Labour Moderates Must Move On

28/07/2016 12:34 | Updated 28 July 2016

Jeremy Corbyn is leading Labour off an electoral cliff but it is right that the NEC decided to include him on the ballot paper for Labour Leader. The debate at the NEC was about whether he required the support of MPs to get there or if he should automatically be included. It is clear that he has very little support from the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) but he retains very strong support from members. My view is that if you are the leader and your leadership is being challenged then you should be included as a contender. I cite an article I wrote last July for the Telegraph where I stated that the Labour leadership election was about defining what the party is and they did that by electing Jeremy Corbyn as their leader. He achieved nearly 60% of the membership vote. Yes, a number of these were new entrants, people who joined Labour just to vote in the leadership election, but no other candidate would have been attacked in the same way for achieving this. If a centre left candidate had managed to secure a number of former Liberal Democrats as members to back them then they'd have been praised not ridiculed.

Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell are a sensationally dangerous prospect for Britain. The politics they promote is toxic and dangerous. However, they are in their posts because Jeremy Corbyn was democratically placed there. Many Labour moderates are furious that the far left have taken over the party and the PLP is clearly unable to work with Corbyn's central team. What do the moderates want though? They are harking back to a time that has passed and an ideology that doesn't exist and isn't supported by Labour members. We now have the peculiar case of Labour centralists lining up behind Owen Smith who has very little experience and a policy mandate that doesn't offer a strong alternative to Corbyn. This leadership challenge will, most likely, see Jeremy Corbyn re-elected with an even stronger mandate from Labour membership than when he was originally elected last year. Labour moderates have already tried to rewrite the rules to block the far left but they must accept they are entirely at odds with the Labour Party membership. Moderates are now clinging to a party that no longer wants them.

It is important to point out the value of the Labour brand. There is a substantial difference between Labour members and Labour voters. Labour voters are the normal type who go about their daily lives without the time to sign up as members, attend rallies or committee meetings. They are also not bound by the rhetoric of central office, as we saw huge numbers of Labour voters decide to vote leave in the recent EU referendum. Labour voters reflect a much larger proportion of the British population and these people are what provide value for the Labour brand; they represent about 20-25%, on a bad day, of the electorate. Whereas the Labour membership is divided between the hard left, soft left and moderate commentariats, who are something about moving closer to the centre. The members that Blair mobilised, who are now despised by the majority of membership, have not had a strong policy position or leader since 2007. Jeremy Corbyn, with the will of the membership, stands to inherit the Labour brand and the subsequent vote it represents. He will clearly need to convince those Labour voters he is the person they should be voting for, as these voters are not partisan like Labour Party members.

What happens next for the moderates? It is surely time for them to accept that the Labour Party has moved as far away as possible from the party that it was between 1994 until 2007. Labour was close to mutiny in 2007, caving into pressure that Blair was too right and that, slightly more left leaning, Brown should lead the party, and it has now been nine years of a gradual shift to the left. One that Miliband, very poorly, started and Corbyn accelerated. The moderates cannot modify rules and block members wishes by undemocratically stopping Corbyn from leading. The NEC has placed Corbyn on the ballot but this has come with conditions which are that members who joined since February must pay a further £25 to vote, pricing out much of the young and those on lower earnings from voting. This is a clear act to limit the democratic process of electing a Labour leader.

If moderates within the Labour Party truly feel that this is the party that best represents them and not a football team you support for nine years of hardship in the hope it may vaguely reflect something you once knew then they must win fairly. Like last time, this leadership election should be a battle of ideas between the leadership candidates and not a cabal trumping basic rules. A better analogy might be marriage, after nine years of bitter fighting, cheating and rule breaking most couples accept that it is time to divorce and those that don't, well they are in for a lifetime of unhappiness. I did this long before Corbyn but perhaps others should consider that a divorce might be better for Labour moderates. The shackles of partisan chains removed and the ability to think independently and for what is best for Britain might be rejuvenating for many who have hidden in the broad church for years.