Fortunately for me I am still on my Lanzarote holiday, so had the luxury of being to stay up for last night’s long anticipated, slightly feared by-election results. Going by the reactions from my FB friends, I was far from alone. The relief and pleasure over Stoke was deeply felt. The disapointment over Copeland even more so. That was in part due to a comment I’d missed earlier, made by David Dimbleby on BBC’s Question Time. Apparently he suffered from a case of premature declaration, calling both Stoke and Copeland for Labour hours before the count was due in. If you’re not a Corbyn supporter you might well wonder why anyone would get excited about such speculation. If you are a Corbyn supporter you will understand.
Since the coup (or if you’re a MSM journalist, the event that must not be named), the bad news has been relentless. At times it makes us treat good news the way starving people treat food, which is why so many Corbyn supporters had gobbled up this piece of exciting news and were sharing it all over FB. Feeling wary of being let down, I conducted a bit of my own research and quickly realised Dimbleby had most likely been wrong, and started to warn any celebrating Corbyn supporter I came across to prepare for the worst. I’m glad I did because when the worst came it hurt, and that was without me ever really anticipating a win. But it wasn’t just hurt I felt….it was dread. And so it begins I thought to myself with that all too familiar sick feeling inside; the usual calls for Corbyn to step down, the media’s ratcheting up of speculation over yet another leadership contest, the ‘Saving Labour’ vultures circling on Twitter to place blame for the loss on an already weakened Corbyn.
As Corbyn supporters already knew would happen, Stoke was won despite Corbyn and Copeland lost because of him.
For what it’s worth this is my very simplified analysis for why we lost Copeland.
Brexit played a large part in the loss. You only have to look at the huge drop in vote share for UKIP, which is almost equal to the increase in vote share for the Tories, to see where the UKIP vote went. Ukippers are being particularly singleminded in their focus at the moment and they want Brexit and they trust the Tories to deliver it. They want a hard Brexit too, one that bestows total control over immigration onto a UK government and that’s what the Tories are offering. Yesterday, Ukippers in Copeland gave the Tories their seal of approval. Until Brexit is signed sealed and delivered I think we have to expect all sorts of electoral aberrations that defy usual logic. Unprecedented results for unprecedented times. To lay the blame solely at Corbyn’s door is to be wilfully blinkered.
There were other factors at play; the nuclear industry and questions marks over Jeremy Corbyn’s support for it, boundary changes which have scooped more rural communities into the constituency, and the continuation of a trend of every decreasing majorities which started under Blair, but I suspect these are secondary to the Brexit issue.
But I feel the primary reason we lost in Copeland last night was the same underlying reason that lies behind other poor by-election results and polling. Party disunity. Last years relentless briefing, plotting and sniping from the majority of Labour MPs was orchestrated to destroy Jeremy Corbyn from the moment he stood for Leader. We as his supporters received similar vilification, being labelled as abusive, misogynistic, anti-Semitic, arm-twisting, deluded Trotskyites.
While it got us down, it also fired us up and helped us see many MPs for the shameless plotters they are. If they could tar us all so unjustly with the brush of a small minority, how could we trust the integrity of their attacks against Corbyn? That’s why we made sure we didn’t just elect Jeremy for the second time…we made sure he had an even bigger mandate.
Unfortunately the electoral damage was done. Our polling dropped through the floor within a week of the coups inception, and its stayed there. In fact we’ve been polling so badly many of us didn’t expect to win either Copeland or Stoke as recently as a few weeks ago, and are thrilled we held Stoke with such a convincing majority.
When anti-Corbyn people remind me it’s been relatively quiet from the PLP since September, I remind them the public have memories longer than goldfish. The coup was an unprecedented attack on a party leader, who was already being crucified daily by our predominantly right wing media. Just nine months into his leadership, after months of speculation as to when, not if, 172 Labour MPs told the British public Jeremy Corbyn was utterly shit!
Even if the PLP were now to take a vow of loyalty, that will never fully be forgotten. In fact, only the other day someone who I felt was trying to be fair and balanced tweeted their agreement that Jeremy had been badly damaged by the coup, but then went on to suggest maybe he was so badly damaged, he was now unelectable and should go. I admit it gave me food for thought. It made sense. But then I got to wondering whether any socialist leader worth having would escape the vilification Jeremy has been put through, either at the hands of the press or the PLP? Look at Ed Miliband. While the PLP were no where near as destructive to Ed, there was repeated speculation around plots to overthrow him. And as far as the media goes, you only have to remember the bacon sandwich.
Had Ed tried to nudge the party a tad more to the left, the PLP would have turned ugly. So that’s how it is. The majority of the PLP are on the party right and we have elected a leader on the left. We have thrown the cat (albeit a very gentle, good natured cat) amongst the pigeons and the pigeons are screeching and pecking at the cat in indignation amongst a maelstrom of feathers. And while it sometimes feels those feathers are starting to settle, a few fly up often enough (think article 50, think Gareth Snell’s anti-Corbyn tweets) to constantly remind the public that what they are observing is an uneasy truce, rather than a match made in heaven. There are times when I feel so despondent about this situation and its impact on our electoral chances I sometimes catch myself wondering if Owen Jones is right.
Owen admitted he thought the timing was wrong to elect a left leader. Yes, he got on board with the Corbyn campaign once it was in full swing, but he didn’t support our grassroots petition calling for a left wing candidate to stand in the 2015 leadership election. The left was too weak in the party he said, it will be crushed, he said, and at times it looks like he’ll be proved right. And if he is I hope he won’t gloat. I hope he’ll understand that we were fretting so much about our kids and our ageing parents we just grabbed the opportunity and ran with it. We didn’t want to wait another five, ten, or even twenty years until someone fired the starting gun and told us now we could try to change the party. We fired our own starting gun. We wanted to save our kids from getting into terrible debt, or from miserable, insecure, soul destroying jobs, and our beloved mums and dads from not getting the care they deserve. We could see Austerity was wrong and economically illiterate and grew angry, frustrated and disillusioned when our party refused to call it out. We even grew disgusted when Labour decided to play scapegoat the immigrants with UKIP, especially when they proudly display their scapegoating on a shiny red mug. So maybe we did act in haste. Maybe the timing wasn’t perfect. But surely we can be forgiven for wondering if the timing ever would be, and with that doubt in our minds, seizing the day and trying to make it ours?
I hope I’m not sounding defeatist because I’m not. I’ve still got the fire in my belly and hope in my heart. I still wake up everyday and smile to myself when I remember Jeremy Corbyn is the party leader and John McDonnell our shadow chancellor. I’m not suggesting for one moment they are perfect, or their operation can’t be improved on, but compared to any leader and shadow chancellor in my living memory they are by far the best.
Do I have an answer for where we go from here? Can I reassure you that in three years time we’ll win through? Of course I can’t. I hope we can but I don’t know it. However I do know beyond a shadow of doubt that I don’t want us to go back to being the Tory-lite party we were under Blair, Brown or even Miliband. Sometimes you do not always know what you are running to, only that it’s right to run away from a past that made you despair. I want to have pride in my party again and whilst I don’t always feel proud of the behaviour of many of our MPs, I’m deeply proud of Jeremy Corbyn and the MPs who are backing him. And most of all I’m proud of my fellow Corbyn supporters, because I know they were deeply disappointed last night, but already they are dusting themselves off, and wading in to defend Jeremy from the inevitable and usually unjust attacks. They’ve done it before and they’ll do it as often as they need to. He gives them hope and hope is something people never willingly give up, no matter how hard things get.