Labour need a better strategy

Now that the dust has settled on "Super Thursday" we can critically examine Jeremy Corbyn’s first big electoral test as leader of the Labour Party. The results are very mixed. The Labour Party had some successes, most notably Sadiq Khan’s election as Mayor of London ending the Tories’ eight-year occupation of that office. Elsewhere Labour did not fare so well, losing overall control of the Welsh Assembly and slipping to third place in the Scottish elections.

The severe trouble that Scottish Labour finds itself in predates Corbyn’s election as Labour leader; he cannot take much blame for it. However the real problem comes from the wider test of Corbyn's electability, the council elections. Last Thursday the Labour Party became the first opposition party to lose council seats in mid-term local elections since 1985. The Labour Party picked up fewer councilors than Ed Miliband's Labour in 2012 or William Hague’s Conservatives in 1998 - both of which went on to electoral defeats.

This does not necessarily mean Labour is doomed to a landslide defeat in 2020. It is almost impossible to accurately predict the outcome of an election four years in the future. However with Tories, Lib Dems and UKIP eating into Labour’s support and no clear path back to electability in Scotland, the outlook for Labour is not so good.

In many ways the Corbyn leadership is going badly. There have been a series of unprofessional disasters including John McDonnell waving around Chairman Mao's Little Red Book and Ken Livingston opening on Hitler a week before a critical election. The Conservatives are maneuvering on the centre ground of British politics and increasing their electoral support. At the same time, accusations of rising anti-Semitism are proving difficult to refute.

The ultimate question for Labour is what alternative is there? Corbyn's three leadership rivals were dismissed by party members not because of sudden love of socialism, but because they offered no chance of winning an election. The simple truth is that there is currently no alternative plan to get Labour back into government. Moderates talk about Dan Jarvis as a replacement leader, however, I do not understand what happens after Jarvis (or any other moderate) replaces Corbyn. What is the moderates' strategy for winning back voters and getting Labour into power?

In order for Labour to win the 2020 general election the party needs a platform that is radically different to what Gordon Brown offered in 2010, Miliband offered in 2015 and what the Tories are offering now. Repeating the failed 2010 or 2015 approach will not work in 2020. I do not see a direction that the moderates would take Labour in that would be different enough from the mistakes of the past and the current Tory government.

Those who argue for a return to Blair’s triangulation strategy miss the point. Rather than a cohesive coalition between working and middle class voters, the 1997 landslide relied on chasing ‘aspirational’ Middle England, safe in the knowledge that working class core voters could be relied on to vote Labour anyway. Endemic political alienation since then, along with the financial crash, means re-running New Labour is not the answer either.

Labour is under attack from all sides. Centrist middle class voters are defecting to the Tories; working class and northern voters are being wooed by UKIP. Scotland is off the table, for now. The strategy that the moderates would adopt to win back centrist, middle class voters is likely to drive working class voters to UKIP, and left leaning, metropolitan liberals to the Greens. There no is guarantee that Labour would fare any better under a different leader.

It is not enough to simply write off victory in 2020, as I fear both Corbyn and the Labour moderates have done. Labour needs a plan to return it to government. This criticism applies to both Corbyn, and to the moderates: fighting over control of the party does not matter if the party loses 100 seats in the next election. There has to be a clear strategy to win, and "make Dan Jarvis party leader” is not a plan, it is barely even the beginning of one.

Labour cannot spend the next 4 years squabbling and hand the Tories a landslide victory in 2020. Labour needs a clear, workable strategy to win the general election. Now is not the time for complacency. Now is the time for action.