Thoughts on Labour


  1. Even though I supported him and his positions, Corbyn has not been an effective leader. The treatment of him in the press and by the PLP may have hampered his leadership, but after a year he should be in stronger position than he is against a government overseeing spending cuts and riven by splits over Brexit and its fallout.
  2. Nevertheless the problems of Labour and the British Left do not hinge on Corbyn’s position.
  3. Winning might not be everything, but being able to influence policy is. Labour are currently unlikely to win power and are not influencing policy.
  4. To remove the Conservatives from office one of three things is required: (a) Labour win extensively in Scotland; (b) First-Past-The-Post is replaced with a form of PR; (c) A political force comprised of a broad coalition of conservatism’s opponents emerges.
  5. Neither candidate in the Labour leadership election has adequately sketched out a path to these outcomes.
  6. In part this is because Labour is institutionally unable to respond to the issues its faces. As a party it cannot accept electoral reform that would reduce the size of the PLP. It cannot acknowledge the medium term loss of Scotland as a given due to the (until recently) institutional importance of Scotland to the Party. It cannot imagine a broad coalition as it is emotionally tied to the idea that it alone carries the progressive touch in the UK.
  7. That significant parts of the party regard a huge increase in membership as a threat exemplifies this. While the incorporation of such a surge in membership would undoubtedly be difficult and take time, only a sclerotic institution is unable to conceive of the potential of a vastly increased membership.
  8. Corbyn, no less than Smith, is representative of Labour’s thinking in this regard. The former hopes that he can lead an insurgency within the Party to overcome the power of the PLP. The latter hopes to channel the insurgency to the advantage of the PLP. Neither is willing to concede the necessary reconstruction of the Labour Party as a precursor to a broader progressive left.
  9. As such, the outcome of this leadership election will not solve Labour’s problems but intensify them. It represents a lost opportunity for real reform.

Whatever the merits of Brexit, it offers the opportunity for a new regime of economic regulation removed from the overarching goals of the European Union. This, together with the electoral incentives created by the decline of the Liberal Democrats and the rise of the SNP, creates something of a productive crisis for British political life. It will be a shame if Labour squanders that opening through engagement in a protracted squabble over control of the parliamentary party.