Labour fought long and hard to win in Brighton and Hove in 2015, to win three seats in the House of Commons from the Tories and Greens, and to win enough seats from the Tories and Greens on the city council to take power. Peter Kyle won Hove and Portslade, Nancy Platts came agonisingly close in Brighton Kemptown, and Purna Sen put up a strong showing against the sole Green MP Caroline Lucas. Had we won all three and other South East marginals, the Tories might have been denied a majority.
Locally we won a dozen seats from the Greens, and one from the Tories, whilst losing two, to become the largest party on the city council but five short of a majority. We have set about using the power we do have, with no majority in a committee system council, to make a difference.
To get the basics like street cleaning and refuse and recycling right, despite 40% cuts to our budget by central government. To tackle homelessness and improve mental health provision in the city. To make the private rented sector fairer for tenants. To build 500 new council homes for people on our waiting list, and a thousand truly affordable homes for people priced out of the housing market, people our businesses need.
To deliver a fairer city where everyone benefits from our economic success via the recommendations of our Fairness Commission. To restore our infrastructure and heritage, and create new infrastructure and business space to create jobs and revenue that will fund our basic services. To win devolved powers that will help create even more jobs and homes in our city for people who desperately need them. It involves making hard and unpopular choices. Always has and always will, but right now it is harder than ever.
We could not have begun any of this, and more, had we not scraped a narrow three-seat advantage over the Conservatives, who would by now be setting about the wholesale privatisation and closure of services across Brighton and Hove had they finished first. We need a majority in 2019 to finish the job. We need a Labour Government in Westminster to enable us to succeed. Winning elections means delivering change. Never perfect, but better than opposition.
Think about that. People taking a conscious decision to elect a leader they believe will lead his party to defeat. Deliberately choosing opposition over power. It is, in my view, a criminal abrogation of responsibility to those who need Labour in office, delivering change.
I’ve been a Labour member for nearly twenty five years, a councillor for thirteen, a campaigner in five General Elections and five sets of local elections in Brighton and Hove. Winning elections has always been my goal, not as an end in itself but as a means to an end, to being in a position to lead change, not protest for it.
I want to be part of a party that strives for the power to deliver a better city and a better country, not a movement which shouts at perpetual Conservative government in the town hall and in the Commons.
I will choose difficult power over glorious opposition every time.
With just a week to go before ballots are sent out in the Labour Leadership election, there are, in my view, five clear reasons why Jeremy Corbyn cannot lead the Labour Party to victory at the next election.
1. The“silent majority” on the left is a myth. During last year’s election campaign, the argument for Corbyn was that there was a silent majority, a vast untapped resource of left-wing voters, just waiting for a clear socialist alternative to swing behind as and when it emerged. All surveys show that this is not the case, that the majority of voters identify themselves with the political centre.
2.Media. The idea that the media are biased against Corbyn is probably true. It has been about every Labour leader since the 1970s. Whether Murdoch or Dacre, Telegraph or Sun, the influence of the press has not waned in the face of falling sales and online clicktivism as many predicted.
They went after Miliband in the same way as they went after Kinnock and Brown, and yes, Tony Blair too in his early days. They tried every line of attack on Miliband they could until one stuck, around being the puppet of the SNP. They didn’t need to go near policy as subtle and not-so-subtle personal attacks on him and his family worked. The disposition of the press is unlikely to change. We are stuck with it. As the saying goes, “For a politician to complain about the press is like a ship’s captain complaining about the sea.”
Twitterstorms and Change.Org petitions, like rallies, don’t win elections. That was proven in 2015 and will be again with Trump in November. Elections are won in the millions, not in tens of thousands. The Corbyn-supporting echo chamber may convince itself that victory will happen, but it won’t reach beyond that. Even if the Labour Party is, at half a million, the biggest political party in Europe, it is still a tiny percentage of the electorate as a whole, some 46 million.
3. History tells us that if we do not learn from our mistakes, then we are doomed to repeat them. As honest, genuine and principled as Ed Miliband was and is, he could not persuade voters that he was a risk worth taking as Prime Minister. With Corbyn there is over three decades of backing causes that can easily be used against him in the run-up to an election. Whether it is alleged support for the IRA, being arrested at demonstrations, links to questionable overseas governments, whatever you think of those stories, they will frighten “middle England” in a way that means any positive offer will not even be heard. Five hundred votes against his Party’s own leadership will always mean Corbyn his hamstrung when it comes to loyalty
4. Entryists. There are not hundreds of thousands of devoted Trotskyists joining the Labour Party, and the vast majority of Corbyn supporters are not from the far-left. But there are enough members of the SWP, AWL, Socialist Party and other fringe-left groups to join and dominate local CLPs, to use the age-old tactics of intimidation and procedural obfuscation to drive away moderates from meetings, to make critics think twice before questioning Corbyn, to make it a real factor in this election. We saw it in Brighton and Hove, where a member of the Alliance for Workers Liberty was elected Chair of the City Party shortly after becoming a member, simply by being on the Momentum ticket. Others have written at length on how these activists don’t seek power via General Elections, rather wanting to establish a base of “true Socialist MPs” in Parliament, a vanguard for an extra-Parliamentary movement. If they win they will tear each other apart, and with it the Labour Party.
5. Polls. If you are one of those people who dismiss polls as being systematically biased, or fundamentally wrong, you probably won’t have read this far anyway. The polls are bleak. No escaping or denying it. They are representative samples of public opinion, collected and weighted using scientific methods. Labour’s unpopularity did not start, as Corbyn’s camp and indeed Corbyn himself have argued, at the time of the PLP vote of no-confidence in him. In some 95 polls after the General Election, Labour led in just three “outliers”. In the rolling average Labour has been behind throughout. Compared to where Labour were at the same point in the last Parliament, we are 17 points down on what proved to be ultimately a losing position.
Corbyn’s own ratings have not been undermined by the leadership challenge. He started in negative territory, and plunged to -45 by November of last year. He trails amongst all ages, all social classes. He is now by far the most unpopular Labour opposition leader in history:
Labour’s task at the next election was already immense, with boundary changes and Scotland meaning a swing bigger than 1997 is needed to secure even a majority of 1. As I wrote in my previous blog, Labour desperately needs another leader who can appeal to a broad range of voters, not just those who turn up at meetings and rallies.
I understand that for many, Jeremy Corbyn offers something different, something that encompasses the politics they have felt is out of reach for over a generation, a rekindling of the idealism felt fifty years ago, a statement and not a compromise. The hard fact is though that nowhere near enough people share those views, and are unlikely to be persuaded.
Re-electing him will not resolve any of these issues I have listed above, nor resolve the division within the Parliamentary Labour Party, most of whom now see their positions under threat either from deselection or defeat at the next election. Filling a Shadow Cabinet and ministerial team seems impossible, thus rendering a functioning Opposition unworkable.
I accepted the result last September, shook Corbyn’s hand at Conference and did not criticise his leadership for almost a year. Now I’m backing Owen Smith in this leadership election. It is, despite what I have argued here, a positive choice. Nevertheless, for me the consequences of a Corbyn leadership going into a General Election are too great to stand by and witness.
Britain needs a Labour Government. People on low pay, in poor housing, on zero-hour contracts, with no savings or pensions, a month away from unmanageable debt, eating from food banks and worse, need a Labour Government. Whatever Corbyn’s virtues, before casting your vote for him, please ask yourself whether he can win power for Labour and help those people who so desperately need it.