The 2016 campaign for re-election may have added new members to the Labour Party and helped popularise some of our key ideas, but ultimately it was always an unnecessary distraction. The reality is that Britain and all of its key political institutions are in deep crisis. The priority now for the Corbyn leadership is to address the country, not the Party. We must now prepare to win the next General Election.
To do this, firstly, a broad political alliance needs to be constructed. Current electoral geography is against us, in particular the dominance of the SNP in Scotland, but also the expected loss of safe Labour seats resulting from the government’s gerrymandered redrawing of constituency boundaries. Labour is going to need to work with community groups, trade unions, tenants, single issue campaigns and other parties from the bottom up on key fronts - health, education, civil liberties, housing, migrant rights.
Party patriotism cannot be allowed to get in the way of building the broadest possible unity around campaigns on these issues, on many of which there will be stronger supporters among Greens, Nationalists and even some Lib Dems than among some of Labour’s right wing. Concrete alliances on issues where we have agreement can be forged, as some members of the Shadow Cabinet are already doing. These will be popular and can isolate and expose those right wing leadership elements in all parties that reject mutual co-operation against the Tory government’s offensive.
Two institutional flaws in Britain’s inadequate democracy need to be put back on the table. The idea that this Tory government be allowed to claim a democratic mandate on just 36% of those who voted in the 2015 General Election is a scandal. To say that Labour too got away with this in the past is not good enough. The fact that Caroline Lucas, the newly elected joint leader of the Greens, has made proportional representation a “red line” in any discussion with Labour on electoral pacts makes this debate an unavoidable one for us.
Likewise, if real progress is to be made in Scotland and Wales, this could mean strategic alliances with nationalist forces if that’s what it takes to get Labour into government. For that to happen, Labour will have to stop playing “catch-up” on the national question and commit to the broadest possible devolution across the UK’s regions.
Our second big challenge: whatever problems the Party continues to face at national level, we must build on our base in local government and work with councillors to help define the agenda they need to deliver services. The work that Jon Trickett did on regional devolution in the 2015 leadership election can be taken forward, drawing on some of the new mayors, for example in Bristol, and mayoral candidates, in the North West, who are not hostile to Corbyn’s leadership.
Thirdly, we need to introduce some mechanisms for popular consultation on policy. These could be citizens’ assemblies or Podemos-style online circles to refine and develop policy ideas. While this is a radical departure in Labour policymaking, it fits in with Jeremy Corbyn’s own proposals, announced in August, to lead a digital revolution and strengthen online democracy. The aim would be to ensure that not just the leader but every policy has a mandate. Local party branches could play a key role in reaching out to ensure these frameworks have a real place in local political activity.
Fourthly, we have to have a clear idea of what kind of Brexit we want. By prioritising the removal of Jeremy Corbyn, many on Labour’s right who claim the Party did too little in the referendum campaign squandered a real opportunity to take the offensive on this issue against a Tory government that was - is - clueless on how to deal with Brexit. We must provide leadership on this: full integration into the single market must be a central goal. Bilateral trade agreements, let alone service agreements, are just unserious - the government has so little expertise on this, it is hiring expensive outside consultants to do the work. Seeking bilateral solutions can lead only to a further enfeebling of Britain’s declining industrial base. We also need to resolutely defend EU social entitlements and European Convention human rights for all citizens and residents from impending Tory attack.
Fifthly, our Party is in a mess at all levels, with the exception of the grassroots where the phenomenal increase in membership, trebling what it was 18 months ago, poses new challenges. We have to continue to encourage and listen to these new members if we are to retain them and make them active ingredients in a Labour victory. To this end, the full-time apparatus must be reshaped to ensure it is at the service of the members, helping them to play a full role in the Party, rather than playing a factional role, even excluding members from activity, as we have seen in recent months.
Jeremy Corbyn’s re-election is also an opportunity to strengthen the team around the leadership. Last year’s unexpected win necessitated a hasty pulling together from scratch of a new team, with all its inevitable teething troubles. This year’s long-expected victory should provide the impetus to recruit some of the finest experts who want to serve. We need a focused, efficient operation, outward-looking and responsive to the electorate, strategic in its vision and clear and concise in its core messages.
What about the MPs? The war in the PLP has to end. It’s appalling that Labour MPs who claim to care so passionately about EU membership have dragged us into these internal squabbles at a time of national crisis. The plotting has to stop. But if we get all these other things right, then probably some who resigned from Shadow Cabinet positions, as well as some who didn’t come on board before, will be prepared to work with us. If we are magnanimous in victory and reach out to them, then the diehards whose sole aim is to bring down Jeremy Corbyn can be isolated from the broader middle ground of the PLP.
Nothing succeeds like success. If we can go beyond the internal contest to address the concerns and win the trust of voters who didn’t vote Labour last time and now feel betrayed by the other parties, we can change the political landscape.