Last week I was asked by a journalist from the Huffington Post if I would like to feature in an article he was writing about young voters who voted for Corbyn last year but won’t vote for him again in the coming leadership elections. I agreed to be in the article for one simple reason: I think it’s really important for people to speak out about changing their mind in politics. Because, let’s be honest, the only way elections are won is by convincing a lot of voters to change their mind about the party they’re going to vote for. Accusing those who change their mind of being weak or disloyal will only result in people firmly retreating to their chosen “side”. Politics is a never-ending dialogue. It is the way in which we decide how best to live alongside each other. It’s not a war.
The response to the article was, sadly, as I could have predicted. I was called: a vile human being, a moron, an ignorant bitch and a “traitor to the Labour Party” by some Corbyn supporters. For me, far worse than the name calling was the, “you’ll understand when you’re older dear” comments which littered my inbox. Reading some of the comments you would have thought I had attacked these people on a personal level rather than simply expressing an opinion different to their own. I spent last Summer campaigning for Jeremy and trying to convince them to vote for him and at no point did I resort to name calling of abuse. I didn’t call my friend a “heartless Blairite” for voting for Yvette Cooper and I didn’t accuse my Kendall voting colleague of “wanting disabled people to die.” Yet these were comments thrown at me for saying I could no longer support Corbyn.
Wanting a “kinder, gentler politics” is admirable yet seems to only apply to Jeremy himself. He shows great integrity in Prime Minister’s questions and refuses to engage with personal attacks, sadly the same can not be said of some of his supporters. Of course it isn’t all of them. There are plenty of mild-mannered, polite and kind Corbyn supporters but they are being let down by a loud, minority who are behaving appallingly.
I can understand why some Corbyn supporters are angry. They think the challenge put forward by the PLP was vindictive and underhand and they’ve watched with frustration as Corbyn’s message has failed to cut through the media. Some of them joined the Labour Party at the beginning of this year, paid membership fees for 7 months only to be told they don’t have a vote in this leadership election unless they pay a further £25. They have every right to be angry. But I am angry too.
I am angry that we cannot engage in a debate about the future of the party without being shouted down. It’s not just happening online, it’s also happening at meetings. A women in the last GC Meeting I attended was shouted down whilst speaking against a motion. She was brave and just firmly asked them to stop shouting at her which they eventually did but you’d have thought she was a fascist the way they were attacking her not a long-standing member of the same party.
I don’t want another Blair but I do want someone who can win an election; too many people are suffering as a result of this Government’s policies for winning not at least be a possibility. Just increasing the support of Corbyn in areas that already vote Labour is not going to be enough. The General Election will not be won on the strength of members’ enthusiasm for their leader it will be won on the number of votes we can win back from people who voted Conservative last year. There is an assumption that there is huge support for Corbyn across the country and we just need to “tap into it”. One Corbyn supporter asked me to explain why I thought he couldn’t win an election “without quoting the polls” which is a bit like asking me to prove to you that my laptop screen is 30cm long without using a ruler. No polls aren’t entirely accurate and need to be taken with a pinch of salt but, even allowing for a large margin of error, this is a pretty bleak picture:
Let’s be honest – if these polls were reversed and it was the Tories falling this far behind we’d be feeling fairly confident at the moment.
The response to this from many Corbyn supporters tends to be either, “Well I meet lots of people who are going to vote for him – look how many members have joined to vote for him.” or, “It’s the fault of the main stream media. They’re working against him.” and not forgetting, “He was doing just fine until the PLP turned on him.” I don’t doubt any of those arguments – they are all true but they also don’t provide evidence that he can win a General Election.
Yes, since Corbyn was elected leader there has been a surge in Labour Party membership. At my last check it was just over 400,000. This is largest membership of any political party in the UK and something to feel proud about. If there were any correlation between the number of members and the likelihood of winning a General Election I would be feeling very optimistic right now. Sadly there isn’t. Last year the Conservative Party won a majority with only 100,000 members. Labour has always been stronger on the ground and at the grassroots but sadly elections are no longer won on the ground – they’re won in the media. Is that fair? Absolutely not. Does it mean we should stop campaigning or delivering leaflets? No but Corbyn and his team need to find a way to work with the media or, the MSM as we have to call them now because they are never going to make it easy for him. They do not portray him fairly, I accept that. However that is never going to change. If anything, if he is still leader in the run up to 2020, that is going to get a whole lot worse. What is Corbyn’s strategy for dealing with this? Last year Rupert Murdoch was able to convince swinging voters that Miliband would be an inept leader because of how he ate a bacon sandwich. “Don’t let him make a pig’s ear of the country” was the headline I seem to recall. The Conservatives won on a promise that they could offer security that Miliband could not. Just imagine what Murdoch and his buddies could do with a Labour leader who has lost the support of 80% of his MPs and refers to Hamas and Hizballuh as “his friends”.
The other acronym causing problems for Corbyn at the moment is the PLP. The week after the referendum they made very public resignations following a vote of no confidence in their leader. I’m told that Corbyn was doing just fine until that point and yet the most positive polling I was able to find had the Tories and Labour neck-and-neck the day that David Cameron resigned. The day the Conservatives were at their weakest for the last 6 years – we were able to scrape a tie. In some ways I hope Corbyn is still leader by the time of the next General Election because I’m desperate for Corbyn supporters to see how detached the majority of the Labour Party membership is from the rest of the country at the moment. John McDonnell has said Corbyn will stand down if he loses an election and I do hope he’s right. Although I can only see that promise from McDonnell as a maneuver to line himself up as Corbyn’s replacement.
“Calling us a cult is hugely offensive” one Corbyn supporter argued, in reference to the headline of the article, and I agree – name calling isn’t helpful or productive. However if you refuse to debate or even acknowledge the evidence, if you cannot accept that there are people who have legitimate doubts about the leader you defend, if you cannot even acknowledge his flaws then you are behaving no differently to a cult. If I were presented with tangible evidence that Corbyn could get the Labour Party back into power he would have my support. I won’t rule out supporting him the future. My question to Corbyn supporters is at what point would you stop supporting him?
It is most likely that Corbyn will win the leadership election in September. I can already picture the memes that will be generated and shared across social media: “They said he was unelectable and then he won an election twice!” He will be more popular than ever with the majority of members but the real fight comes once Jeremy is reelected as leader. Because if Corbyn supporters found it frustrating that people in the same party as them didn’t share their views they’ll be furious when they find out what the rest of the country think. Those members are going to have to find a way to engage with the electorate – they’ll have to convince Conservative voters in swing seats to vote for Labour – because that is the only way we can win an election. Members that shout at other Labour Party members in meetings cannot just shout in the face of people who voted Conservative next year and hope to change their mind. If they’re going to be knocking on doors or making phone calls they are going to be interacting with hundreds of people who do not share their opinion of Corbyn. Calling them names, mocking them and undermining them is not the way to convince them. What these people need more than anything is reassurance. The media are doing an excellent job as portraying Corbyn as extreme, unreliable and untrustworthy. To counteract that the members need tobe calm, kind and open to reasoned debate.
We are the Labour Party. We sell ourselves on being kind, compassionate and fair. We’re the party that introduced the minimum wage, the NHS, the Civil Partnership Act, the Human Rights Act and the Equality Act. We have fought tirelessly to improve the lives of the most vulnerable people in our country and more people are relying on us than ever before. We are tolerant – we accept that not everyone shares the exact same views as us but they are welcome in our party. If you want a fairer, more equal society then there will always be a place for you in the Labour Party.
We are the kinder party – so let’s bloody well start behaving like it.