Congratulations to Jeremy Corbyn and his team for their stunning and overwhelming victory in the Labour leadership election. The size of his victory was greater than expected. This makes it all the more pleasing that Corbyn won such a big victory on an anti-austerity and anti Trident platform. But how much can Corbyn achieve?
Winning the leadership election may turn out to have been the easiest part of his challenges. Some of these face any non Tory leader. A uniformly hostile media, a nasty majority Tory government and the mass ranks of big business and finance. Still these can be overcome, just look at the success of the SNP here in Scotland. Performance in the Commons, especially at PMQs, will generate lots of media noise. However, outside the Westminster bubble, this will not count for much. To put it in boxing terms, Corbyn just needs to remain standing to achieve a victory of sorts.
The main challenges to a successful Corbyn leadership will come from within the party he now leads. He faces two substantial challenges and he needs to win both of them, if his project to transform the Labour party is to succeed. The first is perhaps the most difficult. This is what to do about his fellow MPs, almost all of them hostile to him as leader?. Most of the current front bench team have already resigned or made it clear they will not serve under Corbyn. This leaves Corbyn with an apparently insurmountable problem – how to form a credible Shadow team?
For even if some of his opponents do agree to enter the Shadow cabinet, what line will they take? Who among Corbyn’s opponents can now credibly front an anti-austerity economic programme? Or to fundamentally oppose the government’s whole approach to welfare? And what about Trident? If they are to now adopt a fundamentally different policy they will need to come up with some pretty convincing reasons for doing so, and soon. Otherwise we could find ourselves with the ridiculous prospect of senior members of the Shadow cabinet advocating a different set of policies from the leader.
A further difficulty may well come from the actions of those who continue to refuse to work with Corbyn. Will they just retire gracefully into full time constituency work and keep their mouths shut when it comes to commenting on Corbyn’s leadership? Or will they be constantly sniping and attacking from the sidelines. There will be plenty of outlets in the media all too delighted at the prospect of the likes of Burnham, Cooper, Kendall et al trying to destroy Corbyn from within.
The biggest challenge facing Corbyn though will come from the general membership of the party. This is also his greatest chance of success. The hundreds of thousands of people who voted for him are his only route to long term success. Are they up to it? How many of the 180,000 people who paid their £3.00 to vote for Corbyn, will now become full members of the party and put in the work to make Corbyn’s victory the beginning of a process of fundamentally changing the party?
Without their continuing support Corbyn has no chance of changing Labour, let alone winning in 2020. But this is the really difficult part. It requires dozens and dozens of people in constituencies up and down England to become activists, attending branch meetings and standing for election for branch offices. Corbyn needs these people on the ground in every constituency reminding their Labour MPs or prospective MPs that the party has changed. In particular these new members and the old ones who voted for Corbyn need to be prepared to challenge and hassle and question those MPs who did not vote for Corbyn. They are after all the minority now. The clear majority of the party has spoken loudly and clearly in favour of major changes in policies. The membership now needs to make sure that the party’s current MPs respect this majority.
If Corbyn can persuade the majority of those who voted for him to become themselves activists in branches and constituencies, then he has a real chance of winning, not just within the Labour party, but in 2020. For all the talk about only winning from the centre ground is a bit of nonsense. It clearly ignores what has happened in Scotland and to a lesser extent in Wales.
More importantly it ignores what has happened in England. There the Tories have become about as nasty and right wing as it is possible to go. Yet the media somehow present them as representing the centre ground of opinion. In this of course they have been supported by a weak and supine Labour party which seems to have forgotten what it was about. Offering the public a Tory lite platform was never likely to win over disgruntled Tories, nor to enthuse potential Labour voters. Which is exactly what happened in England in the recent general election.
It is also worth noting that according to most surveys of opinion, on most economic issues Corbyn’s policies are more in touch with the general public than the Tory party. I wish Jeremy Corbyn all the best in his challenges. There is only a little that he can do himself, the rest depends on all those who voted for him in impressive numbers. Can they go the extra mile and begin the daunting task of transforming the Labour party?