Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

The Last Word: centrists for Corbyn?

Labour will have to do better if it wants to be in government, writes Robert Philpot 

Despite the excitable claims of the massed ranks of Jeremy Corbyn’s Twitter armies, Labour’s local election performance last week was decidedly underwhelming.

Leave aside the party’s chronic expectation-management failure. Despite a net gain in seats, and a tightening of its grip on London, Labour ended the night at a level-peg with the Tories in the projected national share of the vote. This is the first time since 1988 that Labour in opposition has failed to beat the Conservatives in a non-general election year.

On occasion it has been a close-run thing: Labour’s three-point lead in 1991 was hardly stellar, nor was its two per cent edge in 2014. More often, however, up against a Conservative government, the party has romped home. In 1990, for instance, Neil Kinnock led Margaret Thatcher by 11 points; John Smith ran 12 per cent ahead of John Major in 1994; Tony Blair 22 per cent in 1995; and Ed Miliband a more modest seven per cent in 2012.

According to polling expert John Curtice, the results suggest Labour would have lost marginal constituencies such as Battersea, Bolton North East, Derby North and Wirral West which it won in last year’s general election. As the political scientist Matthew Goodwin suggested, ‘Labour are stacking up too many votes in places where they don’t need them while not making sufficient progress in the marginals.’

These findings bear out the message of the opinion polls – Labour has led in only two of 20 surveys conducted since March – which indicate that the party is simply not performing as well as it should if it wishes to enter Downing Street.

Labour cannot credibly claim that it is up against a political titan leading a wildly popular government. After weeks of revelations about its appalling treatment of Windrush migrants – a scandal in which Theresa May was deeply implicated and which culminated in the home secretary’s resignation a mere four days before votes went to the polls – the Tories could not have provided a more wide open goal. Somehow, however, the Labour leadership still failed to score decisively.

The solution, one of Corbyn’s political sages, Paul Mason, opines, is for Labour to ‘get even more outside its comfort zone [and] fight for centrist votes’.

Sadly, the omens since last Thursday that Team Corbyn might be heeding Mason’s wise words are not altogether convincing.

The ballot boxes had barely been stowed away when John McDonnell decided the best way to convince the nation he could be trusted with its purse strings was to appear at an event marking the 200th anniversary of Karl Marx’s birth. His address, which declared Marxism as ‘a force for change today’, produced pictures of the shadow chancellor under a banner bearing the great man’s image.

Quite how McDonnell’s lauding of Marx will go down with centrist voters remains to be seen. One thing is certain, however. The event was certainly not one in which the shadow chancellor took a step outside of his own comfort zone.

Banks vs the establishment

Arron Banks’ campaign is facing a £70,000 fine and its chief executive a police investigation after the Electoral Commission today found it guilty of multiple breaches of electoral law during the 2016 referendum. Denying the charges, Banks called the Electoral Commission’s ruling ‘a politically motivated attack on Brexit and the 17.4 million people who defied the establishment to vote for an independent Britain’. Thus, in the world of Arron Banks, upholding the rule of law is an assault on ‘the people’. Donald Trump could not have put it better himself.

May’s way or the highway?

The Labour leadership this week decided to whip its members of the House of Lords to abstain on an amendment to the government’s Brexit bill which would effectively see Britain remaining in the single market. Thankfully, 83 Labour peers broke ranks, contributing to yet another defeat in the upper chamber for Theresa May’s hard Brexit plans.

The government is determined to reverse this defeat when the bill returns to the Commons. Corbyn will face a crystal clear choice: to assist the prime minister – and an increasingly unhinged Daily Mail – in doing so or to reflect the views of Labour party members and voters and oppose her. With his love of moral clarity and hatred of anything which smacks of the middle of the road, the Labour leader will no doubt be delighted to learn that, on this vote, there is no third way.

Support our work – join today


Robert Philpot is a contributing editor to Progress, and writes the weekly Last Word column. He tweets at @Robert_Philpot


Photo: By Sophie Brown [CC BY-SA 4.0], from Wikimedia Commons

Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.

It takes time, commitment and money to build a fight against the forces of conservatism. If you value the work Progress does, please support us by becoming a member, subscriber or donating.

Our work depends on you.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Robert Philpot

is a contributing editor to Progress magazine and former director of Progress

Sign up to our daily roundup email