Labour, Politics

Labour leadership election 2015: A haplessly optimistic prediction of Labour resurgence

Courtesy: The Guardian
 
In 2010 after the resignation of Gordon Brown, I was first aware of the pandemonium that followed that was the election of the next Labour leader. There was drama, family feud, vilification, public display of underlying fragmentation in the Labour Party, which finally resulted in a disheartened brother leaving mainstream politics and moving to the USA, the other disgruntled opponent losing the plot and ending up losing his seat, and the victor was the least suitable candidate to win the public mandate. However, the theatrics that ensued Labour’s loss in 2010 election proved that there are emotions running high, and all the candidates were trying to convince the Labour supporters and unions that they can turn the tide in the next election.  The election process is not a clinical nodding or ayes of the cunning politicians, who are actually protecting the interests of their peers and businesses that represent top 1% echelon of the socio-economic strata. A Tory process of selection — although apparently sleek and efficient, it accentuates the disregard of the democratic process and the leader almost emerges when the former has served his time. However, coming to 2015, the landslide loss for Labour necessitated selection of a phenomenal leader; yet, the party hurled itself into a state of uproar, revolt and public mockery. An utter farce — that’s how the 2015 leadership election can be described as.

 
2015 will be marked as the darkest hours of Labour’s existence. During previous five years, the then leader Ed Miliband failed to steer the party to a coherent goal and set up an election strategy from his ascension to the helm. Mr. Miliband has been very sporadic in his policy making — in the beginning he was a staunch supporter of unionism, then he distanced himself from them, then around the end of 2013, he finally started to shape a common goal which was radical, but it left no time to reach out to public and show the results. Labour has been decimated due to the dichotomy in its policy. Always a Labour stronghold, Scotland, coming to terms with the referendum and a consensus on the need for a nationalistic decentralised governance, saw SNP as a much suitable party to represent Scottish interests in Westminster. On the other hand, England, with its inherently supercilious and royalist conservative majority, saw nothing offered by Labour that the Conservatives didn’t, and Tories were better placed to protect their wealth, as well as present a robust leadership that promotes sense of security and stability to the unsure voters. Labour, on the other hand, could not take the bait from SNP to ally with them in Scotland in fear of losing English votes; yet they could not be bold enough to swing the party towards left, offering British public some tangible benefits away from the clasps of capitalist consumerist vision that Tories have projected. By the time Ed Miliband stood on the election debates, Labour had already reduced to a party offering toned down version of the Tory manifesto. Late radical changes were brought in but that was too late to prove to general public how they are going to deliver what they promised.
 
After the humiliating defeat in 2015 general election, whilst the Tories recorded the biggest singular majority in many decades, Labour was looking at being completely wiped out of Midlands and South of England, as shown in the image below:

Courtesy: The Telegraph 


The party lost all Scottish seats as well, but in this game of dominos, it is all about English votes, the reason will be explained in latter sections. To win the English votes back, Labour needed a recovery programme focussed towards regaining people’s faith in the party and demonstrate through various council elections, a successful illustration of their proposals being implemented. In sports, after a heavy loss, teams are known to regroup, reshuffle, reflect on the negatives as well as things that went well. A similar SWOT analysis was necessary for the party, to rebuild the party’s credibility to the general public. To make it all happen, Labour needed a charismatic character on the top, who would steer the party to this long-term goal. What actually happened in reality — would questions Labour’s credibility to its staunchest supporters. 
 
Following Ed Miliband’s departure the first person to throw his hat into the fray was Chuka Umunna, a young energetic upshot, who I once met at a local Labour Party meeting, but soon as he expressed his intention to run for the top spot, the Tory led media went on a frenzy trying to delve into his private life. Although a committed Blairite, whose views are not much different from the Conservative party anyway, Mr Umunna could have been an ideal choice for Labour leader as he seemed to have the potential and the necessary leadership skills to run the party. However, under the media scrutiny of his private life including his partner, he shied away from the leadership election. In one way, one might have respect for him to prioritise the privacy of his family over career; on the other hand, living in Britain, under the focus of an obnoxiously interfering media, if that was the choice he would make every time, perhaps it was time to rethink his future as politician. During the early days leading towards the election, this series of events around Chuka Umunna showed that he is still not ready to pick up the leadership baton yet, but he certainly possesses the qualities of an innate leader, so this will not be the last time we saw of him. 
 
