As I See It

Corbyn win turns heat on Calamity Kez

Terry smiling headIf the pundits and Labour’s old guard are correct, then the party has just voted itself into oblivion. Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election as leader will either confirm that outcome or else tell us how much the ‘opinion formers’ and political elite are out of touch.

His re-election with 61.8% of the vote, was a larger margin of victory than last year when he swept into office on the back of a popular ‘uprising’.

Those who rallied to the Corbyn cause objected to being forced into an austerity programme by a spoon-fed and Eton-educated Tory leadership too much in awe of greedy bankers. To the hundreds who packed meeting rooms to hear him speak Mr Corbyn represented the real Labour party which had lost its way under the Tory-lite leadership of Ed Miliband.

Yet Mr Corbyn’s first year in office can hardly have been more inauspicious. From his “failure” to back the EU remain campaign, to his disputed reason for having to sit on the floor of a Virgin train he has suffered a torrid campaign of negative headlines. He was out of touch with modern life, more comfortable fighting battles of the past, and woefully unprepared in his regular bouts with David Cameron.

The size of his majority over Owen Smith shows that the party’s traditional supporters are working to a different agenda.

For a start, it shows up the ignorance of those who failed to see that his lacklustre support for the EU Remain campaign may have endeared him to the Leave campaigners, many of whom were working class Labour voters.

His Virgin trains protest may have been challenged by Sir Richard Branson, but as far as long-suffering commuters were concerned he made a point about the conditions faced by the ordinary traveller.

Even so, this election contest has to be seen in the context of who actually voted. Mr Corbyn won by 313,209 votes to Mr Smith’s 193,229. This represents a tiny proportion of the total electorate, the voters who will really matter in 2020.

Mr Corbyn has vowed to bring Labour back together, saying “we have much more in common than divides us”, insisting the party could win the next election as the “engine of progress” in the country. This must be in doubt.

Warnings from the likes of Neil Kinnock that Labour cannot win with Mr Corbyn in charge remain a legitimate concern. As does the continued fracturing of Labour north and south of the border.

Kezia Dugdale: mistake (photo by Terry Murden)
Kezia Dugdale: mistake (photo by Terry Murden)

Poor judgement or poor advice led Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale to throw her support behind Mr Smith when a wiser move would have been to back neither, or be more canny and wait to see which of them was the most likely winner.

By backing the loser she has now exposed herself and her party to big questions about her ability to work with Mr Corbyn, whatever he may say about uniting the party.

Ms Dugdale has already questioned Mr Corbyn’s leadership credentials and set Scottish Labour on a potentially separate course from London-led Labour. Unless it splits and forms a separate party such a strategy makes no sense. Voters get to vote in the UK general election for one Labour party, not two, and they need to know what the party represents.

How can voters in Scotland be expected to throw their support behind a Labour party led by Mr Corbyn when even the Scottish leader doesn’t support him?

Mr Corbyn’s mandate has been reaffirmed and will not be challenged again during this parliament. His increased authority inevitably means Ms Dugdale is in a weaker position.

That’s not to say that Mr Corbyn’s task has been made any easier by his re-election. He faces the mother of all tasks in bringing his party together. He suffered the indignity of a no confidence vote by more than 170 MPs after dozens of shadow cabinet members resigned. This was an unprecedented level of opposition in a party leader.

He was trounced in July in the first Prime Minister’s Questions under Theresa May when he chose to focus on fighting more battles of the past. On this occasion it was Orgreave,  a famous showdown during the miners’ strike in the 1980s, Mr Corbyn’s favourite decade.

We know that he favours renationalising the railways (hence his sit-down protest on the Virgin train) and the energy sector, but is he really out of touch?

In fact, he is not so far removed from even Mrs May’s plans for Britain, including a clampdown on tax dodgers, investment in re-skilling the workforce and, of course, creating a fairer society.

His plan for ‘better business’ is not an attempt to strip boardrooms of their power, merely to create a greater balance between small and big business.

He wants a National Investment Bank to create the conditions that would allow business to grow: mainly by ensuring Britain has the energy, transport and digital infrastructure that business needs to achieve it.

Even the most sceptical of business leaders will see something in Cobynomics that they like.

His refusal to succumb to calls to resign in the wake of the shadow cabinet resignations shows he is a fighter. Against all odds he has been given a second chance to show that he can lead his party. But uniting Labour will not be enough. He must now show that he could unite and lead the country as he won’t get a third chance.


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