The Blog

Whether You Like Him Or Not, Corbyn Is The Symptom, Not The Cause

The problem with the Labour Party right now is not that it has a problem, but that it doesn't know what that problem is.
Jane Barlow/PA Wire

The problem with the Labour Party right now is not that it has a problem, but that it doesn't know what that problem is.

Right now, the Labour Party thinks it's having a crisis of leadership, but that's not it. No, the problem is that the party is disconnected with itself.

By 2010, New Labour had lost the trust of the electorate, but not so much that anyone else could easily beat them. The Tories weren't able to win outright in 2010, and then in 2015 they only scraped through a majority due to the collapse of the Liberal Democrats. The problem for Labour wasn't that they had a party that was providing a clear and preferable alternative, but that people were happy to give the only plausible alternative a chance.

Something was missing, and the problem was they couldn't see it in 2010, and are failing to recognise it again now.

The Labour Party has always been an alliance. From its very inception it has been a collection of left-wing groups with different aims and agendas who came together to grasp parliamentary power in a way none of them could do alone. The current struggle in the party between "hard" and "soft" left is nothing new. It's the nature of the beast, and the job of the leader is to hold it all together.

Currently, that alliance is fragile. The Party hasn't fallen apart, but the cracks that for so long have been hidden under the surface are now open for all to see. But this isn't - as many are deluding themselves into thinking - the fault of Jeremy Corbyn. Whether you like him or not, Corbyn is a symptom, not the cause.

Why did Jeremy Corbyn win the leadership election last year? No one thought he had a chance, but he stormed ahead of the other, more "establishment" contenders and became the clear choice of the membership. Why was this?

He was both a protest vote, and the embodiment of an honest desire for change.

By 2015 the Labour Party had effectively alienated its membership in return for "electability". After over a decade of Blair and Brown's top down, presidential style of leadership, we felt that we didn't matter to the people in charge. Political parties need to carefully balance the wants of their membership - who are more radical and hold more idealistic views - and the general electorate - who must be convinced that ideology won't win out over their wellbeing and comfort. Labour lost this balance. They ignored the membership too long.

I think they were trying to fix the issue, but they were refusing to face up to the real problem. Ed Miliband was a member of the establishment that the people were turning their back on. He was one of those who had risen through the ranks of New Labour. He could never be seen as "change".

This is the problem. Labour was stagnant and divided, and the party didn't release this until the slap across the face that was the election of Jeremy Corbyn. Suddenly, all the certainties they had been clinging to had collapsed around them. The party membership no longer trusted that those at the top knew what they were doing, and should simmply be allowed to get on with it. They felt they had been ignored for too long and they wanted a change.

New Labour did many things right, but they are now facing the long term fall out of failing to see that change was both needed, and unavoidable.

The current crisis is all about challenging the status quo. We are in a new generation. The Millennials - who have been seen as naïve, idealistic children to many - are now politically of age and don't want to do things the way their parents did.

And, to some people at least, it's terrifying.

Imagine a failing company. Now imagine that as none of the current employees have been able to fix the problems it's facing, the owners bring in an outside manager to turn things around. Would the old employees - who had failed to save the company themselves - have the right to complain that the new manager wanted to do things differently?

Now I'm not a Corbyn fanboy. I recognise that he hasn't been the best leader, and coming into power in the way he did has thrown a handful of grit into the well oiled machine of the PLP. He wasn't ready to lead the party and has been climbing a steep learning curve. But making a fuss about this now is five years too late. Labour didn't win back our trust with subtle changes, so a seismic shift was necessary. But whoever wins the new leadership challenge, the divisions and the problems that led to this point will still be there. This is the state of the Labour Party in 2016. A new figurehead will make absolutely no difference to anything.

Jeremy Corbyn didn't break the Labour Party. He rose to the top because it was broken.

The best thing that can be done now is for the Party to work with what it has, becuase at this point replacing Corbyn will do nothing to heal the rifts that are the real problem. Spend the next two or three years working on the divisions within the party, as well as backing up the leader to oppose the government, even if it's difficult to stomach. Politicians working hand in hand with people they personally despise is nothing new. And while they are doing that they can take the time to start thinking the next generation of leadership contenders, as well as the next generation of voters who are going to be the ones who can get them into power, to make sure they're not blindsided by like this again in the future.

At this point, with all polls pointing to another Corbyn landslide, the Labour party needs to take a long look at itself. To take stock of what's happened to it. The world has changed, and the party can either continue to fight blindly against itself or rally round and offer the world something new. Because you don't find the Tory party by offering more of the same. The Tory party is all about the status quo. No, you beat the Tory party by offering something new, exciting, and challenging.