Following Corbyn’s re-coronation, Labour MPs must now decide whether to accept the legitimised mandate of Jeremy Corbyn, or risk collapsing the only capable opposition to the Tories. Despite mass resignation, an overwhelming vote of no confidence, cabinet sackings and a particularly ugly leadership election, it seems that Mr Corbyn has proven his worth. Nonetheless, loud, grassroot support has been continuous since Corbyn’s succession from the very beginning, so this begs the question: did Corbyn’s opponents seriously believe that a transparent election was the best means of defeating him?
With party membership doubling throughout Corbyn’s time as leader, it seems that such a tactic was always doomed to fail, particularly bearing in mind the large online presence Momentum has commanded over millennials. But tacticians knew this long before the election. Realistically, parliamentarians knew that if their pressure alone was not enough to force Corbyn’s resignation, then nothing would be. The continuation of his opponents only served to highlight the desperation of their situation, which in turn only strengthened Corbyn, and encouraged him further.
What the last three months have exposed again are fundamental weaknesses on the centre-left.
It was wish-fulfillment to continue with the belief in Corbyn’s replacement. Ironically, it was the moderates’ rigidity and inability to recognise the situation which damaged the party further than Corbyn could have ever done on his own. This provided the Conservatives with some much-needed respite following the fallout of the referendum result, providing opportunity to reshuffle and rightfully convey an image of control and certainty for a post-Brexit environment. In anticipation for the 2020 general election, Corbyn’s opponents have exacerbated the party’s situation even further, virtually rendering Britain a one-party state, ripe for the Conservatives’ picking. If Labour wishes to recuperate from these self-inflicted injuries, moderates must adopt a pragmatic mindset towards Corbyn’s tenure, viewing it as an objective swing to the left, rather than one of permanence. And in turn, Corbyn must refrain from antagonising his opponents and use his momentary advantage to come to terms with the pace of frontbench politics.
In his victory speech, a much crisper and polished performance than 12 months prior, Corbyn offered out a branch to dissenting members, proposing to wipe the slate clean in solidarity against the Tories. Shadow Chancellor and campaign manager to Corbyn, John McDonnell, also reiterated the attitudes of his speech, stating: “What is said on tour, stays on tour.”
Yet despite immediate attempts to reconcile the party, the extent of the division has only been further highlighted by the continued feud for pieces of party machinery on both national and local levels. However, I predict some MPs will return to the frontbench, in fear of retribution in their constituencies or to further their own careers. Some argue that the party now has to make at least a show of being cooperative or its membership will continue to blame its MPs, rather than the leader, for when things go wrong. Others are prepared to return to the frontbench on the grounds that it is their duty to be a voice for the 9 million people who voted for Labour and to provide an effective opposition to the Tories. Yet many say they will only do so if the parliamentary party is allowed to elect at least some of Corbyn’s frontbench. This would give moderates a way of returning to the party on their own terms and with some shred of dignity.
However, Corbyn’s circle so far seems extremely resistant to the idea, as this would once again place Corbyn under risk of criticism or another coup, which would weaken him and the party’s image even further. Whilst Corbyn’s circle is understandably resentful of those who tried to unseat him, he should nonetheless attempt to incentivise some of the former frontbenchers, as this would in turn strengthen the party’s public image and bolster Corbyn’s line of talent. Whilst Labour MPs must “respect the democratic choice which has been”, Corbyn cannot afford to rule without at least the illusion of solidarity.
many will continue to strike down Corbyn for defacing and unravelling the influence of New Labour.
Even with or without Shadow Cabinet elections, many senior Labour figures will not serve in Corbyn’s term anyway. Uncompromising and proud, many will continue to strike down Corbyn for defacing and unravelling the influence of New Labour. Whilst it might be convenient for moderates to blame the failure of the challenge entirely on the flaws of the challenger, this would be grossly wrong. What the last three months have exposed again are fundamental weaknesses on the center-left. Labour MPs often express dismay at Corbyn’s claims towards building a ‘social movement’ superior to the party, mocking it as the politics of protest, and an explicit violation of Labour’s founding purpose, as stated in clause I of the party constitution: to aim for power. Former frontbencher Tristram Hunt wittingly despairs that his party is becoming a “political branch of the Stop the War coalition”.
Whilst anti-Corbynites have led a continual barrage against the leader, even adopting grassroots methods, seen through emerging pressure groups like ‘Labour Tomorrow’ and ‘Saving Labour’, the result speaks for itself. Momentum has out-recruited and out-organised them, projecting Labour into the largest left-wing political party in western Europe. Though this mobilisation doesn’t say anything explicit about Corbyn’s capacity to win a general election, it does confront moderates with the truth that Corbyn is here to stay. Perhaps seeing him in this light will warrant cooperation for the future.