The Bitterites’ glum faces on Friday summed up how well Corbyn performed in his first national electoral test, writes Charley Allan
IF THERE was any doubt whether Thursday’s elections had gone well for Jeremy Corbyn, the glum faces on right-wing Labour MPs the following day summed up the whole story.
One after another they moaned that the results just weren’t good enough — ignoring their party’s eight-point gain in national vote share since the general election a year ago. With the BBC putting Labour on 31 per cent to the Tories’ 30, this would be good enough to carry Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street.
“We’re not winning over the Tory voters we need for 2020,” the Bitterites whined, despite Labour seizing London’s City Hall from the Conservatives with a 14-point lead in the face of the most racist and dirty campaign in modern political history.
And amid warnings of council seat losses for Labour in the hundreds, ultimately it was just a mere 18 — 1 per cent of its 1,326 total. The Tories, however, ended up 48 seats down, 6 per cent of their tally of 842.
By holding on to Ed Miliband’s 2012 high-water mark, Corbyn put to rest his “electability question” for good. Although that won’t stop the sabotage by his internal enemies, there will now be no support for a coup among moderate mainstream MPs.
But there are a couple of lessons for Labour from their leader’s first national electoral test. Most important is to forget about winning back Scotland.
Tony Blair may have started Scottish Labour’s slide to oblivion, but the party’s tone-deaf campaign against independence cemented its demise. Gordon Brown saved the union, but at a terrible cost.
Nationalism will continue to dominate debate north of the border, trumping tribal party politics. The Tories’ surge into second place is simply a reflection of their stronger unionist credentials.
Corbyn’s challenge is to make sure the same thing doesn’t happen over the EU referendum. Ukip’s increasing vote share has to include some traditional Labour-voting Outers unhappy with their old party’s position on Europe.
To win back their support whatever the result on June 23, Corbyn should take the left exit argument seriously and frame the debate in terms of tactical advantage.
His warning that leaving the EU could lead to “a bonfire of rights that Labour governments secured” might be enough to win the sovereignty case. But Corbyn can’t repeat Brown’s mistake of dismissing genuine concerns about immigration.
Public services are at bursting point, and basics such as housing, jobs and school places have long been neglected. Time and again through history, recessions have been the breeding ground of the far right as immigrants take the blame for government failure.
Labour must win the argument that savage cuts to local councils fuel the crisis in social cohesion. From Sure Start centres to youth clubs and libraries, the spaces where communities integrate are disappearing.
And the growing lack of social care leaves everyone afraid — except the rich, who benefit most from a “bosses’ Europe.”
The threat of a Labour-led Lexit was enough to stop David Cameron from trying to negotiate away workers’ rights with the EU — the only reform his right wing was interested in.
And with the referendum result now on a knife edge, the PM is in the bizarre position of having his political future and legacy in the hands of his official enemy.
Corbyn is the only politician able to mobilise young voters, who could tip the balance to In but are far less likely to turn out than mainstream Leavers who have dreamed of this day for decades.
He should exact a high price to save Cameron’s career. Recent U-turns over child refugees, striking
doctors and trade union restrictions show just how weak this government is, with its working parliamentary majority of only 16.
Labour has successfully led campaigns on all these issues, as it did against cuts to tax credits and disability benefits. By encouraging supporters to organise locally and lobby lords and MPs, Corbyn has helped turn Tories against their own leader.
Even worse for Cameron, it’s not just his Euro-alienated right wing that’s flexing its muscles. First-time Tory MPs who represent traditional Lib Dem seats are said to be the driving force behind the government’s latest and most significant U-turn, announced on the day of its dreadful election results.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, still bruised from the previous night’s punditry opposite shadow chancellor John McDonnell on the BBC, took to the airwaves to announce she had “listened to feedback” over now-abandoned plans to force all schools to become academies.
This is a tremendous victory for Corbyn, who devoted two sets of Prime Minister’s Questions to the subject last month. It’s humiliating for Cameron, who has insisted throughout that the programme would still go ahead.
Cameron kept a low profile in the election aftermath, as did Chancellor George Osborne, who had announced the mass academisation in his recent Budget. Both of them are far more concerned about next month’s referendum, and know that an Out victory will hand former London mayor Boris Johnson the keys to No 10.
For that reason, even they must be slightly relieved to see Sadiq Khan succeed Johnson in City Hall — grateful that at least there’s now an outspoken Inner occupying this powerful platform.
Also relieved is anyone appalled by Zac Goldsmith’s vicious and divisive campaign. Most inappropriately, Charles Windsor knighted “project Islamophobia” mastermind Lynton “dead cat” Crosby at Buckingham Palace while the mayoral votes were still being counted.
Labour would undoubtedly have done better had the media focused on the racist Conservative campaign, which was denounced even by top Tory Muslims, as much as on its own so-called “Jewish problem” in the days leading up to the elections.
And Corbyn critics who used the dozen or so alleged anti-semitic offences — half of which are dubious and half the rest predating his leadership — out of nearly half a million members and supporters to destabilise him should hang their heads in shame.
As McDonnell made clear, it’s time for these traitors to “put up or shut up” — either launch their long-threatened leadership challenge or respect Corbyn’s massive mandate. From now on, disloyal MPs must be disciplined or even deselected for damaging Labour and bringing the party into disrepute.
But despite the non-stop sniping, Corbyn’s appeal shone through, with voters giving their verdict on both his first eight months in office and his premiership prospects. Apart from Scotland, where socialism looks less important than nationalism, Britain spoke loud and clear: “Jez we can!”