Owen Jones has thrown down the gauntlet with a set of questions which ‘all Jeremy Corbyn supporters need to answer’. But my first question to Owen Jones is, why are your questions only being put to Jeremy Corbyn supporters? Personally, I think they are all very good questions and we need to take them seriously, but surely it is the whole Labour Party that needs to address them, not just Jeremy Corbyn supporters.
Owen’s first question asks how Labour’s currently ‘disastrous polling’ can be turned around. I would like to throw out one very obvious answer to that question: by uniting the party behind its elected leader! Since Jeremy Corbyn has been elected, the extent of the backstabbing, coup plotting and in-fighting that has gone on inside the Parliamentary Labour Party is almost beyond belief. MPs have willingly fuelled an already hostile media with so much anti-Corbyn – and anti-Labour – material it is a miracle the polls show any support for Corbyn or for the Labour Party at all.
There are very good reasons, however, to be more than a little bit sceptical of polls at this precise moment in our history. We are living in exceptional times. There is enormous volatility in public opinion right now because people are very uncertain – not only of where we are heading, but of what they make of it all. So while it is certainly true that Labour and Corbyn are polling very badly at the moment, that does not mean those polls cannot, or will not, improve.
How much the polls improve, however, depends much more on the behaviour of the MPs who oppose Corbyn than on Corbyn himself. Those polls are disastrous for Labour because Labour is in a disastrous state. Much more needs to be done to turn the polls around, and as party leader, Jeremy Corbyn needs to take that on board and address the concerns that Owen is raising. But without a united party behind him, there is very little he can do to turn the polls around significantly in the short-term.
As with many of the other questions put by Owen Jones, it is the party as a whole which needs to have and to present a coherent vision for the way forward and policies which the whole party can rally behind. This is not just a matter for Jeremy Corbyn, let alone for his supporters. One of the reasons this has not happened is that it is not just the bulk of MPs who have briefed against the leader and announced in parliament and to the media what they think current Labour Party policy ‘is’, for instance on Trident renewal. Labour Party staff and officials have also been responsible for putting out press statements and policy briefs which are directly counter to what Jeremy Corbyn has been saying, for instance on Hinkley Point. How can Jeremy Corbyn be expected to present a clear vision and a clear set of policies when other parts of the party are actively opposing these?
The truth of the matter is that even if Owen Jones and/or other big names on the left of the Labour Party swing in behind Owen Smith and give him their full support, Jeremy Corbyn is still going to win this leadership contest. Of course the fact that Jeremy Corbyn can draw huge crowds of supporters up and down the country does not mean he can win a general election. But it does indicate he can win the leadership election and if you believe any polls at all, you cannot possibly believe that Owen Smith can win this one.
That puts Owen Jones’ questions in a slightly different light. Given that Jeremy Corbyn is going to remain leader of the Labour Party, probably with an even larger mandate from the membership than he got a year ago, how do we address the challenges facing the Labour Party and its electability at the next general election? Rather than pitching these questions at Corbyn supporters in the vain hope that they might vote for Owen Smith instead, why not look at them as challenges facing the Labour Party as a whole?
Yes, we – the Labour Party – need to get our act together. We, the Labour Party, need to pull back from negative ratings in the polls and move ahead to win support from young people, older people, even from people who voted SNP, UKIP or Tory at the last election. We, the Labour Party, need a clear vision and to spell out a set of clear policies for going forward. Yes, we the Labour Party need a more effective media strategy. We need to mobilise Labour’s mass membership and build a movement out of it. Let’s get to work on those things, but first and foremost let’s unite as a party behind our elected leader and put all these other issues into perspective. It is open warfare within the Labour Party that could cost us the next election, not the deficiencies of the current party leader.