A slogan used by Jeremy Corbyn’s most active enemies within the Labour Party. A slogan suggesting quite clearly that unlike its direct rival momentum, they are the faction most in touch with the electorate. But then again progress in itself is merely a perception of events. The problem with the Labour Party though, is that everyone has a different idea of what success means to them. Be it electoral, based on principles, or even the number of devout supporters one can get to a rally. All are classed as a success to different factions within the Labour Party. None of which are willing to compromise.
But after the supposed “infiltration” of the Labour Party by individuals whom actually support the principles of democratic socialism. Is there any support for a group which describes itself as a “New Labour pressure group aiming to promote a radical and progressive politics for the 21st century”? A collective of the darlings of Tony Blair? The children of Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell?
Well the answer to this is clear. No.
There is absolutely no hope for progressives to retake control of the Labour Party any time soon. Now, this may sound dismissive, and I may by some miracle be proved wrong, but I think the fact is staring us in the face. Not only have almost 300,000 people joined the Labour Party in protest of the squeaky clean politics erected by Tony Blair in 1995, but the vast majority of these are extremely active members. Proving that unlike what many in the Party were hoping for, that this new membership, is very much alive. And will certainly not get bored of their shiny new toy, Jeremy Corbyn. In fact all this has done, is offer a new line up of future leading lights for the left, whilst the right wing establishment faces being overturned by reselection.
But that’s not the only piece of evidence we have to support this claim. Like the doctors preparing to write the death certificate of “New Labour” we must look for any signs of life in the weak, battle scared body in front of us. Many within the party, will stand up in arms and declare this leadership election a referendum on the far left. A referendum the right seem to think they can win. In this they are gravely mistaken. Not only is Owen Smith himself on the left of the Labour Party. Yes, despite the claims of the twitter crazed “looney left” Smith is certainly no Red Tory, but actually much more left wing than Red Ed ever was. A modern day Clement Atlee, if you will. But the chance of even a strongly left wing candidate who would otherwise not have been considered, wrestling the leadership from the Corbynistas. Is very unlikely.
Polls suggest leads for Corbyn of around 20% over Smith, with 55% of the party members and the same share of 2015 Labour voters willing to endorse him, despite 172 MP’s backing his opponent.
It is clear to me therefore that the only hope for a progressive message to be on the ballot paper in 2020 and the local elections leading up to that date, is for those in the Labour Party who find themselves unable to support the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, to leave and set up their own political party. What it would be called, nobody knows. It would be rather reckless of any split to name themselves after their historical namesake the SDP. I think on that we can all agree.
The problem with this as many experts would say whatever their view on the Conservative Party, is that it would be fatal for British democracy. Highlighting more clearly than a disproportionate General Election of 2015, the faults within our electoral system, which hurts parties that have strong second or third place finishes, with its winner takes all nature.
Alternatively we cannot ignore the potential strength of a split in comparison to the 1980’s. In 1981 only 28 Labour MP’s split, and at its peak the Social Democrats were capable of pushing both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party into second and third place respectively. Could a party capable of taking between 100-172 MP’s and 1/3 of the Party membership be able to position itself much better? If more than 116 MP’s switch it would be the second largest party in the House of Commons after all. But then who would be up for leading this Blairite rebellion? Who has the potential to rally the progressives and maybe even become the Leader of the Opposition?
Liz Kendall MP (Former Shadow Minister for Care & Older People)
As the candidate which stood against Jeremy Corbyn in the 2015 Leadership Election, Kendall is a well known figure of the progressive wing, with a fairly positive public persona. She has already demonstrated her ability to hold others to account through her performances in the leadership hustings and the way her team handled the press during the election. Furthermore, as she was only elected in 2010, she is able to balance along the knife edge of being too inexperienced whilst also not being a guardian of the establishment. In 2015, she gained the support of 41 MP’s, and many more could potentially be brought into the fold, if a split took place. Overall, she is a good candidate with the only downside being her polarised views to Corbyn. Therefore there is potential for members of the middle ground to feel at odds with her personal views at times.
Dan Jarvis MP (Former Minister for Arts & Culture)
A much speculated potential leader in 2015, and then again last month. Jarvis has refused to stand stating that he wants to spend time brining up his young family. But despite these comments in the press, some in the party still suggest that he would be a future leader. After winning a by-election in Barnsley Central during 2011, Jarvis was finally able to represent the Labour Party, a dream since joining back when he was 18. Between now and then though, Jarvis has a life story unlike many other modern day politicians. He served in the military from 1997 to 2011. Being sent to Iraq and twice to Afghanistan. This would be able to generate trust for any new party on foreign affairs, as well as a relatability factor others lack. Politically he is more of a moderate than Kendall, and other potentials. Making him more likely to generate strong support amongst MP’s and supporters.
Tristram Hunt MP (Former Shadow Education Secretary)
Hunt is from the same political circles as Kendall, and after declining to stand himself in the leadership election of 2015, he endorsed her leadership bid. As a son of a Life peer, and student at Cambridge University, it is clear that he represents the political establishment many in the Labour Party oppose. An establishment many in a new party would not want to be defined by. Despite this he has had experience in the Shadow Cabinet, and during the leadership of Ed Miliband featured often on programmes such as Question Time and the Andrew Marr Show. All contributing to his precise manner which though reducing the potential for scandal, fails to strike a positive chord with the general public.
Other potential Leaders
Chuka Umunna has been the Member of Parliament for Streatham since 2010 and was Shadow Business Secretary between 2011 and 2015. He has solid foundations in terms of experience, and despite being part of the Progress movement, and backing Liz Kendall in 2015, his appeal across the party is much greater than that of other progressives. As shown by his backing of Ed Miliband in the 2010 leadership election instead of David Miliband. The only major problem with his leadership stems from his leadership declaration then un-declaration during 2015, which has damaged his credibility in the public eye.
Gloria De Piero is another potential candidate whom was elected in 2010. In October of that year she was appointed as Shadow Culture Minister, before then being moved in 2013 to Shadow Minister for Woman & Equalities – a role in the Shadow Cabinet. Despite backing Kendall over Corbyn, she agreed to stand in his Shadow Cabinet, as Shadow Minister for Young People & Voters. She resigned in June of this year during the mass resignation crisis.
David Miliband is an exceptionally far fetched candidacy, which has been floated ever since his brother’s surprise victory in 2010. Yet every time a challenge seems likely his name is circled around the media. But since resigning as an MP his prominence in British politics has wavered. He is currently President & CEO of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) based in New York. But then again I think if we have learnt anything this past year. It’s that British politics is highly unpredictable. A former Foreign Secretary might just be what a new party needs to gain some credibility.
In conclusion, I have tried to highlight that any split within the Labour Party would be catastrophic for the electoral system. Potentially leading to an even larger majority for the Tories. But we also cannot blame those 172 MP’s who voted against Corbyn, for rebelling against a movement which has made them alien within their own party. A party many of them have been part of since their youth and have since devoted their lives to. It is with reluctance therefore that some may look towards a split, but unless enough anti-Corbyn members swap, any attempt at political change would not be worth it, and the progressives will lose what little hold they have left over the Labour Party.
A new party must therefore elect a leader who is able to bring members of all shapes and sizes into the fold, as well as those from other parties. They must also be able to draw clear lines between themselves and what is left of the Labour Party, as well as the government. They must be able to hold Theresa May to account. And most importantly they need to be seen as electable. Otherwise, like the formation of the SDP. The achievements would be limited and certainly not long lasting.