Labour election results have amply demonstrated that much more has to be done to restore the party’s cohesion, a sense of togetherness and a culture of open debate within as much as outside it, says RABBIL SIKDAR
Where did the term “hard left” even come from anyway? It often feels like a label to smear and accuse rather than embrace. A sneering rejection of radicalism that has often defined progressive politics throughout its history.
The Labour Party itself feels like a microcosm of that argument. The “hard left” versus everyone else.
What to make of the local elections? They weren’t good. There is no point in pretending that — an opposition party should always be looking to make gains in a local election rather than contain the losses.
The Labour Party has sunk to an alarming low where a disaster in Scotland and struggle across England and Wales can be assessed as “hanging on.”
Except there’s an infuriating reason as to why supporters of the Labour leadership are justified in looking at the results with a small degree of optimism.
The party survived a far harsher prediction, amid a tide of infighting and controversy. The rows over anti-semitism, Ken Livingstone and previous skirmishes over Trident could have resulted in a total wipeout. Instead Labour clung on and the deficit between them and the Tories is smaller than when it was at the general elections.
Again, satisfaction has to be directly served with caution and realism too. People vote differently in elections that carry lesser significance. Labour veered towards a “hard left” strategy in Scotland and still performed abysmally.
Corbyn has tried everything in Scotland and it hasn’t worked. Blairite politics have left a toxic legacy where Labour are no longer trusted with the economy and now loathed by their traditional core voters.
But Labour’s struggle has been created and conditioned by the civil war that has rampaged through it in recent months.
The party that was the political wing of the working class is at the moment letting those very same people down. Had there been unity allowing for Corbyn’s message to come across cearly, Labour would have performed better.
On key issues, Labour has stood on the side of the public, be it tax credits, the NHS or the steel industry and has, in general, been unified over domestic issues.
And yet issues like the Falklands and Trident, which simply carry little appeal to most families, have dogged the party. It is in no-one’s interest to discuss issues that the party is simply not ready for until we have regained trust and power.
It’s been frustrating to wake up and find out Labour have gone from flattening the Tories in debates over the NHS to infighting.
It would be delusional to say Corbyn has been perfect. He hasn’t and I profoundly disagree on some foreign policy issues. But the reaction of the Labour right hasn’t been to privately work with Corbyn and reach a satisfying compromise. It’s been to drag him to the gutter press and serve him to the Murdoch empire.
The “kinder politics” that Corbyn has introduced has been bludgeoned to death from day one by Blairite MPs treating every setback as ammunition to discredit him.
But not everyone to the right of Corbyn is necessarily a Blairite and certainly most of his critics within the party are not. Isolating the Blairites as a fringe branch within the labour movement does not mean shutting down a pluralistic movement.
For Labour to win in 2020, it needs to be diverse in its voice and that means listening to critics.
I support Corbyn but I would probably identify myself as a “soft-left” socialist. To most of those who wear that label, with growing confidence, it simply means a more self-reflective left that does not treat criticisms as smears or ignore polls. Corbyn and his supporters can work with this large number of activists and MPs. They are not running off to the media to castigate Corbyn. They are the bulk of the Labour membership — ordinary people with left-leaning views who want to get on with their lives and see Labour as the best medium for change.
Party unity does not mean compromising on core principles by getting into bed with the Blairites. Rather they need to be brought into line by the realisation from the rest of the party that their self-serving tactics are not helping the party.
The radical left and the soft left can work together and understand where the party suffers — the need for progressive patriotism, reclaiming the mantra of security and applying a theme of fiscal competence to egalitarian justice are some of the many issues Labour needs to work on.
And why can it not be done? Corbyn has done well given what he has faced from within. The sadness is that what the party has achieved is simply not enough. That comes from heavy infighting, it comes from mistakes on both sides and particularly the treacherous tactics of the Labour right. A united Labour can easily defeat a Tory Party suffering from its own problems. But can we unite?