For decades, the Labour left has argued that if only they had the chance to offer their pure, unfettered version of socialism to the British public then the happy, cheering masses would usher them into power and their utopia would commence. Well they’ve had their chance, with a perfect socialist in charge of a perfect socialist Shadow Cabinet and the result is there for all to see – Labour’s biggest defeat since 1935, a worse thrashing than that suffered by Michael Foot in 1983, and the fourth failure consecutively.
The party was wiped out across many northern towns as large numbers from the party’s traditional working class base turned their back on a Labour Party they viewed as no longer being for them. Whilst they did have a policy platform on health funding, housing, welfare and public services designed to appeal to traditional voters, it was lost in a manifesto of 106 pages offering everything to everyone and costing the earth.
Following this devastating, miserable failure will surely come a new fight for the soul of the party. For many on the moderate wing, they feel they have spent the last four years telling the left that their platform and their leader was unelectable and were ignored. But the membership is still from the left and the main structures of the party are controlled by Corbynites. An unholy battle is ahead, between 203 MPs who largely want to return to the centre, and nearly half-a-million members whose loyalties – at least until last night – lay squarely with Corbyn and his hard left project.
What happens next is not completely clear. Jeremy Corbyn has said little since his short speech at the count in Islington, and initial indications are that he may not resign immediately and could instead seek to reign as caretaker during a long leadership contest. That theory may sound fine at first, but when the Parliamentary Labour Party reconvene on Monday, they will seek to make Corbyn’s position untenable as quickly as possible. Not just content that he resign as leader, some have even called for him to resign from the party as a whole.
At some point, that leadership contest will come, and the future direction of Labour will be set by whoever emerges victorious. Rebecca Long Bailey and Angela Rayner have long seemed to be the leading candidates from the left, whilst those on the right champion Keir Starmer. Emily Thornberry is also expected to throw her hat in the ring. But with b oth the leftist strategy and the Brexit policy having been so discredited, one wonders whether the new leader might come from someone untainted by the last four years. Step forward candidates like Jess Phillips andYvette Cooper who have never served under Corbyn, and made clear they never would. Lisa Nandy, who very briefly served under Corbyn but resigned in protest at his leadership in 2016 has also failed to rule herself out of the process.
Whoever does emerge as the next Labour leader faces a job of enormous difficulty. Starting some 162 seats behind the Conservatives, getting Labour back into power is likely to be the work of at least two Parliaments. And given the only Labour leader to have won a majority in Parliament in the last four decades is one Tony Blair – a man who would have no chance of being selected as Labour leader these days – that task is nothing short of a political mountain.