Myths and false narrative
To answer the question posed, we must first tackle the myths and false narrative perpetuated on MSM. These relate to polls, Corbyn’s unpopularity, Tory popularity, assertion that there is a need to win Tory voters and inability of Labour to deal effectively either in Parliament as an Opposition or in articulating its message to the public. Furthermore, another assertion is that Labour needs to win 96 seats to get back into power and this can only be done by positioning Labour to the ‘illusory’ Centre or just Right of Centre. This shift of the party leftwards from Blair & Brown to Miliband & now Corbyn is considered a self-inflicting disaster by those on the Labour Right. They believe that to win power Labour must emulate Tony Blair’s success and that means electing as leader anyone from the Left traditions of the party is clearly political suicide.
Let’s deal with the last one first. Since the highs of 1997 when Blair’s Labour won 444 seats, Labour has in fact lost 186 seats, has lost 48 seats (net) in Scotland, has let down 5 million voters who have abandoned us over the decade. Given that the Policy direction has leaned rightwards since those early highs, it is safe to assume that those left behind are those to the ideological left. Furthermore, the party lost 2 general elections with about 34% disenfranchised voters in both elections. That’s nearly 15 million voters, with atleast 5mn on the ideological Left! A recent survey confirmed that if Blair were to return, Labour would do much worse under him electorally.
GE 2015 loss
Some believed Labour lost GE2015 because of an out of touch ‘Metropolitan Elite’, others continued to blame the ‘house flipping’ & the expenses scandal. Many more felt that it was people’s lack of faith in Labour to deal with the looming migrant/ refugee crisis unfolding on our TV screens. Perhaps it was the narrative that only a Tory government can stand up for the English faced with the rising tide of Scottish nationalism and the only way to prevent a Labour Coalition initially supported but eventually dominated by SNP, would have to be a clear Tory majority government. Perhaps all of the above played their part. However, Labour lost 2015 not because there was a shift leftwards but for not setting out a stall which was sufficiently different from the tories. Labour was widely considered Tory-lite. It shared a unionist platform alongside the tories during the Independence Referendum in Scotland. It had also accepted the austerity agenda set out by the Tories and this was a strategic blunder.
By not being distinctive enough, Labour failed to reinvigorate the 34% voters who chose to stay away instead of voting. 250,000 Labour voters who did not vote for the Scottish Independence Referendum and yet voted for SNP in GE2015…. this suggests it was SNP’s leftward anti-austerity agenda and not its call for independence that attracted these 250,000 Lab voters to SNP. Labour lost all but 1 of their Scottish seats! In 17 seats elsewhere in the country, Labour & Liberal voters abandoning their natural parties for a more left-wing option meant that Tories sneaked in, gratefully grabbing these seats, aiding their bid for power. There was a high correlation between the size of Tory Majority in these seats and the size of the switch from Lab/ Lib voters to Greens/ PC as shown by Kate Hudson in this blog post – please check her excellent analysis here – http://www.cnduk.org/cnd-media/item/2152-analysing-the-results-labours-love-lost. It was in fact a closeness to the ‘Centre’ as dictated by a right wing media, and one which has shifted so far to the right that even Peter Lilly and Michael Portillo seem ‘Centrist’ now – Labour lost the general election in 2015.
I wonder if a Labour Party bold enough to reject austerity would have neutralised the SNP threat in Scotland and also would’ve given hope to millions suffering from austerity, enthusing them enough to thwart the Tory march to 10 Downing Street.
Corbyn’s anti-austerity agenda
With the emergence of Jeremy Corbyn, a lifelong human rights campaigner, who prefers taking politics outside the stuffiness of Parliament and the small bubble of Westminster, people everywhere started to sit up and engage, often for the first time. Halls were overflowing to the brim with many hundreds waiting outside. Social media started buzzing with people exchanging ideas and politics in a country where it was deemed impolite to talk about pay, religion or politics. Well, someone forgot to send Corbyn the memo!
With each of his leadership campaigns, ably supported by the Unions, Momentum and increasing number of enthusiasts from across the socioeconomic backgrounds, Corbyn has tirelessly got the message of anti-austerity / pro investment across. He talks about a vision of inclusive compassionate society empowered by grassroots politics and economy that works for all and not just the few at the top.
Corbyn, Policy & Vision
In terms of policy, whilst differences remain in the realms of Foreign & Defence Policy there is strong unity over Domestic policy within Labour.
