Back in the dark post General Election days of 2015 when Labour had just suffered its second defeat in 5 years, there was a group of people within our own party who could barely conceal their delight over our loss. For them this represented a Golden opportunity to take our party back to the unequivocal right. In those pre Corbyn days, Ed Miliband, or Red Ed as the red tops liked to call him, was too left wing for these people. His policy on the Mansion Tax and Non Doms was the politics of envy and it had stopped us winning a resounding victory. Of course many of us knew this was bollox. What lost us the Election was an uninspiring, incongruent manifesto that was neither fish nor fowl. Less Red and more an ugly shade of fuscia. For every inspiring policy there was an establishment appeasing policy to cancel it out. Our voters just stayed at home.
This was the start of Corbynism, a story of a political earthquake we are now all familiar with.
Fast forward to 2019 and Labour are facing their fourth defeat in a row. The same figures who were gleeful in 2015 are even more gleeful now. We took the party resoundingly to the left and look what happened. Our worst defeat since 1935. There was a strange blip in 2017 that they need to airbrush from History but aside from that, it’s absolutely clear a right wing Labour leader needs to come and save the day.
Except they are wrong again and here is why.
We have entered an era where anti establishmentism is on the rise. The reasons for this are many and too complex to go into right now but suffice to say this growing movement without structure gave us the shock result of Trump, Brexit, Corbyn and now a Tory majority in 2019. I am anticipating a lot of raised eyebrows at this list. However whilst Trump and Johnson are as establishment as they come, they did a better job of framing themselves as anti establishment than either Hilary Clinton or Jeremy Corbyn in 2019.
The key difference between Labour in 2017 and in 2019 and the very different vote shares they received, is not that the media were kinder to Corbyn in 2017, or the PLP more united. It was our Brexit position and what that represented. Our adoption of a Referendum policy made us the establishment party with a safe, often condescending message. We were telling the voters what they really wanted when they voted leave and offered to save them from themselves. In this new establishment context, all the smears against Corbyn took on a new twist. In 2017 they just added to his anti establishment appeal. Even the PLP coup probably added to it to a lesser extent. But by 2019, with Labour now firmly framed as an establishment party, these smears only had a negative impact. Moreover, Jeremy’s reputation as a man of principle and serial rebel whose word was his bond, lay in tatters.
Huge mistakes were made by the leadership to get us to this point, but being too radical or socialist was NOT one of them.
Once we’d condesended millions of leave voters in key marginals whose votes we desperately needed to have a hope in hell of gaining power, the jig was up. Thousands of us warned this would happen and are now the least surprised that it has. Its been like watching a slow moving car crash we’ve been powerless to stop.
When we agreed to a General Election, I knew we’d lose. I told my husband I wouldn’t watch the exit poll because it would be like 2017 in reverse, with a worse result than everyone was expecting. The energy in the campaign was marred by the fact thousands of activists were convinced we were going to lose because of our new, and wholly detrimental establishment credentials. Jeremy knew it too. He tried to hide it but those of us who knew his personal agony over this, couldn’t help but sense it.
In this context our policy announcements became seen as a series of bribes to convince leave voters to forgive us. But if we couldn’t be trusted to keep our promise to respect the referendum result, why would anyone trust us to deliver any of our manifesto?
Not that Respect the Referendum result activists worked any less hard in the campaign. Quite the opposite. The sense of impending doom became a big damage limitation operation. Negativity was parked for false optimism and tireless campaigning either online or off. We wanted to be wrong. We wanted to eat humble pie and we’d have savoured every bite. We wanted a miracle.
We didn’t get one. To add salt to the wound, the primary architects of our defeat are lining up to vie for the reigns of leadership. Instead of them eating humble pie, they are airbrushing away uncomfortable truths to give themselves the best chance of victory.
And many members are happy about that. They too pushed for the party to become an establishment, Remain party and its too painful to accept that had any part in our defeat. So the most ardent Remainers on the right of the party blame Corbyn for the defeat and those on the left blame the PLP plotters, the press and dodgy postal votes. Both are coalescing around Keir Starmer because he is cleverly steering clear of criticising Corbyn or our manifesto, whilst being seen correctly by the party right as a person with more right wing leanings who will cave into the establishment pressure to drop the most radical aspects of our manifesto.
But Sir Keir Starmer is not the answer.
He is the very epitome of an establishment figure and it was he, above all else who successfully framed us as an establishment party. And that’s why we lost this General Election and will lose the next one with him as leader. If Labour don’t tap into the growing mood and clamour for anti establishmentism and fill that space with radical policies and radical ideas, we will be out of power for a generation.
A posh sounding lawyer/Sir from London with slick suits and slickly produced promotional videos who refuses point blank to recognise any of the primary reasons we lost this last General Election, is NOT the leader our party needs. And the same is true for any leader who fails to understand the key reason for our defeat.
As the saying goes, if we don’t learn from our mistakes, we are destined to repeat them!