Labour’s Bottled It

In the aftermath of Brexit, I wrote a couple pieces on the state of British politics and, in particular, the Labour Party. If you’d like a refresher, they’re here and here.

Post-Brexit, Labour had an opportunity that doesn’t arise all that often in politics with the opposition majority party’s leader, David Cameron, resigning in shame. Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP, was also resigning. The Tories were in shambles, and the British right altogether looked weak as it became clear that they never thought Brexit would pass and had no strategy about how to lead the UK forward in the event that it did indeed pass.

All Labour had to do was unite as one and portray the Tories and the British right as inept leaders who conjured up support for a vote that would hurt the British people. It only took a mere manner of hours for those leading the Leave Campaign to admit their entire campaign was built upon lies. In theory, Labour couldn’t mess this up: they’d sell themselves to the people as the responsible adults who actually have plans for the policies they propose.

But that course of action would’ve been too much of a layup apparently. Instead, they tried to oust their leader Jeremy Corbyn, the softspoken socialist that Labour voters gave an overwhelming mandate to run the party. The coup failed, miserably.

Fast-forward a few months to now: Corbyn continues to enjoy overwhelming support amongst Labour rank-and-file members, despite Labour leadership’s best efforts to undermine his leadership. His closest challenger, Owen Smith, remains way behind in the polls.

Before, Labour’s elite warned that he was too much of a lefty idealist, and Labour’s voters raised two fingers to the patronizing warnings at the polls. The parallels between Corbyn and Sanders write themselves, even though it must be reiterated that Corbyn is far the more proper socialist than Sanders, but the difference is of course that, within his party, Corbyn won.

The problem that Corbyn and Labour now face is that they trail in general election polls by large margins. Polls fluctuate, but in general the Tories have a 10-point lead. With these developments, Labour elites are telling their rank-and-file that Corbyn is unelectable in a general election, and polling suggests they’re right. The rank-and-file, as aforementioned, don’t seem to care: they want Corbyn and any vote held amongst just Labour members suggests Corbyn can’t be ousted.

So that’s the predicament we find ourselves in now: Labour voters appear steadfast in backing a losing candidate. Labour elites are chastising their farther left constituents for being unreasonable, and I’m pretty sure this just prompts Corbyn backers to double down even more.

Today, I saw J.K. Rowling chimed in, and that’s what possessed me to write this little update. Rowling isn’t a fan of Corbyn’s, which is fine, but she does hold a bit of sway on the British left. I always found it interesting that she labels herself a progressive, and yet didn’t back Scottish Independence. But that’s a debate for another time, Rowling’s progressive credentials, that is.

But Rowling’s dive into the discussion is important, and her take on things does represent the views of a large faction of the Labour Party. If Labour carries on with Corbyn, they may be doomed for many years with Tory rule. The retort from Corbyn backers is that mainstream Labour abandoned them long ago, and the difference between mainstream Labour governance and Tory governance is marginal. So, with all due respect, they’ll happily go down with Corbyn’s ship as there is no incentive to abandon it.

It’s a tough predicament. If you looked at just the evidence present today, that Corbyn is unelectable, you may be inclined to characterize them as unreasonable. Barring a drastic shift in polling, they’re backing a loser and guaranteeing more austerity and Tory rule in Britain. But, if you take their critique that they don’t see mainstream Labour as a sufficiently better alternative to Tory rule at face value, then it would seem to be quite apparent that Labour and its mainstream options haven’t done enough to earn the votes of their would-be supporters.

The Corbynistas, as they’re sometimes pejoratively called in the British press, win the argument for me. If Labour stayed true to the working class, you wouldn’t have 10-15% of the British constituency defecting to the far right nationalist UKIP. You wouldn’t have completely lost Scotland to the SNP–a party now polling at 4-7% across the UK. Greens wouldn’t be eating up another 4-5%.

The hard pill that Labour may have to swallow one day, if they ever show a willingness to own up to their past mistakes, is that they created the mess they’re in. They sold out their base, and that’s what has driven so many Labour voters to pursue alternative options outside of the Labour umbrella or inside the umbrella via Corbyn. And rather than admit it, they’ve refused to admit they lost touch every step of the way. Even Scotland booting them out of the country didn’t possess them to admit they might’ve fucked up once or twice.

And this is what made the aftermath of Brexit so interesting. In spite of doing everything they could to alienate their base, they were still gifted one final mulligan. The fairway was wide and there for the taking. Post-Brexit, 6/23, polls had them statistically tied with the Tories or, at worst, trailing by 4-5 points in most cases. Their members were still riding high from the wave of excitement Corbyn had injected, and they could now take on the bad guys who had brought Britain to the brink of collapse. If they had done this, maybe Labour would’ve soared in the polls. The truth is we’ll never know.

We know what they did instead: they turned on Corbyn and the members that elected him.

So now, if you’re a Labour diehard, you ought to plead with Corbyn supporters and let them know that polling just doesn’t give their guy much of a fighting chance. You ought to plead the case that drawing a moral equivalence between Labour and the Tories is an overly-simplistic worldview. Labour has its shortcomings but they’re not proposing cuts on the poor and disabled in the same manner of the Tories.

What Labour supporters trying to pry other fellow Labour supporters off the Corbyn bandwagon shouldn’t do is tell them they’re being unreasonable and minimize their legitimate grievances with Labour’s mainstream. That’s why they’re with Corbyn in the first place.

But anti-Corbyn Labour elites will probably continue to paint Labour supporters as petulant. If Labour loses in the next general, Corbyn supporters will be blamed for trying to push an agenda that Britain didn’t want. This is likely how things will play out.

But from my vantage point, Labour’s brought it upon themselves every step of the way from forgetting who their base was and what their base stood for to trying to undermine the will of their voters instead of respecting their voters wishes and mobilizing together to actually win in the general. They could’ve stood for something. Instead, they’ve squandered opportunity after opportunity after opportunity.

Labour’s made its bed, and it will lie in it, defeated, bewildered, perchance regretful.


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