POLITICS
14/10/2019 23:15 BST | Updated 15/10/2019 09:02 BST

Labour MPs Warn Party Is ‘Nowhere Near Ready’ For Election After PLP Briefing

One critic asked election coordinators: “What colour is the sky on your planet?”

Labour MPs have claimed the party is “nowhere near ready” for a general election after campaign chiefs presented their latest plans for taking on Boris Johnson in a snap poll.

Backbenchers hit out following a presentation by joint election co-ordinators Ian Lavery and Andrew Gwynne at the weekly meeting of the parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) in the Commons on Monday night.

The pair faced questions over the lack of information on target seats, campaign funding, Facebook strategy and the huge cost of ‘community organisers’ hired by Jeremy Corbyn’s team in the past three years.

Party chair Lavery told the meeting Labour had “never been more ready for an election” in its entire history.

But he was accused of failing to provide reassurance after he said that it was difficult to predict turnout in different seats because Brexit was still an unknown quantity, one of those present said. Some others said a second referendum had to be held before any election.

Peter Nicholls / Reuters

During the meeting, one MP told Lavery and Gwynne: “You’re both friends, but what colour is the sky on your planet?”

Several MPs left the meeting unconvinced, with one saying “we definitely can’t have an election after that”.

“It was delusional. A burbling, embarrassing litany of trite slogans,” one MP told HuffPost UK. “They haven’t a clue. I just thought what are you smoking?”

At one point during the 90-minute meeting, Lavery was asked by backbencher Peter Kyle why Labour was now regularly behind the Tories in the polls - often by double figures in percentage points.

Veteran MPs in safe seats and newer MPs in marginals said afterwards they were worried by the absence of a detailed, credible plan to fight the election.
Corbyn is under growing pressure from his MPs to postpone a general election until the spring, with even backbenchers with large majorities worried about the twin threat of the Brexit party and the Liberal Democrats.

Several members of the shadow cabinet now back the idea of holding off an election to either give time to push a second referendum or to simply exploit Tory divisions over a delay to Brexit and hope the opinion polls turn in Labour’s favour.

Some Labour MPs and even shadow ministers have been highly critical of the raft of community organisers hired by the party and seen by critics as the pet project of Karie Murphy, the controversial aide who left Corbyn’s office last week to head up election preparation at the party’s HQ.

Mary Glindon, who represents North Tyneside, complained that community organisers - which critics claim have cost £1.5m - were not needed in her safe seat and would be better off spending their time in marginals.

She said that the community organisers locally had organised two Momentum meetings and that appeared to be the total of their efforts, with little or no contact with local parties, regional offices or councillors.

Several MPs and peers are worried that the party has lost highly experienced elections and polling staff who have fought recent contests, including the 2017 election as well as winning elections in 1997, 2001 and 2005.

Many of those present stressed that there was no anger directed at Lavery and Gwynne, just disbelief.

“It’s obvious we are nowhere near ready for an election. Ian started talking about community organisers and said the words ‘organic social media’. Even he didn’t seem to believe it,” one said. “He was the only person who didn’t realise the big hole open up in the room around him.

“You can tell he’s never had to fight a marginal seat. He’s never had to sort a social media budget, he’s never had to do a get-out-the-vote campaign, in his own seat. And Aaron Bastoni retweets are not an election winning strategy, no matter how ‘organic’ it is.”

Labour MP Neil Coyle, who is defending the marginal seat of Bermondsey and Old Southwark, said that Corbyn’s face should not be on any Labour leaflets because he would be on every single Tory leaflet anyway.

Another MP told HuffPost UK: “We are all assuming John Mac (McDonnell) has now told Jeremy ‘this is a shit show, there’s no way we have an election campaign in place’. And yet they are ploughing on with these crazy selections. It shows it’s all about getting their people in, nothing to do with an election.”

MPs on the party’s Parliamentary Committee have in recent months been told by the party HQ that there is internal polling showing the gap is narrower than public polls portray, but their requests to be shown the polling have been refused.

Kate Osamor complained that some people signed up as Labour members in her constituency appeared not to be on the electoral register, one source said. PLP chair Jon Cryer is said to have agreed to raise the issue with the party.

One Corbyn ally said that there were questions from MPs trying to get to grips with new software and “a few Brexit/Corbyn comments from people who usually raise it”. “It’s just people trying to cause trouble. Both Ian and Andrew covered lots of areas and took loads of questions.”

Another supporter of the leadership said there was no hostility at the meeting but there was obvious concern.

“Members are nervous and expressed a range of views, many of which opposed each other. Remain and Leave MPs using the same arguments but from their viewpoint. Unique circumstances and understandable anxieties.”