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As widely expected, Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership for the second time in 12 months. Saturday’s result saw Corbyn beat rival Owen Smith in all three category of voters: party members, affiliated supporters (Unions) and registered supporters (those non-members who paid £25 for the right to vote). Corbyn increased his 59.5% mandate from last year taking 61.8% of the vote.
Pundits and politicos have already dug deep into the voting numbers. For example, 63% of members who joined prior to the 2015 general election defeat backed Owen Smith, alongside 55% of 18-24 year olds and 58% of Scottish Labour members. Meanwhile, 84% of the registered supporters and 60% of affiliated supporters backed Corbyn.
The leadership question might have a definitive answer now, however it is up to Corbyn to unite this deeply divided party.
I chose not to write this article straight after the result was announced because I thought it best to take a step back and think about what happened. While I am openly critical of Corbyn and his leadership and did not vote for him as a Labour member [Ed: although others at Vada did], I did not believe that Owen Smith was a strong enough alternative. Corbyn’s victory was inevitable in my mind. I accept the result, just as I did last year, 100%. The concern and anxiety I have over the next steps of the party is in how Corbyn and his team will seek go about uniting the party.
Corbyn has said he will wipe the slate clean and stressed that the membership has more things in common than things which divide us. I want Unity to mean unity and for that to happen I believe that Corbyn has to make a few things clear from the start. Firstly, he must outright condemn abuse of his MPs (his colleagues), by grassroots campaigners and others. Whether they are from Momentum or from the moderates, he will not win the backing of his MPs if he stands by and watches the threats and abuse without comment.
Additionally, he needs to clamp down hard on members of his own team for their language and attitude. I look to Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell who, on live TV, refused to apologise or take back hateful comments he made about former Tory Employment Minister Esther McVey. His defence? ‘Sometimes you need to express honest anger, and that was about what the last government was doing to people with disabilities… If it reflects your honest views I think it’s better to be honest than it is to be deceptive in any way.’ That ‘honest anger’ was expressed by him calling for McVey to be lynched – which is not the politics I want anything to do with.
My perception of the Corbyn leadership and followers is that if you disagree you are the enemy and that is simply NOT true (it should be noted that Corbyn himself has said in the past he is open to debate and dissention from his own party). Politics is all about discussing ideas and beliefs for the good of society, and people have different opinions, whether they’re in opposing parties or even in opposing factions of the same party. Just because you disagree doesn’t mean your opinion is any less valuable; it doesn’t mean the hard work of your MP is traitorous.
Corbyn opposed his party when they were in government 500 times. His team should not expect blind loyalty when he himself has been so outspoken against his own party. I honestly believe that none of our MPs and none of our ministers go into politics wanting to make peoples’ lives worse – they all have differing views on how the country can be made better and that should be treated with respect not contempt.
Secondly, in the interests of unity, we need to calm down and stop calling for ‘The Purge’. We don’t need a purge of either wing of the party – the electorate must decide who remains in the party and who leaves. Mandatory re-selection of candidates should not be used as a weapon to force loyalty. I want to see Corbyn withdraw this idea – as mentioned above, Corbyn rebelled 500 times and he didn’t face calls for de-selection. It isn’t democratic to have mandatory re-selection of candidates if it’s going to be used as a tool by the whip’s office to ensure loyalty.
Thirdly, Corbyn and his team have to stop looking inwards and start reaching out to the wider British public. Yes, he’s got an overwhelming mandate and the party membership is at an all-time high, but that is only half a million people out of an electorate of around 44 million people. Corbyn has already seen what happens if his political appeal is too narrow with the local and regional elections last year. A poll carried out by The Huffington Post found that 70% of the general public prefers Prime Minister Theresa May and Chancellor Philip Hammond to Corbyn and McDonnell. 57% of 18-24 year olds also back the PM. This is the electoral mountain that Labour has to climb and one that isn’t limited to the membership.
Yes, it’s great that membership is growing; yes, it’s great the party is being galvanised – but it does no good to just talk to those that already agree with you. I would like to see Corbyn become less hostile towards the media and shape a better media strategy. The majority of the British public only cares about politics when we enter the election cycle, and a lot of them will get their analysis from the media, so why be openly hostile to the press and then complain the coverage isn’t great? When you become the government you have to serve everyone – not just your members, not just those that voted for your party. Let’s start talking to them now.
Let us all wipe the slate clean – bring an end to the division, and the internal anger and abuse. Corbyn has cemented his position as leader until the next general election, whenever that may be. However his actions need to match his rhetoric of party unity, otherwise the party will not move forward in the same direction. I for one will not be leaving the party I’ve been a supporter of for the best part of 17 years – but things cannot stay as they are. It’s up to Corbyn to bring about party unity from the grassroots to MPs and the shadow cabinet.