NB: This Post was written prior to the Labour Leadership election 2016 where Jeremy Corbyn defeated Owen Smith. While I wasn’t on the right side, I still believe what I wrote.
In the immediate aftermath of the EU Referendum, it is understandable that the Remain camp within the Labour Party will look for a scapegoat. That Jeremy Corbyn was to be that scapegoat is not a surprise. In his brief time at the Helm of the Labour Party, he has amassed a vocal support amongst the young, and has steered the party to victory in 4 by-elections since being elected leader in 2015, drawing parallels to the meteoric rise of Bernie Sanders in the US. But, like Bernie Sanders, the rise preceded a fall. Corbyn’s electability has always been questioned by the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) , and with the win for the Leave campaign in the referendum being attributed to traditionally Labour voters, it was without question that Corbyn would be challenged.
This is not to say that Corbyn shouldn’t be challenged however. Although his election heralded a rush of new members to the party, with some (including the author) joining prior to the leadership election to vote for Jeremy, his beliefs have frequently been at odds with the rest of the PLP and the electorate at large, winning by slender margins in by –elections where once Labour commanded a huge lead. Corbyn’s beliefs on foreign policy and Trident are seen by many as relics from a bygone Labour Party, seen as part of Michael Foot’s toxic legacy of 1983, rather than the modern Labour Party of the past 20 years. The first sign of this was the Labour rebellion on the Syria vote, with Members as powerful as the Shadow Foreign Secretary taking a position that was different to the Labour whip. This vote, the first challenge of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, was the split between the PLP and their chosen champion, Hilary Benn, and the leadership of Corbyn, Watson and McDonnell.
Just Last Night, Hilary Benn advised Jeremy Corbyn he had lost faith in him as leader and was summarily dismissed from the Shadow Cabinet, and this morning over half the shadow cabinet is expected to resign, with the PLP now in open defiance of Corbyn and a motion of no confidence expected to take place on Monday. Corbyn remains defiant, pledging to not resign as he has a ‘strong mandate from the membership.’ Whilst it goes without saying that this mandate is strong, the question has now been asked, is Jeremy Corbyn the right man to take the Labour Party through a possible snap election this year?
My view is that at this moment, Labour should remove Jeremy Corbyn from his position as leader of the party. Although I voted for him in 2015, and I believe he is the most genuine and honest politician currently serving in the House of Commons, he is not the Leader that Labour needs right now. Labour needs a leader who can convince former supporters who have drifted to UKIP in the working class areas of England, and who have drifted to the SNP in Scotland, whilst also bringing the Left and right of the party together, to a common centre-left position, an area which has traditionally lead to government for the party. That’s not to say that Corbyn and his ideas have no place in a new regime, just that someone who can show a bit more leadership should be the leader.
My view is that Hilary Benn, with his proven conviction and his position as a party grandee, is an ideal choice for leader, and with recent events he does seem best placed to take on the party as it is and help reform the party into one that could get into government again. Chukka Umunna is another candidate who would be an ideal leader, due to his youth and his progressive ideas, whilst also being seen as economically responsible, a trait that isn’t attributed to Corbyn. Whilst I believed in 2015 that Jeremy Corbyn was the best choice for the party at the time, I was proved incorrect and now it is time for a change.
My fear with the disconnect between the vocal minority who still support Corbyn is that the Labour party could fracture once again, as it did in 1981 when the ‘Gang of Four’ left Labour and founded the SDP, who then went on to combine with the Liberals in 1987, and siphoned votes away from Labour in the 1983 election, resulting in a Conservative Landslide. A similar split could happen again, with either the far left of the party splitting away, or the progressive centre of the party leaving again. Whoever is elected leader, whether Corbyn stays or a new regime forms, their goals must be to ensure the unity of the party, and to try to prevent the coronation of a pro-Brexit Prime Minister, namely Boris Johnson or Michael Gove.