A movement without motion
The agonising descent of Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is a symptom of the party’s lack of ideas, argues Gabriel Gavin
Last week’s rumours of Jeremy Corbyn’s political demise now seem to have been greatly exaggerated. For some, the inevitable departure of the worst leader of the opposition in living memory is a cure-all for Labour’s ailments. Just as soon as he has retired into the dustbin of history, the gates of Downing Street will be thrown open.
But Corbyn is not at the heart of Labour’s woes. He is simply the latest symptom of a movement that has been bereft of motion for too long. In towns and cities in every region, people’s politics have moved on and Labour has been slow to react.
Too often our solutions to society’s problems are tired soundbites from the turn of the millennium, or some of the more blue-sky ideas from an Ed Miliband-era focus group. Without a vision, without a sense of direction, any future for the party is limited to representing only those who already agree with it.
There is no roadmap to recovery for Labour, no electoral pact or strategy that can overcome its failure to modernise. Not only does Labour look unable to win a general election, it would not know what to do if it did.
The agonising descent of the Labour party under Corbyn is just one part of a trend that is taking place across Europe and across the world. From Germany to Ghana, there is an ideological battle being fought out, one in which the left is not even a combatant. In almost every case, it is moderate, progressive centrist governments standing up against extremism of all forms, while small, out-of-touch sections of society lead protest movements.
As polling this week shows, only one-in-five ‘working class’ voters plan on voting Labour at a general election. For a party founded to represent working people, this is an existential threat. In Scotland, in poorer coastal areas and the outskirts of industrial towns, Labour came to rely on these people to continue voting in the way they always had, without ever looking at what we were actually offering them. As the way people live and work changed, so did their ambitions, their worries and their politics, and Labour seemed to be the last to notice.
The issues that really matter to people, housing, jobs, healthcare, the cost of living, are at risk of being hijacked by a populist far-right that seeks only to blame everyone else for the failings of our systems. But the avenues to building a better-off, safer, less unequal society are still there and they are fast becoming the offering of other parties.
At its current trajectory, Labour’s role in British politics looks set to be diminished. Without an unprecedented reversal of its fortunes, Labour will cease to be a party of government, completely unable to engage with those whose lived experience leads them to put faith in ideas we might disagree with.
Perhaps as a consistent minority of 200-or-so members of parliament representing metropolitan areas, railing against the government of the day but failing to put forward any truly constructive policies, Labour can survive. But without a radical programme of modernisation, without a frank analysis of why working people feel that Labour has contempt for them, Labour governments may become a distant memory.
A seismic shift in political ideology in this country is coming, and is incumbent on this government to ensure that we remain an open, tolerant, inclusive nation at the forefront of the world stage. Labour’s contribution to that remains unclear. Indecisive, unpopular, incapable of winning power, Jeremy Corbyn may not be the leader that the Labour party wants, but might be the one it deserves.
Gabriel Gavin co-founded the Labour Campaign for Prison Reform. He tweets at @
Ed Miliband, Germany, Ghana, Jeremy Corbyn, working class