Corbyn’s 10 pledges include building 1 million new homes with at least 500,000 council houses, creating 1 million new jobs with 300,000 in Hi-Tech & Green Tech, Living wage of at least £10 per hour (mandatory for firms with 21 or more employees), ban on zero hour contracts, workers rights & union representation & paid apprenticeships; a NHS with social/ physical/ mental care fully integrated and a NHS free from privatization & still free at the point of delivery is hugely popular pledge. His pledge to usher in ‘NES’ – National Education Service – that provides Universal Childcare, lifelong learning for all, no more tuition fees and even a revival of maintenance grants received standing ovation at the conference. Investment bank to bring our ‘second class’ infrastructure up to scratch, package of ‘in work benefits’ for the self-employed poor, bringing R&D expenditure to reach 3% of GDP not only threatens tory base by parking Labour tanks firmly on Tory lawns but also revives “our country’s tradition of individual ingenuity and collective endeavour”. A support package for those suffering from disability & their carers is also part of the pledges. Rail Nationalisation is another popular pledge that regularly gets 70%+ support in surveys. With Peace & Justice at the heart of Foreign Policy, Corbyn era would usher in ethical policy and an end to ill-thought out & senseless neo-conservative campaign of foreign wars. Progressive taxes & other measures would help reign in the excesses of a mixed economy dominated by neo-liberal dogma, bankers and big businesses.
This vision of a Britain with an inclusive fairer society where the economy works for all has swelled the local CLP up and down the country with new energised members of all ages – the first timers and also the returners. Corbyn has more than tripled the membership from 180k to more than 540k now. Debts of £22m were wiped off. Labour now has £10m more in the bank than Tories. Labour has more members now than at any time in recent decades and has more than any European party currently. Shifting leftwards and providing a clear distinct anti-austerity, pro-growth & investment message is resonating across the country. Getting this message across repeatedly must continue.
Corbyn, Effective Opposition & Electoral Success
During the first year, a largely united Labour party under Corbyn defeated Tories 22 times, much more than during Ed Miliband’s last year. May has already suffered 5 U-Turns in just a few months. A united party under Corbyn won all 4 by-elections, all 4 Mayoral elections and took nearly half of all council seats on offer across the 58 Councils contesting. This is more than that achieved in percentage terms by either Blair or Cameron, much to the disappointment of the BBC team that had predicted a loss of 150-300 seats and stayed up all night trying hard to create a narrative of disastrous local elections for Labour. Beyond that, Labour has had 7 net losses as compared to 33 Tory net losses in council by-elections (incl 21st Feb 2017).
Since Corbyn’s emergence, turnouts are much higher too which may prove to be a huge asset in marginals at the general election.Consistent wins in local elections or even by-elections or any evidence that Corbyn is tapping support from the 15 million mentioned earlier would only strengthen the case for his victory at the next general election.
Corbyn & Media
From the one-sided media coverage of the leadership campaigns, local elections and European Referendum, it became clear that Corbyn would not get a fair hearing either in BBC studios or with other MSM. Not surprising given the similar backgrounds of the journalists at BBC to their Tory chums and also given who owns Sky. Social media thus came to prominence and in aid of Corbyn. #Wearehismedia #1yearofJeremy and #KeepCorbyn became the mantra in the war of the hashtags. As seen during Obama’s rise to power and also during Mr. Modi’s landslide win in India, power of social media will continue to play a crucial role in Corbyn’s journey to 10 Downing Street.
Corbyn, Labour Party & Pollings
The lower pollings coincided with the time of disunity. At all other times, Labour party has been closing the gap. In fact in Mar/ April 2016, Labour was edging ahead of Tories and Corbyn trusted more than Cameron. The back-biting, briefing, orchestrated attacks, articles in the Sun and other Murdoch press by Labour MPs unsympathetic to Corbyn did a lot of damage. It is widely accepted now that there has been widespread bias against Jeremy Corbyn & John McDonnell in the main stream media. The recent suspensions and shenanigans over summer trying to exclude Corbyn supporters from voting by the hike in membership fees, the court case, the lost ballots and the suspensions of thousands of Corbyn supporters widely known as the Labour purge on social media has done untold damage to Labour NEC’s reputation at least in the short term.
