Corbyn Must Commit to Being A Leader of the Many and Not just the Few

By any measure Jeremy Corbyn has had a bad month or two. He was far too slow to react to the controversy over Anti-Semitism and, perhaps, even indifferent to it. On the Skripal front Corbyn’s anti cold war instincts may be understandable, indeed admirable, but the tone and manner of his interventions over Russia simply struck a wrong chord. The perception of those outside of the Party’s membership is that Corbyn only took a ‘proper’ line when dragged to it by the press, public opinion and the views of most of the world’s political powers.

Let us not also forget three high profile sackings. First off, Corbyn’s office announced that Debbie Abrahams had stepped down as Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary as a result of allegations of bullying made by her office staff. Abrahams herself made it very clear that she considered she had been sacked and countered by claiming that she herself was the victim of bullying from the Leader’s office. Owen Smith was sacked over calls for a further referendum on Brexit despite the Party’s Conference Policy still holding this out as a possibility if the May’s eventual deal proves to be unacceptable. Officially General Secretary Ian McNicol resigned, but effectively he went when the Leadership told him his time was up.

On leftist social media channels Corbyn’s supporters remained out in force, defending their Leader’s stance, until the Leadership itself was forced to reposition itself. In the narrow and rarified world of Facebook and Twitter, loyalists are convinced that Corbyn and his team have been dragged into these new positions by the dark forces of the press when, in reality, they have been responding to the concerns of the wider electorate.

This weekend YouGov’s polling — taken during this turbulent period — shows that only 31% of the public think Corbyn is doing a good job as leader of the Opposition; 56% think that he is doing a bad job.

In many ways the greatest frustration over the last couple of months is that so many of our problems have been self-inflicted. On Russia Corbyn could have better defended his position if his statements had been more measured or more statesman like. In talking to a number of younger, and newer, Labour members over the last few weeks I have sensed a growing confusion or disenchantment with his Leadership. Some of Corbyn’s most fanatical supporters still refer to him as ‘magic grandad’ but you don’t have to search very hard to find many who are becoming more muted.

To many, Corbyn’s appeal was the prospect of a new form of politics. Here was a Leader who eschewed many the trappings of the political leaders of recent years. Here was a man not obsessed by currying favour with the world’s power elites. Here was a principled Leader for modern age, one determined to fight against the vested interests that are sucking away so many of our state’s recourses.

But many have forgotten, or have simply not noticed, that there is little that is new about Corbyn, who was first elected for his Islington seat thirty-five years ago. For much of those years Corbyn’s life has been taken up with the vagaries and obsessions of hard left politics and the events of recent weeks show that not much has changed. For those who have not been watching the hard-left for years this can all seem to perplexing. On the one hand the left seem ridden with divisions, many of which to have lasted forever. On the other hand this disparate group can still demonstrate an iron discipline in holding the left together. In this sense Corbyn’s leadership represents a coalition of hard left interests, but the world of the hard left rarely seems to reflect the concerns and realities of the wider community. The need to stitch up an internal vote or to settle old scores will always be more important than the need to proactively build a wider consensus out in the country.

Consider the case of Ann Black, a long standing and centre left member who has done more than anyone else to open up the word Labour’s NEC. I suspect Ann’s biggest problem is that she was never ‘one of us’ and never been a member of the hard left’s elite world. As somebody who often took an independent line Ann had to go and she was replaced as head of the NEC’s key disciplinary committee by key loyalist Christine Shawcroft, a move heavily orchestrated and supported by the Leadership. Of course it went wrong when Shawcroft was forced to resign after it was revealed she had intervened to support a Party Member — and would-be Councillor — who had happily shared articles on social media that questioned the existence of the holocaust. This whole state of affairs required some consideration. Here we had the Chair of the Disciplinary Panel — presumably a last place of judgement and appeal — who took it on herself to intervene personally to overturn the judgement of Party Officials without ever having properly considered the nature of the disciplinary action in the first place. So, why was someone who can behave this deemed suitable by the Leadership to depose Ann Black? This whole affairs simply harks back to the narrow world of the hard left where tribal loyalty means more than competence or ability.

Corbyn’s supporters see plots everywhere. Over in the universe of social media the Anti-Semitism affair was sign that the next coup against their Leader had started But out in the real world, it is very difficult to find anyone who doesn’t assume that Corbyn will lead us into the next election.

Corbyn is here for the duration, or as long as he wants to go on and so much of our future relies on Corbyn himself. Despite this being one of the most incompetent governments in memory Labour is only running them neck and neck in the polls. The wider electorate continue to see Corbyn as far less suited to leadership than Theresa May. It is far too easy for Labour supporters to rant on about the plots of the Tory press; we should stand back and soberly reflect that — at this time— so many see May as more effective political leader than Corbyn.

The biggest challenge is to Corbyn himself. He has to prove that he has genuine leadership skills and, most importantly, that he aspires to lead a nation and not just his own party or his own faction within it. His key strategists need to develop a wider world view, put aside their natural preference for defensive tactics and internal disputes, and to adopt a laser-like focus on the wider public, who are after all those who will put Labour into power. Corbyn has to become a Leader for many and not just the few.

Given the long entrenched policy traits of the hard left it will be no easy task for them to embrace a wider politics. But the prize is still within sight. That same YouGov poll shows that 47% of respondents consider May is doing badly as Prime Minister as opposed to only 41% who think she is doing well. But this still leaves a many who are undecided as to May’s performance and are not confident that Corbyn is a genuine alternative.

There is still all to play for, but until Corbyn genuinely aspires to lead the whole nation Labour will remain in trouble.

Andy Howell

April 2018

Comments

  1. Thanks andy good article. There is one typo – it dispirate rather than dispirit. And also check the 4th para from the end; the sentence about rants doesn’t read very well. Also in the para starting many will have forgotten there is a rogue apostrophe. Getting these sorted will make the argument stronger.

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