Labour’s victory in the 6 June Peterborough by-election has reduced the threat of a right-wing challenge to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership challenge. The Peterborough result was won by a vigorous and well-resourced campaign. But it gives no grounds for complacency.
The Peterborough campaign was not left-wing. It focused heavily on demands for more money for the police. Labour won essentially because the Tory vote held up better than in the 23 May Euro-elections. Enough Tory voters thought that they will soon have Boris Johnson or another hard-Brexiter as leader, and so no longer have to protest by voting Farage. Labour still lost many votes to Lib Dems and to abstention.
The easing of pressure to oust the 3 Ms, the Milne-Murray-Murphy group who run the Leader’s Office, is not good. Seamus Milne and Andrew Murray are longstanding Stalinists, and responsible for shaping Labour’s shameful evasions on Brexit and antisemitism. Those evasions affront most members, and demoralise and lose members. They affront most Labour voters, and lose votes. They have ruined Jeremy Corbyn’s personal standing with the broad electorate. The latest poll (YouGov, 5-6 June) had Theresa May, at 29%, scoring much better as “best prime minister” than Corbyn, at 17% — even after May had resigned!
To all appearances, Corbyn is demoralised. Yet there is a real possibility of a new Tory leader after 22 July calling a quick general election. That would be risky for the new leader, but then so would be everything else they might try; and, at least, if the new election gamble paid off, the new leader would have a new base in Parliament and a new mandate to win some tweaks or adjustments (though not more) from the EU. Labour is not in condition to run a general election. On the top issue of that possible general election, Brexit, it has a non-policy, and a non-policy rejected by most of its members and voters.
Yet the Leader’s Office are doubling down. They are boosting shadow business minister Rebecca Long-Bailey as the successor to Corbyn, for example by putting her forward to deputise for Corbyn in Parliament on 5 June and fixing wide media coverage of that. Long-Bailey has no substantial political record other than of being Corbyn-loyal since 2015 and pro-Brexit. At the first Liverpool Momentum conference in 2015, doing her best to appeal to a lively left-wing audience, the sharpest words she could find against the Tories was that they “put profits above…” — what? — “patriotism”.
The Skwawbox blog, close to the Leader’s Office, has mooted the idea of a deputy leadership contest, for Long-Bailey to displace Tom Watson (as a first step towards becoming the next party leader?) At the same time, shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry, also a solid Corbyn ally since 2015, but anti-Brexit, has been denounced by Skwawbox as “figurehead for the tactics underpinning the latest Labour right coup attempt”, because she has spoken out for Labour taking a clear stand for Remain.
The Guardian (8 June) reported rumours that the “inner circle… are considering a frontbench reshuffle” and that the Leader’s Office “did not rule out” those rumours. Hubris misdirects. Hubris based on as qualified a triumph as the Peterborough by-election is ridiculous.
The answer is democracy. Labour Party democracy. A special conference on Brexit. A revitalising of left-wing policies; a switch to a focus on the NHS, schools, and benefits, away from cops; a commitment to repeal the Thatcher anti-union laws.