26th February 2017
The relentless campaign by the right wing in the Labour Movement to undermine Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party continued apace this week, following the outcomes of the Stoke Central and Copeland by-elections.
The media noise around both contests had been building all week with each election characterised as a must win for Labour. Media prominence was given to the pontifications of Labour has-beens, Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson, during the week in an attempt to generate an air of crisis as the elections approached. Blair’s call for a cross party Remain movement appears to be falling on deaf ears, not least due to the lack of desire to engage with a movement of which Blair would be the self-styled leader.
The fact that BBC darlings UKIP were standing leader Paul Nuttall in Stoke Central added extra frisson to the reportage, although even the BBC may be forced to admit that Nuttall was yet another example of UKIPs monumental irrelevance to the politics of the UK. Much was made of the low turnout which returned the Labour candidate in Stoke but little was made of the fact that turnout was low in the General Election. The people of Stoke are turning off, not turning on to UKIP and that is the real issue.
The UKIP pitch was based on the fact that Stoke was ‘Brexit Central’ in the EU referendum with over 70% of voters going for the leave option. All of which goes to show that equating a leave vote with UKIP support has always been a shallow analysis of the referendum outcome.
Needless to say, the past two days has not seen many ‘Labour crush UKIP by-election challenge’ headlines but the news media has been dominated by the ‘Sweeping victory for May in Copeland’ offering. Gerard Coyne right wing candidate, standing against Len McCluskey for the leadership of the UNITE union and former Labour Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, the renegades’ hope for future leader, have been given prominent airtime to voice their discontent.
UNISON leader Dave Prentiss has suggested that Corbyn takes his share of blame for the by-election defeat, urging him not to “pass the buck” following Copeland, although he was faint in his praise of Corbyn for wining in Stoke. Prentiss said,
“The blame for these results does not lie solely with Jeremy Corbyn, but he must take responsibility for what happens next. Nurses, teaching assistants, care workers and ordinary people everywhere need a Labour government. Jeremy has to show he understands how to turn things around and deliver just that.”
There can be little doubt that Corbyn has a clear vision for the alternative Labour can offer. The problem remains the backstabbing tendency from within his own party, who simply cannot accept their own internal party democracy, which has resulted in him winning two leadership elections in under two years.
Given that the Copeland seat has been held by Labour since 1935 there can be no denying that the Tories winning the seat was a bad result. Neither Corbyn nor Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, has sought to suggest anything else. As McDonnell was quick to point out however,
“We cannot have a circumstance again, where a week before the by-election, a former leader of our party attacks the party itself.”
The speeches of Blair, Mandelson and Miliband chime with the approach taken by Tory leader Theresa May, who has raised the old bogey of the hard left infiltrating Labour, in a speech to Conservative councillors in Lincolnshire yesterday, saying,
“Last year, Labour’s deputy leader warned of entryism in Labour by the far left. This year, even the Stalinists in Momentum are complaining about being infiltrated by the Trotskyites. But for those of us who remember what Militant did to Liverpool, it doesn’t matter what term you use – we can’t allow Labour to get a foothold back in local government and let them do for local communities what they did to our country.”
The vehemence with which Corbyn is attacked is, in part, a measure of the extent to which his message is feared. That austerity is not inevitable, that nuclear weapons are not necessary, that immigration is not out of control. These things stand in stark contradiction to the policies of the Tories. They stand in stark contrast to the line pedalled by the editors of the Daily Mail, Telegraph and Express. Fearful of losing their privileged placed as Her Majesty’s Opposition, never mind her loyal government, they are at odds with the career aspirations of many Labour politicians.
In spite of Theresa May’s post Copeland rhetoric that the Tories under her leadership are a government that is, “going to deliver for everyone across the whole country; a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few”, this is simply not true. Every local government cut tells a different story, every NHS patient languishing in a hospital corridor will tell her differently, every refugee deported will be an indictment.
Labour can change this. Labour united behind Jeremy Corbyn can change this. The internal prophets of doom need to stand down. Fighting the Tories and their media is hard enough. It is time to let those who want to see real change for the people of the UK get on with the job.