Will Red be put to bed in the Labour party?

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The Labour party leadership campaigns are in full swing. The socialist backbench MP Jeremy Corbyn is currently gaining a good deal of support, much to the surprise and in places despair of other party members. To the left of the party, Corbyn could be perceived as a symbol of ‘Red Labour’, adhering to the party’s more traditional core values. His success in the results of the leadership vote will surely be revealing. Is there any longer a mandate for his style of politics in the party, or will the wind blow too strongly ‘the other way’?


“Get a transplant”

When the ghost of governments past intervened on 22nd July, he could not have been more unreserved. The direction the party choses will make it either a platform for a credible government or a platform for protest securing Labour firmly as the opposition party but never the party in power, were more or less the words of Tony Blair. Those whose heart is with Corbyn had best get on that NHS waiting list for a heart transplant, if they are to take Mr. Blair’s advice. Well, make of that what you will!

It is all too easy if not a little ignorant to tell the more right leaning candidates to “go and join the conservatives”. This is a misconception. All of the candidates believe in social equality; it is the means by which they believe this could best be achieved that differ. Should the new leader serve as the definitive voice of protest and opposition, providing more progressive alternatives to the harsh and offensive policies being pushed through by the Tories? Blair’s logic suggests that this is not going to resonate with a large proportion of the electorate, without whom Labour simply cannot gain a majority under the current voting system. In his eyes, opposing the direction of the status quo would ensure indefinite failure come 2020.

I take issue not with the evidence behind this view (as in past elections this has deprived Labour of victory), but with the manner in which it is expressed – as a means of ‘scaring’ voters away from the more radical candidate, who choses to promote a message of hope and solidarity, not fear. There should be no place for the politics of fear in a debate that should focus solely and candidly about the country’s most prevalent issues and who is best suited to tackle them.

Moreover, if it is professed by the likes of Tony Blair that voters should not vote for an individual representing a platform because it doesn’t fit the direction of the modern Establishment, even if they believe in principle it is the right thing to do, what does that say about the society we are living in?

All those in favour, say ‘aye’

Amending here, abstaining there… Labour’s actions on the Conservative welfare bill were controversial, causing 48 MPs to stray from the party line and vote directly against the bill in the Commons. Corbyn was the only leadership candidate to do so and media coverage would lead one to conclude that Liz Kendall arguably portrayed the most support for the official party position. The whole episode exemplified Labour’s internal conflict and external identity crisis, serving a further blow to its already battered position in parliament.


Decision time

Pleasing Labour’s long time supporters whilst winning back lost support across the political spectrum is the ultimate if not impossible challenge,  so whatever happens there will be sacrifices. For instance, to the degree that the future leader chooses to occupy this ‘centre-ground’ of British politics is the degree to which they are choosing to escape the ‘Red Ed’ label the former leader was tarnished with by much of the right-wing press. But we must remember that in doing so, they would be distancing the party further from its founding values, leaving millions of people with no single dominant party to maximally challenge growing inequalities and to wholly stand up for the most vulnerable. Would this give another progressive party a greater platform from which to champion what Labour left behind?

It is early days in the race to the leadership but everyday more tension is mounting as the party’s trajectory is unknown. The contrasting ideologies chiefly between Kendall and Corbyn, and the different pictures they paint for the future of the party, are providing an extremely difficult yet fascinating choice for a party which umbrellas a diverse political range among its members. And so, whoever takes the party forward will mark a significant step in one direction or the other. Is there enough belief within the party that its traditional socialist values can still form a successful pathway to power? Or would a Corbyn defeat well and truly put the Red to bed?

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