Labour needs a Caretaker Leader | Jake Scott

The only poll that matters is the election, sure. But no one would fail to notice the recent Kantar poll, that puts the Conservatives on 50%, and Labour (just) below 30%.

Labour is digging itself a hole. It is miring itself in discussions about European Union membership (which, let’s be honest, the country is sick of), transgender identity issues and which bathrooms they ought to use (which, again, is hardly resonant with the public), and continuing Jeremy Corbyn’s legacy or not. From the looks of the polls, they are doing so whether they want to or not. The unfortunate truth for Labour is, they are embarrassing themselves, and everyone can see it. But the real losers are the rest of the country.

Britain’s political constitution is built on opposition, with a real instituted Opposition in the legislative chamber offering counter-balanced arguments to those given by the government, and enabling effective scrutiny that ought to avoid tyrannical legislation. In theory. In reality, Labour (as the largest non-governing party in the Commons) ought to be providing this role, and it is not. I have written on this elsewhere, and won’t repeat my arguments here, but the gist is this: Labour need to get it together for the sake of the country, if not for themselves.

The best way they can do this is resigning themselves to an uncomfortable fact: they will not win the next General Election. But that does not mean defeatism; what it should mean is that very thing Corbyn himself was recommending, even if he didn’t follow through with it – a period of self-reflection. When Neil Kinnock took over the leadership of the Labour Party in 1983, it was a full fourteen years until a new Labour leader would enter No. 10. Kinnock must have known he had a poisoned chalice, but his challenges were very similar to those facing whomever wins on the 4th April: a party decimated at the polls; a militant Left effectively in control of the party; and the issue of Europe dividing the party at every level.

None of the current candidates are particularly appealing, or even very competent, and the country knows this. When Rishi Sunak gave his (admittedly, remarkable) Budget on Wednesday of this last week, Jeremy Corbyn responded by reading out a pre-written speech, instead of actually engaging with the Chancellor’s proposals, and resorting to the same line Labour has been toeing for the last five years: that austerity has failed, and this budget is an admission of that fact. I personally disagree, as I think this budget has vindicated the necessity of austerity in the early 2010s, but it is now time to move on. Of course, I am not an economist, but that is how it has felt to me. Regardless, the Labour party is continuing to wage an ideological war with the Conservatives, when their own ranks are looking despondent, depleted and deflated.

From where I stand, I think Labour ought to be going into this leadership contest with the attitude that, whomever wins, they are very likely not going to become Prime Minister (if they even survive to the next General Election). Instead, they ought to be acting as a caretaker leader, focusing on restructuring the party to facilitate democracy and debate, not extinguish it, and engaging with the reality of a post-Brexit Britain. As it stands, they are doing none of these things.


Photo by Syed Zaheer on Flickr. 

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