Ex-LAB MP, Nick Palmer, looks at what the party might do

Ex-LAB MP, Nick Palmer, looks at what the party might do


What will Labour do?

If recent weeks have taught us anything, it’s that forecasting is a mug’s game – there may be pundits here who have always been right, but I can’t think of any – certainly not me. So the wise thing for reputations is to keep your head down.

But a lot of the comments here misread how many Labour people think, which has implications for those who bet on Labour outcomes. So some thoughts, partly to complement Don’s piece a few days ago.

1) There is a fairly broad consensus within Labour on what we see as the factual position (some here won’t agree, but this is members I’m talking about).

a) It’s a mess, and we’re not exploiting Tory divisions effectively.
b) Corbyn is a decent man pursuing a socialist agenda (on which more in a moment) not shared by most MPs. He’s putting up with intensive abuse with a polite equanimity that few of us would manage.
c) The party is being seriously damaged by the standoff between Corbyn and the MPs. It needs to be resolved either by replacing the leader, by replacing the MPs or by reaching a broadly acceptable compromise.
d) Labour’s support in these circumstances has a high floor (which is why Labour has over-performed in each by-election) and a low ceiling (which is why we’re not breaking through)

2)  The serious left – of which Corbyn is a prime exponent – is about systemic change towards a society less dominated by big business and prioritising solidarity with people in difficulty. They are not interested in singling out personalities, or tactical advantage, or a comfortable life for themselves. It completely misreads Corbyn to think that making his life difficult or unpleasant will make him resign.

3)  Most members are not reliably in one faction or another. To see the party as Progress vs Momentum overlooks a huge proportion of the membership who have a leaning one way or another but come to individual decisions. Factors:

a) Members want the party to stand for something they think attractive. Merely not being the Tories is insufficient if we need to be sort of Tory ourselves in order to achieve it.
b)  If a) is fulfilled, then members want to have the best chance of winning.
c) Members intensely dislike disloyalty. YouGov showed 60-39 opposed to the mass Shadow Cabinet resignations.
d)  MPs are mostly respected and liked in their CLPs, but there are limits, and if the PLP is perceived as irredeemably disloyal, members will start to look at deselection (see here.) A new leadership election is seen as fair enough. Continued moaning to the Daily Mail if Corbyn is re-elected will not.

4) The majority of members will consider an alternative if it is put positively and meets the above criteria – something worth fighting for and a good chance of getting it. “Here are the five things we should aim to achieve and how I’ll lead us to doing them” will get serious attention. “Vote for me because I can get rid of Jeremy” will not.

Conclusions: Corbyn will probably not stand down, because he’s the left-winger with the best chance of winning. A challenger has a fair chance (59% wasn’t that huge a majority – it looked that way because the opposition was split 3 ways), but they need to win positively. We get that the PLP majority isn’t happy with Corbyn: there’s no need to go on about it further. But do they have someone who would be both seriously progressive and electorally appealing and who would be inclusive towards the left? If so, let’s hear from them. If not, then STFU.

Nick Palmer

Nick Palmer was MP for Broxtowe from 1997-2010

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