The next two candidates who showed their willingness for the Labour leadership was not unexpected. Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper both registered their names about the same time. After Ed Miliband resigned, and Ed Balls lost his seat, Andy Burnham was the next most senior leadership figure in the Labour Party after Harriet Harman, who, it seems, is happy to spend rest of her political career as the deputy chief after every election, when Labour has lost and the leaders elected. Andy stood in the 2010 leadership election as well but under the heavyweights like the Miliband brothers and Mr. Balls, he was deemed as a minnow. 2015, on the contrary, saw a complete turnaround of events, where he would be considered the frontrunner for the position. Yvette Copper, the next candidate, has also been serving Labour for a long time including cabinet roles in power as well as in the shadow cabinet. If Mr. Burnham is the most obvious male candidate for the role, Ms. Cooper would have been the natural first choice to be the first woman leader of the Labour Party. The inclusion of Liz Kendall was, in a way, surprising, as like Mr. Umunna, she is a young candidate and not been in the highlight much. These three candidates seemed to be the trio running for the Labour leadership, who the millions of Labour Party and union members needed to choose from. Then all on a sudden, a sixty something gentleman entered the stage, very late during the leadership discussions, and took Britain in a storm.  Jeremy Corbyn changed power equations in the Labour headquarters and laid bare the internal fissures within the Party. 
 
Before Jeremy came to the equation, looking at the candidates, contesting to be running the party, showed one commonality. All three of them, running for election, share the same background, which one is accustomed to seeing in a Tory candidate. All of them are educated at Oxford or Cambridge, all of them are neo-Thatcherites and with no union background. I used to be a Labour supporter myself and during the days of Miliband’s directionless strategies, I cancelled my membership with a view that the £5 membership money could be better spent given to a charity. However, if I were to choose a leader for the party in the election amongst these three, I would probably have chosen none. I have expressed this view many times and strongly believe that Labour has lost its appeal to the public as they are too concerned about what the Conservatives are doing and decided not to propose anything drastically different. In this process, not only are they alienating the hard working bottom 50% of the population, they have not been able to swing votes from Tory voters either. This is a result of the present Labour policy, which at best, is sitting on the fence between the two categorically distinct strata of society and hence does not appeal to neither. To prevent Labour lose its identity and electability forever, they needed a complete policy reshuffle, in a way, a “Robin Hood” government, that would finally put the priority to most of working class population, not the 1% on the top, whose life doesn’t depend on the election anyway. It needed more spending in infrastructure, NHS and social housing, raise tax rates for higher earners and the corporates, reduce spends on defence and in the end, stop funding the Royal family to cut down on deficits. Burnham, Cooper and Kendall cannot certainly make this happen as they have not been accustomed to the fiery Labour leadership following the footsteps of Late Tony Benn and Michael Foot. Jeremy Corbyn, on the other hand, have seen them from close, and heading towards the end of his political career, he will not be limited by myopic personal career aspirations, as the other three would. Jeremy Corbyn, as he entered the leadership arena at a later stage, was best poised to pick up the baton and sort the party straight. Some rejoiced at the idea, including myself, but many others saw red. 
 
And indeed they saw red, metaphorically, as the political views of Mr Corbyn in reshaping Labour is much radical, and the media was not late branding him left wing. Jeremy Corbyn’s pledges so far, if he were to win the leadership race, are groundbreaking, not just for the Labour Party, but looking forward towards 2020, for Britain. From repealing the decentralisation clauses to proposal of reopening closed mines, to a cap in maximum wage for higher earners, Jeremy Corbyn’s strategies have been seen as anti-market; but it has been hailed by many for the same reason as well. Scathing attack has ensued, not just from the Conservative media, but also from the Media mainly backing Labour such as The Mirror, Guardian and Independent, since Mr Corbyn’s policies don’t belong to any school of political thought known to british public in recent era. The Labour backing media branded him a Commie, and refrain from voting him as it would reduce Labour to a pressure group rather than a political party. Mr Corbyn’s image was projected as an activist than a political leader. However, media’s closeness with the Blairite faction of the Labour Party is well known, and one can remember how the majority of the Labour frontbenchers were ordered by Harriet Herman not to oppose the Tory budget, and most of them followed the order. SNP opposed the bill vociferously and demanded after such a callous show by Labour that SNP should be allowed to sit at the opposition. Remembering that incident, Labour would soon cease to exist as a political party with such dismal performance and utter disregard to people’s trust who voted the MPs in power. 
 
