Last week I posted about why the centre-left is in decline. Today, I wanted to talk about a party that has bucked the trend. Since Jeremy Corbyn succeeded Ed Miliband as the British Labour Party leader following its defeat in the 2015 general election, he has done what hardly anyone thought possible- substantially increase the proportion of people voting for a centre-left party. Contrary to expectations, the 2017 general election went surprisingly well for Labour, who received 40% of the vote. Not only that, Labour went from having just over 100 000 members when Corbyn took over to having 550 000 today. Corbyn survived a leadership contest against the hapless Owen Smith, and now has unchallenged authority within the party. And while much of that success was undoubtedly due to an ineffective and lacklustre Conservative campaign, Corbyn nevertheless deserves credit for bringing his partly within touching distance of power.
I’ve spoken before about the British Left’s anti-Semitism problem, before it became the salient issue it is now. I stand my ground in my analysis: that Corbyn has isn’t anti-Semitic himself, but far too tolerant of those who are, partly because some anti-Semites are fellow Palestinian nationalists. But Corbyn’s recent handling of the scandal, including his refusal to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, is shameful. He ought to resign before Labour wrongly gets a reputation as a racist party, not helped of course by a largely hostile press.
However, Corbyn’s approach to the anti-Semitism row isn’t the only reason why he should resign. The Conservative minority government is one of the weakest in living memory. On every major issue, it is bitterly divided. Brexit- the biggest event Britain has experienced since WW2- is being negotiated by the most incompetent and foolish people imaginable. Post-recession wage stagnation is the worst of any developed country expect Greece. London and its hinterlands are facing a severe housing crisis, which has reduced disposable incomes, home ownership rates and increased homelessness. Child poverty has increased as a result of changes to the welfare system and is forecast to increase further. Britain is in a dire state, as the currency markets have made that clear by the Pound’s continued decline.
But the Corbyn-led Labour Party has failed to capitalise on any of this. It hasn’t produced a coherent alternative to the government’s Brexit plans, preferring to criticise the Conservatives opportunistically and inconsistently. It has no post-Brexit vision. Its members are pro-EU and favour a second referendum, yet the leadership lacks the courage and the conviction to argue for one. It talks a good talk on welfare, yet in practice, they propose to keep the vast majority of the welfare cuts in place. Labour has some popular policies, like railways re-nationalisation. But without the willingness to pull those policies together in a compelling, workable alternative plan, as well as the political nous to address scandals, they mean little.
Corbyn should resign because Britain desperately needs a strong opposition and comprehensive alternative to this shambolic Tory government. Corbyn became Labour leader because he was seen as different. In recent months he has failed to distinguish himself- on Brexit, austerity, and an overall commitment to a liberal society. He should be replaced by someone who can properly articulate a social democratic future. My personal preference would be the MP for Tottenham, David Lammy. On scandals faced by the Conservatives, such as the Grenfell Tower blaze or the deportation of British citizens who came to Britain in the 50s, he has held them to account with more eloquence and passion than anyone else. He shares Corbyn’s belief in the necessity of state infrastructure investments and well-funded social insurance programmes. But he lacks the current leader’s Euroscepticism, which has alienated Labour’s youthful base and made an honest, consistent Brexit policy impossible. More importantly, he isn’t associated with the sins of the old Left: the unconditional support for Palestinian nationalists, Irish nationalists, Iran, and South American autocrats like Chavez and Castro. No one can charge Lammy with wanting to take Britain back to the 1970s. But even if it isn’t Lammy, Labour needs to change. Complacency in the aftermath of the 2017 surprise could be the party’s undoing. It needs to be credible at all times. And under Corbyn, that simply won’t happen.