For Labour Party members
I was expecting a pretty negative reaction to my last post from many in the constituency it was aimed at, and the most constructive thing I can do right now is to try and engage as best I can with those arguments. Let me start with this:
“we are re-building a mass social democratic party after a generation or more of atrophy. That is a huge gain for the Labour Party but it terrifies most MPs. Sorry, the days of doffing our caps are over.”
My response is the same as any decent social scientist: show me the evidence that this is what you are doing. It seems to me what Corbyn has done is build an activist base made up in large part of mostly idealistic, mostly young political activists, and I think that is a great and valuable achievement. What terrifies MPs, and me, is if this base gets delusions of idealism and grandeur, and saddles them with a leader who will lead the party into electoral irrelevance. If you think those fears are wrong, show me your evidence. Not your hopes, but a concrete and realisable plan.
What I see so far is largely a government that acts as if it was unopposed, or that provides its own internal opposition. The exceptions are generally not the result of Corbyn. Look at the first item in the list provided by Liam Young here: the abandonment of cuts to child credits. This was not the first major achievement of a new mass social democratic party, but of opposition from members of the House of Lords and the misgivings of some Conservative MPs. Iain Duncan Smith did not resign because of pressure from Labour!
There is a contradiction here that Corbyn supporters fail to acknowledge. In the UK to have any chance of building a mass social democratic party you need a parliamentary party to provide a voice that will be heard. That means MPs on your side, not against you. The adoption of a sensible fiscal rule - another item on Liam Young’s list - was an example of that happening, but any attempt to repeat that now would result in just endless discussion of internal divisions.
As Liam Young also says: “Most importantly all of Labour’s recent success has come at points where the leadership has been strong and the party united. Recent talk of splits, coups and dissent is unhelpful and only weakens the Labour party’s position.” I agreed with that when I wrote this. If the current leadership had succeeded in uniting the majority of Labour MPs behind a consensus policy programme that would have been a powerful force, but it failed. It makes no sense to extol the virtues of unity only when it suits you.
What makes me really sad is the contempt that some members seem to have for Labour MPs. I can think of some that fit the caricature frequently painted of diehard triangulating Blairites, but they are far from the majority. I agree that collectively Labour MPs became embroiled in a failing electoral strategy before 2015, but you change that by persuasion through evidence and hopefully example, not by casting them as the enemy or as forever ‘lost’. Most of all, they are not some kind of inconvenience that can be ignored or who will collectively come to their senses if the membership continues to vote for Corbyn. They are an essential part of the means of achieving a mass social democratic party: that is why 2016 is not 2015.
In short, if you still think Corbyn can succeed in forming a mass social democratic party without the support of MPs, show me your plan of how it will be done and the evidence that it will work. In 2015 I could, unlike many commentators in the media, imagine that it was possible that Labour MPs could be led from the left with the right leadership. Corbyn earned the right in 2015 to try. But the evidence since then shows that this is not the right leadership. I’ll go with a good plan, but right now I do not see any plan at all.