Like most tuning in to the election coverage a couple of weeks ago, I was utterly shocked by the exit poll. Those of us who were self-flagellating enough to watch Labour’s electoral car crash in real time slowly transitioned from shock, to despair, and, finally, to an acceptance of failure. Of course, nobody who paid even the slightest bit of attention to Labour’s polling was surprised to see a Tory victory, that was a given.
What nobody predicted, however, was just how badly Labour would perform, especially after deceivingly optimistic results in 2017. Jeremy Corbyn returned the worst election results for the party since 1935, with many formerly safe seats turning blue. We now have to accept that Corbyn will never be the electable face of Labour. In an election, perception is everything and Corbyn, rightly or wrongly, is disliked by the electorate en masse. On the day of the election, Opinium found that 43 per cent of voters cited ‘the leadership’ as the primary reason for their decision not to vote for the Labour party.
Whilst it would be unfair to lay the blame entirely at Corbyn’s feet, the time for excuses is over. Yes, the media coverage of his campaign was not exactly favourable, but we cannot keep pointing to some monolithic ‘mainstream media’ as an excuse for electoral disaster. The manifesto, as appealing and crowd-pleasing as it was, simply did not hold up to the necessary scrutiny as well as the ‘true believers’ like to claim. Labour’s Brexit confusion, another mistake from the upper ranks, also contributed to their failure. Caroline Flint, a Labour MP until losing her Don Valley seat to the Tories, argued that ‘Labour has ignored working-class voters who chose leave’ due to the party’s flip-flopping on Brexit policy. It’s crystal clear that there is a terrible disconnect between the Labour party, its membership, and the electorate.
A manifesto of radical socialism is all well and good, but if you can’t win over the electorate and seize the reins of power off the back of such a manifesto, then what exactly does it achieve? Isn’t the point of a political party to work towards forming a government and actually improving the lives of those they claim to represent? Thousands of people in this country are suffering under the Tories and their aggressive ideology of austerity, yet the Labour party has been failing every single one of them by not providing a compelling, electable opposition.
Whilst I supported Corbyn’s leadership bid in 2015 and felt galvanised by the prospect of democratic socialism becoming the status quo, my enthusiasm for Corbyn’s particular brand of leftism has now waned. In attempting to distance itself from the New Labour era, the party has swung the pendulum too far in the other direction, alienating its core support base in the process.
Am I suggesting that Labour must don a deeper shade of blue to secure future electoral success? No. The last thing we need is another party abandoning its core principles in the pursuit of power. However, there is clear and palpable division within the Labour party. Many refer to these groups as the ‘Corbynistas’ and the ‘Blairites’, though I find these terms fairly reductive and uncharitable. If Labour want to win any future general election, compromise and reconciliation must be made between the two wings of the party. As much as it may hurt to some, it’s time to let go of Corbyn’s run as leader. It’s time to look forward to a new year, a new leader and hopefully a new Labour – but maybe not *that* New Labour.