However, a lot of people were able to read between the lines how media represented Jeremy Corbyn and what he truly stood for. Also, media launching an all out attack on Mr Corbyn also clarified another fact — the opposition don’t want him in power as they are afraid of him. Corbyn became a phenomenon over time. Labour Party have seen an unprecedented rise in the leadership applications and affiliations; the numbers were so high that they had to scrutinise the applicants’ profiles to assess if they are real or just joining to vote Jeremy Corbyn with a more sinister intent. Watching the news reports showed an interesting observation, whilst Burnham, Cooper, Kendall trio managed to gather middle to old aged die-hard section of the population, Mr Corbyn on the contrary, attracted masses of youth — his platform for popularity could aptly be attributed to social media, as the rest failed to delve into social media. Opinion polls showed Jeremy Corbyn winning the race by a long way, even if considering the alternative vote system. 
 
It’s not just the young people — termed by the likes of The Mirror, as the Tory trolls or anarchists, but the supports from unions that added a new dimension to Jeremy Corbyn’s chances to win the election. At the time of writing this article, Unison, Britain’s largest union endorsed Mr Corbyn as the next leader.  Considering Labour election is voted by the party as well as the union members, this backing will sway a large number of voters towards Jeremy Corbyn, who previously saw himself as a mere outsider. The union has long had a disagreement with the Labour leadership, since the party policy distanced itself from the interests of the unions such as pay rise, job security etc. Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper has no good relations with the unions either. Therefore, even if Mr Corbyn does not win the election in September against all odds, the new elected leader will have a difficult time negotiating terms with unions, as Labour’s biggest source of revenue, and hence its working capital, is the unions they are backed by. 
 
From an unknown nobody to the front runner for the Labour leadership role — the journey for Jeremy Corbyn has not been very easy, especially when the likes of Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Alistair Darling weighed in their opinion against election of Mr Corbyn. It is shameful and shambolic how the senior Labour frontbenchers jumped on the bandwagon criticising Jeremy Corbyn and vowed to oppose in case he was elected. During its desperate existential struggle, what Labour could not afford to do is show its internal differences and feud to general public, and they have just done that —perhaps losing more potential voters. With his political career only spanning London, it made even harder to win support of the rest of England due to obvious public indignation against London in all spheres of British life. Some MPs already vowing rebellion from the day he was elected as the Labour leader, if it were to happen. The Daily Mirror correspondent Paul Routledge suggested Andy Burnham should be voted for he wears a tie and white shirt, is clean shaven and telegenic. The sensationalist reporting which was a characteristic of the right wing media has infiltrated and contaminated the reporting on the liberal spectrum of British news reporting as well. Labour opponent,s in their bid to stop Mr Corbyn, tried to put far stricter acceptance criteria for the unprecedented wave of new applications. Guardian and Independent, on the contrary, reported views for and against the future of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn regime. With the time of the election fast approaching, the attacks are becoming fiercer, such as the anti-Semitism charges/links which are the additional distractions Mr Corbyn is presently having to defend. 
 
With my wholehearted wishes to Jeremy Corbyn, let’s go back to the first principle of Communist government, which the harbingers, the Soviets union, have flouted more time than anyone else — and it’s about the fact that no person is greater than the party. Whoever wins the election on the 12th September, all supporters can claim in unison, that Labour needed a complete makeover — what it stands for, which part of the population they are representing. However, to identify the problem with Labour today, we need to delve into the British psyche, which has been evolving since the Norman invasion. During the industrial revolution and Colonial expansion, the phenomenal growth seen by the country placed it to one of the most influential countries in the world. Since the Second World War, Britain remained one of the permanent members of the G5, and one of the countries synonymous with soft power in recent times, but the world geopolitics changed shift from the barrel of the gun to the banks and economies. Britain still remained one of the biggest military powers but swing of global economical vortex have already shifted to the East.  Nevertheless, British psyche still believes that they are part of the empire where the sun never sets. Blighted with this misconception, the majority of the British public is still an avid Royalist and seemingly possess, perhaps inadvertently in cases, a selfish vainglorious conservative mindset. From the onset of the Whigs to present Labour, a larger number of supporters are still perhaps disgruntled Conservatives. Also, there are the second category of people, who likes to think they are Labour, as having a benevolent socialist image makes them feel good about life in general, but their social, political, governance views rest at the opposite spectrum from an ideal Labour perspective.
 
