Jaded, cynical, rudderless and adrift, the Labour Party this week finds itself standing on the precipice, staring into an abyss of seemingly inevitable electoral defeat.
Conjecture is heavily relied upon here, but one imagines Sandhurst to impart on its recruits the value of a good captain going down with the ship. Teaching them to be the one who drags it down, however, is unlikely to feature on the curriculum. Enter, Jeremy Corbyn. The captain who laughs giddily while singing, dancing and merrily blasting breach after breach in the bow of the Labour barge. Soon to become a skiff.
The Conservative by-election victory in Copeland was the best by a governing party since 1878. Given that this took place in Labour’s backyard it’s difficult to see this as anything other than a sucker punch to Theresa May’s best friend. Copeland, then, was the real eye of the storm. The comments made by Cat Smith MP that the Cumbrian result was an ‘extraordinary achievement’ for the red team were utterly delusional. So too were the plethora of excuses served up by Corbyn allies. Very low turnout was to blame, according to Baroness Chakrabarti. ‘Fake news’ alarm bells should be ringing because, in fact, in the last 60 by-elections this one had the 7th highest turnout.
Even in Stoke, the result was more precarious than had been hoped for. The combined Conservative and UKIP vote exceeded that for Labour, meaning a majority rejected them in favour of something altogether more right-wing.
If the results of Thursday were to be extrapolated it would result in a 96 seat Commons majority for the Tories. When asked during a poll who they would rather see as prime minister, working class voters dealt a right hook to the red corner. Corbyn placed 36 points behind Theresa May. 5 and a half million votes behind the Tories. That’s a lot of doorsteps.
The problem is Labour have lost their narrative. What are they for? The Conservatives are the Brexit party. The Liberal Democrats are the anti-Brexit party. Labour are the party of…? For a one word answer, ‘disunity’ is all that springs to mind. Coherent policies on the big issues of the day, like immigration, have not been forthcoming, and issues that really matter to the people Labour used to take pride in representing, nuclear power in Copeland, for example, have been eschewed for fanciful ideologies harboured by metropolitan elites.
Brexit has re-framed everything. The old songs like the NHS are no longer loud enough to drown out the Article 50 anthems. Given that our casting off from the anchorage of the European Union is the foreground, background and sideshow of politics, and will be for at least the next 2 years, Labour need to find their feet. Fast. As it stands they are repelling Remain voters for not being anti-Brexit, Leave voters for not being passionately pro-Brexit, and the working classes for not championing the things that matter most to them. Not many fans left, then. Labour MPs, traditional Labour voters and Labour activists are now three separate entities, the priorities and agendas of which don’t overlap in the slightest. This makes them too weak to succeed, but too strong to fail.
When your deputy leader has to appear on television calling on shadow cabinet ministers, union leaders and members of the PLP to not abandon their General, you know things are looking pretty bleak.
But abandon they have. Disillusioned party members have rushed for the exit, leaving in their wake an even greater majority in favour of the current leadership, making a Corbyn deposal even less likely. The tribal tendencies of Corbyn allies in the PLP exacerbate the problem. John McDonnell spoke out against the supposed ‘soft coup’ taking place to shine a light on the dissension in the ranks. In reality, the sole objective was to call the troops to arms in their battle against the evils of the Murdoch empire and anyone with left-of-centre leanings. His lambasting of the alliance between party plotters and the media was a thinly veiled rally cry; an attempt to lure anyone with even a modicum of support to the front-line with the promise of trenches, cordite and lashings of political bloodshed.
These strategies make clear the Corbyn team’s intention to reconstruct the Labour Party in the socialist image. An approach which worked out brilliantly for Venezuela. You know, that country that took socialism to its heart and now boasts poverty on an apocalyptic scale.
All this makes Theresa May the most powerful prime minister in modern history. She faces no formidable opposition despite her fragile agenda. But the demise of the official opposition should not be seen as good news for Her Majesty’s Government. With polling putting a fissure between the two, complacency is a real threat. Good governance is predicated on a lean, hardy and well-fought stature. With the danger of piling on the pounds after complacency creeps in, this stature becomes bloated, flabby and lazy. A tragedy for Labour, a tragedy for the Government and a tragedy for Britain.