Labour’s top team are not even slightly ready to fight the next election. With the Fixed-term Parliaments Act meaning that it won't occur until 2020, some will argue that it doesn’t matter. They couldn't be more wrong. Elections are not won and lost in the three week short campaign. They are won and lost as the perceptions of future leaders are formed. If those perceptions are ignored, or perceived to matter little, the election may already be lost.
Labour should know this. To its cost, the party has never recovered from a general view that it was responsible for causing the economy to crash, and Ed Miliband never recovered his weak rating on leadership. It was this combination that proved fatal to Labour's chances last year. Those in the Labour Party reassuring themselves over the current poll lead and the plight of a Conservative party in civil war should check again where they stand with the public – particularly on being trusted to run the economy and on the rating of Jeremy Corbyn as a potential prime minister – and think again.
This is a crucial moment for Labour. The Government is, very publicly, in a mess. The Chancellor, George Osborne, is as unpopular as he has been since his omnishambles Budget of 2012. A potential future government would have used this moment to press home its advantage and start to change negative public perceptions.
Instead we had unrealistic, overreaching calls for Osborne’s resignation that rallied even troubled Tory backbenchers to his cause. And then we had The List.
You can tell when a leadership is not focused on beating their opponents – it’s when they can’t tell who the opposition is. When a leader’s team is more focused on internal division than gaining power then they have the wrong priorities and the country knows it. Corbyn has spent his life focused on the internal politics of the Labour Party. But as long as his team remains intent on beating Labour opponents it will never be properly engaged on the real task at hand: beating the Tories, and getting back into government.
Yes, Corbyn’s critics take too many opportunities to attack him. Everything that happens in Labour politics now happens in inglorious Technicolor. Minor mis-steps held up alongside genuinely damaging strategic errors as of equal magnitude. This makes them look like poor losers rather than those concerned with the future of the country too.
But his critics have the luxury of not being the leadership. Corbyn has a job to do now, and he needs a strategy team that can deliver it – one that can lift itself above the internal fray, ignore the provocation from those who should know better, and look not to the next insider row but to the next election.
Corbyn should be given the time and space to prove his leadership on his own terms. He has not yet faced a national set of elections and the doom-mongering around by-elections has not yet come to much. But he will never win over the country unless he and those he surrounds himself with choose to focus solely on doing so and give up their internal battles and strategising. They must abandon any list of “hostiles” that isn’t solely made up of MPs from the Tories, Lib Dems, SNP, Plaid Cymru, UKIP and the Greens.
Their focus must be on delivering a Labour government. Not just during the short campaign but today, tomorrow and every day until May 2020. If this team can’t provide the strategy to do so, Corbyn must show the leadership to find those who can.
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