The question of ideal Labour itself is dubious. Where do the Labour party stand in the political spectrum? Are they right at the centre, centre left or centre right? How much could the party push itself towards left to attain the optimum balance for maximum votes? These questions are hard to answer but one thing is obvious — making the party a replica of moderated Tory policies would make the party look like a bunch of Tory Zombies, regurgitating Conservative policies in a pretty humanitarian wrapper. It is absolutely unlikely that by doing so, Labour will swing back enough Conservative votes to win the next election. Sadly enough, this vacuous premise is exactly what all three Labour leaders hopefuls but Jeremy Corbyn, are basing their proposed recovery on.  It is even childish to see that these three are talking about selective voting to members in order to eliminate Mr Corbyn. The Labour Party that saw phenomenal leaders over the ages and and play a strong opposition, is now truly reduced to rubble of an undemocratic collection of factions. 
 
However, amid the fan frenzy for Jeremy Corbyn, one still needs to ask questions on his credibility as the future Labour leader. Mr Corbyn has been a vociferous member of parliament involved in a plethora of activities that are more of activism, such as nuclear disarmament, recognition of Palestine etc.  One begs the question, what suddenly inspired Mr Corbyn to stand in for Labour leadership. Is there an ulterior motive behind the decision to stand for the top spot? Once elected, Mr Corbyn will still have to prove to the British public that what he spoke of, will be transformed into action. It needs a different set of skills to lead a country of nearly 70 million from leading an opposition with fiery criticism of the ruling party. Jeremy Corbyn is ideal for the latter, but will he be effective enough for the PM? Does this mean he will have to forego some of his genuine flair or on the other side of the scale, withstand tremendous capitalist market forces — as recently observed for Greece — if he decides to take British economy a left twist? Also, the Tory biased media, apart from a few sporadic reports, have been very quiet on Labour, on the way to be led by a pro-left politician. So is the Conservative Party spokespersons, they are very reticent on this issue. Perhaps they are quietly rejoicing the dogfight at Labour camp and perhaps secretly selecting the cabinet for the 2020, assuming a Corbyn win will push the quasi-conservative British population farther away from Labour, and Tories might even widen their lead. The same could be said about the hundreds of thousands of membership applicants — are they all passionate Labour supporters or just activists voting for Corbyn or worse, Tory trolls thinking of sabotaging Labour, thinking a Corbyn win would deliver a coup de grace to a Labour doom. On the contrary, trying to be over-cautious, would alienate thousands of genuine potential future Party workers/ volunteers/ leaders with an alternative view on how the party would shape in future. 
 
With an eye to the 2020 election, Labour have  mountains to climb. It’s not easy to predict what Mr Corbyn will do as the leader, nor prescribe a policy that would please all. The first step would be to set the pace for the party and the boundary conditions — extremities for the extent of policies. To simplify, if Labour wants to take a lurch towards left, keeping abreast with the ground realities, such as a Bolshevik Revolution will not take the party anywhere, so develop the party strategy to what extent they will be pro-Left. At the same time, on some issues like spending cuts, if the Party had to take some stand, set up limits towards right as well — how much the government would make the working class lose out. The first step would then spell out the cluster of population the Party will stand up for. A left bias will mean the working class people will benefit more from the economy than the large market Giants and conglomerates. Considering 50% of the population belongs to this category, there should be no doubt about rewarding the poor and hard-done public by taxing the rich. Maintaining my stand that British, predominantly English population is pro-Conservative, this is the section of the public, where left wing policies will be challenged most. At the beginning I mentioned that effect of Scottish votes will be discussed later. The proposition of adopting policies more towards left — as much they might be abhorred in England; at Scotland, the same policies will imply more power to Scottish people, less governance from Westminster. Labour may need to assess having a coalition with the SNP rather than fighting them in Scotland. 
 
