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Lessons For Labour - Learning How To Be A Party Of Government

19/08/2016 16:06 | Updated 19 August 2016
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Last September, Jeremy Corbyn fought the Labour leadership election on a platform rejecting neo-liberalism and promising a more socialist Labour Party. Since winning with a large amount of support from Labour members and affiliated supporters, he has lead the party into turmoil and deep divisions. Despite not doing as badly as the polls suggested, Labour lost several seats in the English council elections and slipped into third-party status in Scotland behind the Conservatives.

Then came the EU Referendum. After a shock defeat for the Remain side, many Labour MPs and members felt that Jeremy Corbyn failed to convince enough Labour voters to vote remain and subsequently called for his resignation in mass numbers. Despite 80% of his MPs supporting a motion of no confidence in his leadership, Jeremy Corbyn remained adamant that he could still carry on as leader due to the support he was getting from Labour party members.

That left a problem for Labour MPs. Having been so sure that no leader would even contemplate carrying on after losing such a vast amount of support, they had no choice but to put up a candidate and fight an uphill battle to try and convince enough Labour members to switch support from Corbyn to his challenger Owen Smith.

However, even if Labour moderates are successful in pulling off a surprise win over the incumbent leader, they will struggle to unite the MPs and the growing hard-left faction of the party. Never has a major political party been so bitterly divided, and division always equals electoral defeat. Prior to the wave of resignations and attempted removal of Corbyn by Labour MPs, Labour was falling behind the Tories in the polls (to put this into perspective, Ed Miliband was leading the Tories by an average of 5 percentage points at this point in his tenure). After the attempted 'coup', as Corbyn backers refer to it, Labour has slipped into unchartered territory, trailing the Tories by a whopping 14%. The truth of the matter is, if Theresa May were to get round the Fixed Term Parliament Act and call an election for later this year, she would win her party a majority unseen even during the Thatcher years and the 1983 general election. Labour would risk being left with downwards of 200 seats and disappear off the political map altogether.

So how on earth can the party return into a true electoral force capable of ever winning power again? First off, they need to ditch this idea that standing on a unilateralist and high-tax, high-spend manifesto can convince enough people to switch their support from the Tories to Labour. This is exactly what happened in 1983 and there is no evidence that public support for Trident, and opposition of higher taxes, has dwindled since.

Secondly, they must offer fresh hope and offer realistic solutions to the problems which face everyone in our society. The public rejected the soundbites and empty promises shown by the Labour Party in 2010 and 2015 elections, and will not support a party based purely on rhetoric. By showing the country a reasonable and safe alternative to the Tories, they can convince the public of their economic credibility and win support from swinging voters.

Thirdly, Labour must once again occupy the centre ground of British politics. In the 1980s Michael Foot's radical policies handed Thatcher the 'status-quo' label on a silver platter. When Tony Blair took over as leader, he saw that the only way for Labour to return to power was to show a strong centre-ground stance while the Tories made the mistake of drifting to the right. With the added advantage of being in opposition for so long, people who had wanted a change for 18 years could finally bring themselves to voting for the Labour Party.

The most important thing for Labour to learn is that rallies do not win elections. While it's all very well and good filling Liverpool City Centre with a thousand lifelong Labour members, it's not doing anything to convince centrist voters that Labour is the right party for government. By only talking to those who agree with him, Jeremy Corbyn is simply falling into the trap Michael Foot fell into 33 years ago.

It's a long, grim struggle for the Labour Party at the moment. However, if it wakes up and gets serious about winning power again, it can easily return to a status of electoral credibility. The first step in the long road is a simple one: get rid of the divisive leadership of Jeremy Corbyn and elect a leader capable of winning an election for the party. Only then can Labour rebuild and get to work fighting for power.

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