There is no part of Labour that is blameless for the state the Labour Party has got itself into. The centrists in the Party have been too unimaginative. They lost the ability they were famed for to relate traditional Labour values to our modern setting and find a programme that’s future focused, electable and radical enough to change the lives of Labour voters.
The Soft left stood by Miliband for too long when we knew it wasn’t working. We of all people know how easy it is to become brittle and defensive when we should be open to understanding when change is needed. We needed to be more honest about that with Corbyn’s supporters. Own our mistakes and ask them to learn with us not against us. We were also too indulgent of the “foibles” of parts of the hard left. We thought the obsessions with the USSR, Cuba and Venezuela was quaint not an existential problem. We thought the obsession with Middle East politics — too often leading to questionable attitudes towards Jews — was a championing of the underdog with no questioning of the attitudes that came along with it. We were too indulgent of the questioning of the point of power. We indulged in too many fantasies about so-called “progressive alliances”. It should be us who learn the hardest lessons. Soft is not usually considered a positive quality. We should wonder why we cling to this epithet and what it says about our ability to fight as hard and get down as dirty as we need to. There was nothing soft about Kinnock for example.
But the leader and the hard left have to shoulder the lion’s share of the blame. It has been their lack of strategy, of political understanding — of basic competence of any nous at all, that has brought us as low as we have been brought tonight and could well be brought again in a month. Those of us who long foresaw this disaster but were unable to avert it have to take our portion of the blame too. Understanding where we went wrong will also be a part of the reckoning to come. But be under no illusions that the blame needs to be placed where it belongs.
What do we do now? This is the immediate question. There is no space now for a period of introspection. However bad we know things are (and they are vbery bad, let’s not pretend otherwise), we will do the ourselves or the voters no favours by facing away from the electorate and inward once again as we fight to retain as many Labour MPs as possible to take forward the fight against what will almost certainly be an emboldened Tory government. There will need to be a reckoning. A reaction. A reality check. But this cannot happen yet. This next month is about defending what we have and fighting for every single vote. The reckoning will have to wait.
A huge bucket of cold water was poured over us last night with very likely more and worse to follow. The well rehearsed excuses are already being wheeled out by those who follow blindly and those who abuse that blind trust. It’s the “coup”, it’s the “MSM” it’s the “special circumstances”.
I have this message to Corbyn and to his supporters: Own your failure as I am willing to own mine or the Party will die as you wallow in your bubble of righteousness and the people I care about continue to suffer.
The only way to possibly stem the damage that could be done next month is to indicate that you get it. That you are aware of how badly you have done and that you are willing to listen to what the electorate have bluntly told you they want and that you will act accordingly.
There will be those who will tell me that saying even this now is disloyal. That I should hold my tongue until after the general election and that by not doing so, I am harming Labour’s electoral chances. Would that I were that powerful. I don’t think Labour’s chances rest on my honesty about them. And I don’t think not being honest with the public about where we are and not accepting that we have heard the message they are sending us and our leadership is the right way to get a hearing from them.
I will keep up my activism in the general election. I will do everything I can to protect my brilliant local MP Stella Creasy and the wonderful Wes Streeting in my local marginal. I hope that good local campaigns will keep them and many others like them in Parliament. We will need people like them in the days to come.
These results will only be seen through the prism of the general election but they shouldn’t be. Local government is more important than that. Local government is where pavement politics really means that. Local government makes a huge difference to people’s lives. That Labour have been unable to convince enough voters that we are the right people to do so should devastate us.
Labour in local government makes an incredible difference — especially when we are seeing the vicious results of the Tories in power nationally, harming services, reducing people’s ability to lead good independent lives and driving working people to poverty and food banks.
Labour are also hopefully going to have some new large voices on the stage. We have yet to get the results of most of the metro mayor elections but it’s probable that at least some of these will create Labour politicians with large platforms to deliver for their areas and bully pulpits to hold the government to account when it fails their people. These are exciting new roles and I will write more about how Labour people should approach them. But for those writing Labour off forever, we should remember that we have these footholds. We can come back even if we are not guaranteed to do so.
I want to see Labour in government at every level. But we are not currently a Party that can convince anyone we deserve that. We have a month to do better. For the sake of the country we have to do so.