On a broader point regarding polls, I still wait for someone to prove beyond doubt that these polls are scientific and can consistently predict outcomes correctly, ahead of time. I remain deeply sceptical of the validity of these MSM polls, given possible conflicts of interest. For instance, James Harding who heads BBC, used to work for Murdoch’s Times. Also it is important to remember that the co-founders of YouGov are Tories including a one Nadhim Zahawi who was on Cameron’s Policy Board with special responsibility for business & economy. He was Prime Minister’s Apprenticeship Adviser in 2015. Stephan Shakespeare, the other co-founder was Jeffery Archer’s Campaign Director (London Mayor Campaign). Sure Polls can be used to manipulate – underplay or overstate the likely hood of a particular outcome; sure they can create discussion and debate, sure they can create awareness but I am certain they do not reflect opinion and definitely cannot predict an outcome 4 years from now. I find it hard to believe that anyone who can gather thousands of people in a short notice to come listen to what he has to say, is unpopular. I know of no other English MP who commands so much adoration, respect and popularity. Corbyn overshadows by miles, both Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, political figures deemed popular by the rightwing media.
Word of caution however persistent lower polls from credible pollster(s) must not be ignored & much work needs to be done to bring about party discipline & unity, exposing Tory recklessness whilst getting Labour’s positive message across.
Corbyn and his team
Much has changed in favour of Corbyn in this last year to consolidate his position at the helm. Corbyn well-wishers won all 6 NEC posts up for re-election and all 18 Labour Youth position has gone to Momentum backed candidates. He has full backing of John McDonnell and Emily Thornberry. Andy Burnham showed impeccable loyalty & is a worthy mayoral candidate for Greater Manchester. The new shadow cabinet is now the most diverse it can be with 5 BAME members (incl 4 MPs and 1 peer), 11 from Northern constituencies, brimming with dedication, selflessness and talent. Labour Party finds in Sadiq Khan, its first Muslim Mayor of any Western Capital (London) and in Marvin Rees, its first Black Mayor of any European city (Bristol). This could further help strengthen Labour’s reach whilst showcasing Labour in power.
Not withstanding the loss of Clive Lewis from the shadow cabinet in the wake of a 3-Line whip over triggering Article 50 bill, this decisive power shift in favour of Corbyn and the emerging unity between PLP and rest of the Labour Party could restore Labour’s reputation, popularity and its poll ratings once again.
Emergence of a more Confident Corbyn
The leadership campaign against Owen Smith brought with it its own silver lining. Corbyn has emerged as a much more polished speaker, at ease during interviews and confident at the despatch box. He gave a barnstorming speech at the Labour Conference and dealt very well with the likes of Andrew Marr, Robert Peston & Laura Kuenssberg in a studio/ interview setting. In the last five outings at PMQs, Corbyn has taken Theresa May apart on Grammar Schools, on Amber Rudd’s immigration policy debacle, on parity of esteem for Mental Health sufferers, NHS & social care, on post Brexit shambles, on austerity, homelessness & WCA sanctions regime.
What concerns me is that despite the massive crisis in our NHS & Social Care, crisis in Prison Services, Dubs debacle, crisis regarding Trident & rusting of all 7 of our Nuclear Subs currently docked for maintenance, alledged Tory Electoral Fraud involving Nick Timothy, real cut in spending per pupil in decades, PiP cut, reckless devastation in our local government, esp with the recent business rates debacle involving Sajid Javid, no heads have rolled. Does Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour lack a certain ruthlessness required to force ministerial resignations, piling pressures on PM Theresa May?
With regards to Tory popularity, even under Cameron, only 24% of the electorate voted for either the Tories or their Austerity. Unelected Theresa May, a PM without any mandate, presides over a deeply divided Conservative Party especially on issues of Europe, Grammar Schools, HS2, Heathrow Expansion and Immigration. Beyond what’s been mentioned above, tories will face further pressures on fracking, NHS, Sterling Pound, Economy, Syria Crisis and austerity. Unceremonious sackings at the reshuffle may also have sown the seeds of division in the near future. Furthermore at least 10 million families have been adversely affected by Tory austerity and countless millions with savage cuts in public services. The cut in funding of 3000 Community Pharmacies will further put undue stress & pressure on A&E. It is perhaps understandable to conclude that twitter polls of thousands of voters putting Tories consistently at or below 20% may well be closer to the truth than the widely used MSM polls.
Tories have suffered 5 U-Turns in just 3 months. The disgraceful decision on Orgreave and Dubs debacle should have led to resignation of Amber Rudd. Failure in our NHS should’ve meant Jeremy Hunt to be kicked out of cabinet. Shocking state of our Prison service should’ve seen off Liz Truss. Avoidable decisions regarding our Nuclear submarines & failed attempt to hide the failure of Trident tests should’ve atleast prompted Micheal Fallon to apologise in Parliament. The tories are getting away with murder… literally 33,000 to be precise. The polls seem not to reflect these failures.
