By Jake Wilde
Ian Dunt’s swift analysis of the 5 May elections is excellent. His description of the Labour Party as “the walking dead, aimlessly trundling on, a parody of political life” is as accurate as it is brutal. Like all good writing, it got me thinking. Firstly about the counterfactual: what if it had been a wipeout, a disaster, a game-changer? And secondly where does this zombie Labour Party stagger off to next.
(How counterfactual the counterfactual is does depend where you live. If that happens to be Scotland then, as a Labour Party member or supporter, you may now aspire to be the undead as opposed to being the actual dead. Third place. In Scotland. I am not going to attempt an in depth analysis here but the most obvious conclusion is that there’s only one question that matters in Scotland – the SNP answer it unequivocally one way, the Tories unequivocally the other way and Labour, well Labour don’t.)
To return to the unfulfilled worst case scenario Ian Dunt suggests that:
“A catastrophic result might – just might – have got some Corbyn supporters to think again. Maybe not enough for a leadership challenge in which he’d lose the internal vote, but enough to precipitate that happening the next time there was evidence of how badly he was doing. It could have been the beginning of the end.”
Could Labour under these circumstances, as Ian suggests, have been brought back from the dead? The people behind Corbyn, the hard-core activist layer who may or may not do very much work for the actual Labour Party, would be untroubled by an apocalyptic outcome. They would find “reasons” to explain it as they have with every opinion poll that tells them what the rest of the population already know. Eventually the finger of blame would be firmly pointed to others in the Party – as it was being ahead of and even on polling day – and in the direction of the media.
The so-called “ordinary” members of the Labour Party who some think abandoned reason and decided to vote for Corbyn last year do not, I think, exist. But if they ever did exist then their numbers are insufficient, at least now, to change the outcome of a fresh leadership election. The people keeping Corbyn in the leadership position are those who would view any attempt to move towards the electorate as a betrayal. They firmly believe that it is for the electorate to realise that the policies, the slogans and the general attitude and positioning they are being offered by Corbyn’s Labour Party are objectively correct. This is why there has been no attempt to gauge the views of the electorate during the run-up to 5 May. Indeed the only polling that has been undertaken is blowing the whole £300,000 budget on asking questions of non-voters.
Peter Mandelson and others were right when they talked of tens of thousands of members having left; they have and have simply not been counted yet because of the six month grace period. The party profile changed under Ed Miliband, as Conor Pope identified in his analysis of the 2014 NEC elections. Conor pointed to the fact that 40% of the membership was from London and that this figure was rising, and the effect this was having on distorting the perceived priorities of the party, not least over the threat of UKIP.
Labour’s new members have arrived at the expense of the Greens and the assorted Judean People’s Front parties of the far left. Those new members are still fighting their #1 enemy, the “Blairites”, some of whom have decided, for various reasons, that enough is enough and have left. But a catastrophic defeat for Corbyn might have tempted them back, even only as £3ers, if a leadership contest was being talked of with sufficient conviction. Corbyn’s dereliction of duty over the EU referendum might even have proved decisive.
There is a far bigger pool of potential £3 voters in the centre ground than there ever was or will be on the far left. The momentum that could have been generated by a heavy defeat for Corbyn on 5 May might then have translated into a crippling blow to his leadership, if not outright defeat. (It would certainly be ironic if the very measure – a vote for the leader of the party in exchange for a paltry £3 – that most moderates feared would hand the party to Corbyn then proved to be his undoing.)
But no heavy defeat occurred, simply the worst performance of any opposition party for three decades. Once the far left have control of something there is only one outcome – that thing dies. Whether it is a country or a city council, a newspaper or a political party, death is inevitable. It’s not always the put-it-in-a-box-and-bury-it-in-the-ground kind of dead though; sometimes it is Ian Dunt’s walking dead. So even before 5 May the Labour Party was already dead but, like so many zombies, it doesn’t know it yet.
So the zombie awkwardly stumbles along the road towards 2020, unblinking in the face of three main problems that will befall it on this grim journey.
First of all there will certainly be further antisemitism revelations. Guido Fawkes has invested in research that seems beyond either local or national Labour parties and this has proved successful in altering perceptions of the party. It is clear that the Naz Shah revelation was timed to coincide with the election, with small fry councillors and activists being used as a mechanism for keeping up the drip-drip effect. Ken’s interventions have simply been a bonus, depending upon your perspective.
The reason there will be more revelations is because the existing ones have been about those who joined the party before Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader. One might think that it could not get any worse than discovering an MP has made antisemitic comments but Shah had no direct link to the leader. Very few of the culprits so far have. But in the case of Labour Party members who have joined or re-joined since Corbyn’s election then the link is clearer and there will be antisemites amongst them. Some may even have been elected on 5 May.
Next up is the small matter of the actual policies the Labour Party is proposing. Thus far, and this has escaped most people’s attention, Labour has still been largely espousing the same policies as it did in the General Election last year, with the exception of those economic policies within the gift of John McDonnell. Labour still has, for example, the debate over Trident and wider foreign policy to come, the latter review of course having been being conducted by Ken Livingstone prior to his suspension.
And third is the game of musical chairs that will be played as a result of the boundary changes in 2018. This, as much as any other event, has the potential to lay bare the binary split in the party and members in CLPs will be forced into making correspondingly binary choices. How genuinely democratic that process will be will depend entirely on how genuinely democratic the Labour Party is by that stage. The verdicts on Ken Livingstone, Trident, antisemitism in the party and the persistent failure to get close to the Tories in the polls will have decided that long before then.
Jeremy Corbyn said of 5 May, “We hung on”. Most thought he meant the Labour Party. He probably thought he meant the Labour Party. But the results on 5 May mean that the Corbynistas were the ones who hung on and the Labour Party is now past the point of resurrection.