I don’t want to be one of those people in the Labour Party who constantly moans about the leadership. My natural instinct is to loyalty. I want Labour to do well because I believe the people I care about do better when Labour is in power and I think that constant infighting is, literally, self-defeating.
However, I think it’s also important that the Labour Party is honest with itself. I understand the desire to present the latest election results in a positive way, but it’s important that – as the dust settles – that we look plainly at the figures and assess where we are. And, the truth is, that we’re in a very bad place if our goal is to replace the Tories as a party of government.
The first thing to note is that, while it made sense to spin the election result as a step forward to journalists, being able to point to an increased national vote share of 2% since 2015 is a “good news story” – especially when you’re a leadership under pressure – it is not an honest story and we shouldn’t let the story we tell others lead us to delusions.
We have to set aside the spin when we, privately, look at the results and what they mean. Comparing a general election to a set of local elections is like comparing apples with oranges. Not every part of the country voted yesterday, not everyone voted using the same electoral system and, despite the temptation to believe otherwise, local politics and local candidates do matter.
The only fair comparison is not with 2015 but with 2012 – the last time these specific wards and elections took place at the same time. And when we look at that, the picture is much less encouraging. Since 2012 Labour’s share of the vote has fallen, dramatically, everywhere:
-9% in Scotland
-8% in Wales
-7% in England
Yes, the 2012 result was a good one – the omnishambles budget – had the Tories in significant disarray. But this year’s Tory party – with another disastrous budget and constant bickering over the EU, a strike in the NHS, the steel industry’s implosion and everyone in the cabinet positioning themselves for the coming leadership contest – is hardly in a better position than it was then.
And yes, you can argue that it’s not fair to compare the performance of “peak-Miliband” – almost 2 years into a parliament and his leadership – with Corbyn only 8 months in the job. But comparing Corbyn’s performance with the 2011 election (when Miliband was in the same stage of his leadership) doesn’t do this performance any favours either. In 2011 local elections Miliband increased Labour’s national share of the vote to 37% (up 2% from the previous general election, 10% from the previous cycle of local elections) – a significant step forward in a way this very definitely wasn’t.
So, what next?
Corbynism isn’t going anywhere. He (or someone with the same beliefs) would walk a leadership election held in the foreseeable future. Fantasies of a coup are nothing more than fever dreams.
Labour needs the team around Corbyn need to do better. The last eight months have been littered with self-inflicted public relations disasters and a basic inability to identify, stick to and deliver a campaigning agenda that strikes a chord with the public outside their core supporters. Yes, they face a hostile media, but so do all Labour leaders, and their often inexplicable choices have made things worse. Someone needs to be ruthless with people who are plainly not up to their job, and everyone needs to do better.
And, for god’s sake, stop talking about foreign policy.
And the wider circle of people who support Corbyn need to realise that not all criticism is disloyal. Sometimes it’s okay to apply a critical eye to what the party is doing, no matter how much faith you have in the leader.
Of course there are also those whose constant moaning and whinging needs to take a less hysterical, less publicly damaging form. If some of those who oppose Corbyn devoted as much time to building a credible, intellectually coherent and popular alternative to Corbynism as they do to screaming insults, the Labour Party would be in a better place.
But, to the public (and it is the public, after all who will decide the future of our party) it is the leadership that matters most, and that means the leadership has got to look at these results and recognise that things are going badly wrong have to change.
The bunker mentality that has developed around the Corbyn leadership will, if it continues, lead Labour to disaster. No matter how important you consider your principles, there’s no way to win an election in the UK by pursuing only a core of ultra-committed supporters. Especially not for a Labour Party that has lost Scotland (and has only narrowly avoided a disaster in Wales).
I didn’t vote for Corbyn. I don’t think he is the best leader for the Labour Party. But since he is the Labour Party leader, I would like him to be the best leader of the party it is possible for him to be.
So, be honest Corbynites.
Look the situation we’re in and – privately, if not in public – start to address the fact that this week was a very bad result and, that if you really want to be a party that replaces the Tories, you’ve got to do better.