The underlying weakness of the tories was further exposed by the recent Witney By-election. The 10th safest Tory seat with a majority of 25,ooo at May 2015 could now be vulnerable at the next GE with a 19.3% swing to the pro-EU LibDems… majority slashed by 20,000 in just one year! To put this into perspective, just a 8% swing against Tories would wipe out 101 Tory seats!! Since then Zac Goldsmith and Stephen Phillips have resigned triggering by-elections in Richmond Park & Sleaford and North Hykeham respectively. In Richmond Park, tory candidate suffered a 21.73% swing against them, giving back majority of nearly 16,000 votes and losing to pro-EU LibDem candidate Sarah Olney. Furthermore, whilst Tories retained Sleaford & North Hykeham, they did so with a much reduced majority dwindling from 24,115 down to 13,144! It is worth reminding ourselves that these swings were inflicted in Tory heartlands.
Last few days since the Spring Budget have been all about the OmNICshambles served up by Phil Hammond now dubbed ‘SpreadShitPhil’. This has meant Tories have unwittingly broken a Manifesto promise and might have put themselves in dire consequences with regards to upcoming local elections in Tory heartlands. Once again there seems to be a disconnect between reality and pseudoscientific polls that seem to have extended their lead to a unreal 19 points!!
GE 2020 Strategy
In terms of the next election, going back to the need to win 96 seats, I would humbly suggest that a more credible strategy must involve formal alliance with left-leaning parties such as Greens & LibDems. This could help consolidate support & electoral victory in many seats, keeping tories out, eliminating their majority. Strategy must thus focus on Tories losing their majority rather than Labour winning one at least for the next election.
It is evident to see that exposing Tory Austerity agenda has benefitted Labour & will continue to do so; in the same vein, post Brexit shambles have benefitted the LibDems. Either way, the tories are haemorraging support, esp. given the lack-lustre & lamentable ‘leadership’ of Theresa May. Labour must come together internally & externally with LibDems, Greens & those on ideological left to defeat the tories.
In the recent by-elections in Labour heartland – StokeCentral & Copeland – candidates chosen were non-Corbynites. Rachel Holliday, Corbyn’s preferred candidate & Cumbrian Woman of the year for her help to ex-servicemen was not selected. Furthermore, these constituencies had been served poorly by the sitting Labour MPs who seemed to be completely out of touch with their Leave constituencies. Labour share which was at 63% & 58% in ’97 had fallen to around 40% by 2010. This meant that despite the well organised ground campaign in the run up to the Feb by-elections, Labour lost the marginal seat of Copeland to Tories. On a positive note, defeat of UKIP’s Paul Nuttal in ‘Brexit Central’ has probably ushered in the demise of UKIP!
Labour must chose local candidates that are Corbynites & once again become the champion of local causes & grievance and articulate that with one voice, winning over potential voters everywhere. Labour must ensure that a media strategy that involves Corbyn’s loyal shadow cabinet is either on TV or on Radio giving interviews must be implemented. Tory recklessness must be exposed, Blairite mistakes must be acknowledged, discussion of internal party politics must not be allowed & precious time must be used to create huge awareness about Labour pledges & how these can bring tangible shift in people’s living standards. Using the promise of bill on PR Labour must extend the hand of collaboration with the LibDems, Greens & other left wing parties. This will ensure Labour is not fighting on multiple fronts.. all fire would be directed at the Tories.
Everything must be done to attack the boundary changes, making sure it does not happen in its current form. Nearly 10 million potential voters are not even on the register. Labour must take a lead on this and engage with this neglected group as well as the 15mn disenfranchised mentioned above.
A well planned strategy for the next general election taking into account the above mentioned, would ensure at least a Labour led coalition government. This could then allow Labour with other parties to implement the 10 pledges, reversing the damage caused by the tories and introduce a PR system such as STV – within a context of wider Constitutional Reform- to ensure that the 76% non-tory vote never has to suffer Tory recklessness again!
Labour Party, backed by Unions & powerful pressure groups has fully filled coffers without any big donors or resultant conflicts of interest, has a powerful social media presence and has growing number of enthusiastic party members, supporters and Momentum members ready & eager to serve for the greater good of all. Backed by a strong core team & a talented shadow cabinet, Corbyn is a great leader in making, who is not only exposing the divided Tory government but is also providing appropriate solutions for the present & a vision for future.
I believe it is time … a time to unite… a time for change… a time for millions to throw away the yolk of tory austerity… a time for a Corbyn government.
( @gaurangmorjaria WeThePeople )