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Labour is doomed, regardless of whether Jeremy Corbyn wins or not

A senior Lib Dem member of the coalition said: 'Labour aren’t going to get anywhere until they come to realise that they are not going to win a general election. They think they can get rid of Corbyn and it’ll be business as usual. It won’t'

Tom Peck
Monday 18 July 2016 20:55 BST
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Parrty
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Parrty (AFP/Getty)

It is not yet a year since two of Labour’s big fish (let’s not call them beasts), and a third who, while not a big fish herself, was considered the proxy representative of the party’s biggest fish, contested a leadership election in which a 66-year-old north London Vegan for Justice was permitted to take part essentially for a laugh.

Over a long dull summer, Labour’s leading figures were out charisma’d by a man with none, and walloped by a margin beyond all comprehension in a contest they had not comprehended losing.

Chiefly to avert my eyes from the low hanging fruits of an unashamed Dutch breeding ram called “Terry the Texel”, on Saturday afternoon I wandered into the Momentum tent at the Lambeth Country Fair in South London.

"Where do you think this is all going to end?" I asked the young bearded man in the #KeepCorbyn T-shirt.

Smith on Labour contest

“Politics is polarising,” he said, earnestly. “It’s a shame in many ways, but being at the pole is the right place to be.”

Never mind that being at the pole is always the wrong place to be, as such various figures as Michael Foot and Captain Oates have discovered, he carried on: “You’re not going to win an election by saying, “We’re not as bad as the Tories.’”

Which is, of course, precisely how you do win an election. It is how Tony Blair won three. It is how the Tories themselves won the last one.

Now, we enter what Labour’s moderate activists, if such a term can mean anything, have called “48 hours to save Labour.” Namely, the two-day period in which registered supporters can pay £25 for a vote in the now active leadership contest. The short window in which people of the centre left must decide if they want to gamble £25 at long odds to try and rescue the party back from the Corbynite fringe to which it lost it so spectacularly.

There is a chance they will be successful, but so what? #Savinglabour will not save Labour.

Last week, a senior Liberal Democrat member of the coalition government told a meeting of party members: “Even if they get rid of Jeremy Corbyn, Labour aren’t going to get anywhere until they come to realise that they are not going to win a general election. They think they can get rid of Corbyn and it’ll be business as usual. It won’t.”

This is the second summer in a row that Labour will fight a protracted leadership contest. Whoever takes on Jeremy Corbyn must try to find an answer to the immense challenges Labour faces. Beating Corbyn for the sake of beating Corbyn will not suffice.

When Angela Eagle launched her campaign, she said she could beat Theresa May at a general election, “Because she’s a Tory.”

When Andrew Marr asked her why she could beat Owen Smith, she told him it was because “I’m a woman.”

History does not suggest being not a Tory, and not a man, is cause enough to win an election.

The SNP took over Scotland at the last general election with exactly 50 per cent of the vote. The huge majority of those people were not voting for anti-austerity, or for opposition to Trident, and certainly not for anything to do with the EU. They were voting for independence, and they will not be persuaded back until that issue goes away. And it is not going away.

Owen Smith has said, "It would be tempting" to not trigger Article 50. To ignore the results of the referendum, or offer a second one.

But his party is haemorrhaging votes to Ukip in its northern heartlands, the crucial battleground of the referendum. The evidence is simply not there to suggest they want their vote reversed.

He thinks it is tempting to appeal to the 48 per cent of people that voted Remain and, possibly, the small percentage of people who regret their vote, if they even exist. But the electoral map of the UK does not divide into a winning coalition among pro-Remain lines. As things stand, a referendum-result-ignoring coalition would be hammered.

David Cameron is gone, but among his final acts was to bring in equal marriage. George Osborne’s was to promise a national living wage. Michael Gove’s was to pledge compassionate reform of the prison system.

When Theresa May stood on the steps of 10 Downing Street, not a word passed her lips that could not have been said by Tony Blair or Gordon Brown.

Labour cannot exist as a party of well-off urban virtue-signallers. But it cannot survive even in the short term merely along pro-Corbyn or anti-Corbyn lines.

If someone is to stand any chance at all of persuading the members to de-crown Jeremy, they will need to find meaningful answers to the big questions, very quickly indeed.

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