The next stage would be to create a vision, a set of core policies that a Labour government will be able to deliver, if they won the election in 2020. Defence spending will need to be cut down, and the Trident programme, which has proven so far as the holy grail of the defence ministry with no specific outcome yet, will need to be abandoned. More social housings are needed to be built, which was put to a stop by Thatcher. In infrastructure, promises to open mines may seem a bit far fetched, but if feasible, that will produce more local resources. Projects like HS2 and third runway at Heathrow will all need to be pursued as started by the Tories, though keeping in mind the environmental concerns. Reducing the national debt will be a sour point as everybody will be interested to see the proposal coming out from the Corbyn camp. It is difficult to explain to a person that a reduction in this debt will have no significant impact on their life or the country in general regardless of the measures adopted. In terms of achieving some degree of budget surplus to meet the debts, the revenue will have to come from the businesses and rich 1% of the population, who amass the majority of national wealth. A cap on highest salary and bonus, higher tax rate for the rich, a more stratified tax regime for the public and introduction of mansion tax — these will all result in wiping out the stark differences in people’s lifestyles. If elected, Labour should legislate the living wage in all areas in the UK to become the minimum wage. The above measures, although seemingly helping the bottom 50% of the population immensely, will face fierce criticism from the Tories as well as the market. UK will still continue to be one of the biggest business hubs in Europe, but there will be a heightened mistrust between the government and the businesses, making businesses to look for other tax havens like Gibraltar, Cayman Islands. Privatisation of the government sectors will need to be prevented, at the same time bringing the ones already privatised back under the aegis of the nationalised industry would tantamount turning the clock backwards and may prove retrogressive. From the farce caused by the east coast mainline tender, it is clear that benefits of privatising the railways have not outweighed the drawbacks. The party will have to be more lenient on immigration as well, moving away from tainting all migrants in the same colour. On one hand, admittedly the immigration rules will have to be more flexible for applicants from all countries, Britain should also do more to take migrants coming from war torn countries like Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan — rather than the shameful stance taken by Teresa May and the Tory government in general. Unrest in the world, after all, can be traced back to Cold War, and colonialism before that. Another aspect that Labour failed to grasp in recent times is the multiculturalism — the minorities do not want to be patronised, they understand the differences in custom, culture and values in present British society and keen to lead their lives acknowledging the differences and enrich the country along the process. Labour’s laughable and fake championing of minorities has not only failed to convince the minorities but also alienated the White British working class voters. There are many more ideas that Labour can project as a progressive political party, but this essay is not intended to become a Labour Party manifesto. However, one thing the newly elected leader will need to improve upon is its relationship with unions. In recent years, the more the neo-Thatcherite leaders ascended to the leadership role, the relationship between the party and the unions soured. If Mr Corbyn is elected, under his leadership, the party will have to be more understanding of the issues pursued by unions and back them up more rather than show the present tendency of disowning them yet enjoy running big campaigns with union donations, who are biggest contributor to Labour’s funds. 
 
Based on the foundation formed with these multitude of visions, that need to be radically different from the shadow Tory manifesto the party seems to be working to, it will then be up to all Labour MPs/Councillors/Party workers to adhere to that vision and work as one party towards achieving that target of winning the 2020 election. Although councillors do not have much power these days, small positive steps will definitely have a lasting effect on people’s minds. At the same time, being too ambitious with the socialist agenda will prove difficult to achieve, and this will only result in further public despair. We can refer SMART targets — Simple, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound — all these targets will need to be achieved before the election campaigns begin. This is where the emotion will have to give way to logic, and realise that in this day and age, it is not possible to change a country overnight. 
 
Looking from a socialism perspective, communism is not the only way to achieve an equal society, and the old model is now proven dysfunctional. Also, to make communism work, all countries will need to implement it at the same time, which is absolutely impossible. In today’s world of Interconnected markets, where the market forces are unfortunately more dominant than the governments, a move too radical would destroy the government as well as the party, as seen to have happened for Syriza in Greece. It’s a question of having a radical curriculum spanning much longer than five year spurts but effecting small but positive changes, staying within the vices of the Capitalism, yet using the market to benefit the people left behind.
 
To conclude, 2015 has been the most harrowing year for the Labour Party and the ordeal is not over yet. Following the biggest election defeat, when it seemed that things couldn’t get any worse, the party headed to a precipitous low with the most divisive leader election so far. At least, the party supporters could thank Mr Corbyn, who helped bring this internal feud out in the open. So, when the leadership election is over, the Labour will need to regroup and act as one party, trying to bring the entire Britain together, creating a fair living standard for the poorest and make the richest realise, that if their wealth was built on exploitation of the rest, it becomes a social responsibility to share their wealth to uplift the lives explored. To make this happen, Labour will have to be more upcoming than the Fabian society counterparts would want to, as the Capitalism is moving at a much faster pace. Jeremy Corbyn instilled a fresh breath of new air into the stifling bureaucratic outfit that Labour has become. Remembering an unforgettable line from V for vendetta “Anarchy wears two faces-both creator and destroyer, thus destroyers topple empires, make a canvas of clean rubble where creators can then build a better world. Rubble, once achieved, makes further ruin’s means irrelevant. Away with our destroyers! They have no place in our better world. But let us raise a toast to all our bombers, all our bastards, most unlovely and most unforgivable. Let’s drink their health and then meet with them no more”. This is why Labour needs someone like Mr Corbyn today, to shake the party up, clear up the clutter—the impasse Labour have hit, to show the party it’s true North following footsteps of Michael Foot, Tony Benn or Eric Hobbsbawm. A win in 2020 is still a far-fetched dream, but a Corbyn win will certainly set Labour in the right path…
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