If the big fixers in the Labour Party get their way, Rebecca Long-Bailey will be its next leader. She is certainly the choice of the old white men of the hard left who control Labour, with the likes of Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell, Len McCluskey, Jon Lansman and Seumas Milne all seeing her as the heir apparent. If her comments in today’s Guardian are anything to go by, Dominic Cummings and Boris Johnson will be crossing their fingers and just about everything else in the hope that she wins.
Long-Bailey’s pitch begins with describing herself as a “progressive patriot”. People in my village speak of little else. “If only the Labour Party was led by a progressive patriot, I’d have voted for them,” nobody says. Long-Bailey makes an effort to explain what it is she means and how it isn’t a slogan nicked from a Billy Bragg book:
“From ex-miners in Blyth Valley to migrant cleaners in Brixton, from small businesses in Stoke-on-Trent to the self-employed in Salford, we have to unite our communities. Britain has a long history of patriotism rooted in working life, built upon unity and pride in the common interests and shared life of everyone. To win we must revive this progressive patriotism and solidarity in a form fit for modern Britain.” What?
I would describe this as gobbledegook. Long-Bailey wants to “unite our communities” in a paragraph that means literally nothing. We understand, of course, how the political right has taken patriotism to a very different place in terms of out-and-out nationalism, racism and bigotry but Long-Bailey has nothing to say beyond empty rhetoric. It gets worse. She continues:
“There are many lessons to learn from our defeat, but we must not return to the politics of the past. We need a bold agenda that returns wealth and power to the people and delivers pride in our communities.” Where to go with this?
The whole point is that Jeremy Corbyn’s version of Labour represented exactly “the politics of the past”. Labour’s manifesto was precisely the reheated Bennism of nationalise everything and borrow billions like there is no tomorrow that saw Labour annihilated in the 1983 election. But Long-Bailey doesn’t mean Benn and Corbyn when she refers to “the politics of the past”: she means the Labour Party from 1997 to 2010 that won three general elections in a row. In essence, it’s both a critique and a rejection of what New Labour did to make Britain a far better and more unified country.
It might be seen as harsh to write off Long-Bailey before she has even declared her candidature, but let’s get real about this. The Labour Party machine, owned and controlled by the old men referred to earlier, is certain to put its considerable weight behind her. The big union barons like McCluskey, millionaire Momentum owner Jon Lansman and any number of Stalinists and Trots at the heart of this perverse version of Labour will pull out all the stops. It needs to be pointed out that Long-Bailey represents continuity Corbyn and she seems not to understand some of the reasons Labour was hammered. Here are some examples:
- She does not even mention Corbyn’s huge unpopularity in the country.
- She says that Labour “did not lose because of our commitment to scrap Universal Credit, invest in public services and abolish tuition fees.”
- She doesn’t even mention Labour’s chronic mishandling of the antisemitism scandal.
- She says Labour’s “compromise solution” on Brexit was partly to blame.
Here are my comments:
- Corbyn was and is hugely unpopular in the country. People saw him as weak, anti-West, supportive of terrorists and wholly unsuited to the job of prime minister. They were right.
- To suggest that Labour didn’t lose because of its policies, which came out rather as a long list of expensive promises that would cost a fortune and plunge the country into even further debt, is a nonsense.
- Corbyn and Labour have acted disgracefully over antisemitism. People look at both his past, and the past of many on his top table, and see there is plenty of form on antisemitism. If Corbyn was not antisemitic, he certainly enabled it.
- To all intents and purposes, Labour had no real policy on Brexit. And why? Because Corbyn has always been a Eurosceptic, opposed to the EU at every stage of his political life until he had a half-hearted conversion once he was elected as Labour leader. If people withheld their vote from Labour because they thought it was a remain party, they could not have been more wrong.
If Rebecca Long-Bailey is Labour’s next leader, the happiest people in the land will be the Conservatives, closely followed by the SNP and all the other minority parties. As we have already noted, she represents continuity Corbyn and the continued drift away from the centre ground to the loneliness of political obscurity on the far left.
Doubtless, Labour’s new heartlands in the middle class cities and towns, where the party piles up votes whilst losing them everywhere else, will be thrilled. It has always been about building a political movement via a political party with the biggest membership of any party in Europe. The middle class chatterers will lose nothing when and if Long-Bailey leads Labour to further obscurity and likely extinction because they, unlike the millions who actually need a Labour government, will prosper under whoever is in power.
Labour members and Labour rejoiners will need to unite around the best candidate to lead Labour back to its natural place on the centre left, to restore its historical links with the working classes who have deserted the party in droves and to embrace the centre ground of politics. It will be a hell of a job and may take a decade or more to get there. But it’s that or more of the failed politics of the 1980s, of permanent opposition, of political irrelevance.
The choice before Labour members is existential. Look forward with modern, progressive and realistic policies that encourage aspiration and ambition or look inwards at the chattering classes in their twee craft beer pubs and hipster restaurants who worship purity in their politics but don’t give a damn at the consequences.
Labour’s new leader can’t be Long-Bailey. It’s up to the other candidates to convince us which one of them will beat both her and the hard left and take Labour back to a place from which is can seek to persuade people to vote for it again.