’s leadership ten-out-of-ten it doesn’t make me optimistic for the party’s future.
Another issue for our future as a party is our response to anti-Semitism and what a new potential leader can do to eliminate it from within the party. Once again, there are issues high up in the party regarding our response to the matter. Just a few days ago we saw Richard Burgon and Dawn Butler, two contenders for deputy leader, refuse to sign the board of deputies’ anti-Semitism pledge. However, we have also seen candidates such as Rosena Allin-Khan putting forward proposals for how she would eliminate it from within the party.
The conclusion we naturally arrive to is that the future of the party is in the hands of the membership. Our foreseeable future depends on how we vote in the forthcoming leadership and deputy leadership elections. With some candidates refusing to acknowledge the party’s current issues, it doesn’t seem optimistic. However, we must remain hopeful that the likes of Lisa Nandy and Allin-Khan succeed and Long-Bailey and Burgon move to the metaphorical and physical back benches of the party.
Photo by Jeremy Corbyn on Flickr.