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Let’s seize the opportunity!

7th February 2016

Let’s seize the opportunity!

Labour Briefing Editorial February 2016

DESPITE NO SIGNS OF A LET-UP IN THE RELENTLESSLY HOSTILE MEDIA BARRAGE, there are several huge positives that can be taken from the fIrst months of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. Firstly, the convincing win in the Oldham by-election underlined solid support for Labour, notwithstanding press predictions of a meltdown.

Secondly, Jeremy’s New Year reshuffle, particularly the appointment of Emily Thornberry as Shadow Defence spokesperson, actually strengthens his position in the Shadow Cabinet ahead of the Trident policy review. Her stance on this is far closer to Corbyn’s than that of the displaced Maria Eagle. While the media made much of the protracted dramas of the reshuffle process, blame for this lies entirely with those (like the soon forgotten Stephen Doughty), who seized the opportunity to inflict maximum damage not just on the leadership, but on the Party itself.

Junior shadow ministerial resignations may grab a headline, but ultimately they are a sign of impotence. Alastair Campbell showed more foresight than many of his Blairite friends when he conceded recently that Corbyn’s position was ‘unassailable’. He understands that without a clear alternative set of policies, popular narrative or even a candidate, his co-thinkers in the Parliamentary Labour Party have little to offer beyond petulant gestures and intrigues against the leadership.

There will be a big debate in the Party on Trident and the size of Corbyn’s popular mandate puts him in a strong position. What’s undeniable is that his refusal to compromise on this essential pillar of his leadership campaign has already broken the elite consensus on this issue, generating a public conversation for the first time in many years on the merits of Britain’s nuclear ‘deterrent’.

Corbyn’s biggest achievement has been to transform Labour into a firmly anti-austerity Party, challenging, unlike his predecessors, every Tory cut and betrayal. The clarity of this narrative, so absent in the 2015 General Election campaign, together with a leader who has never compromised his principles, will resonate increasingly withvoters.

And increasingly, Corbyn’s opponents in the Party are having to accept – for now, at least – that there isn’t going to be a fresh leadership challenge. Hence a strategy by some to embrace Corbyn from the centre, to pull him towards their political outlook, to neutralise him. Rather than challenge the leader directly, they attack his supporters - his staff, those who defend him in the media and above all, Momentum, the grassroots movement so necessary if the issues raised in the leadership campaign are to become party policy.

But the building of this movement is not primarily about changing Labour’s internal culture, important though this undoubtedly is. It’s about winning back voters - as Momentum’s organisation of several buses of activists to campaign in the Oldham by-election demonstrates. For all its public school bravado, this Tory government, with its lack of long-term strategy, its mean-minded cuts and its unpopular attacks on public healthcare and housing, is reminiscent of John Major’s government a generation ago. Just as it presided over the final destruction of deep coalmining, so Cameron’s crew is allowing the steel industry to be smashed up. Like Major’s, this government increasingly has the feel of a one-term administration, focusing more and more on its own internal divisions, with a polarised debate on the EU and a messy leadership contest beckoning.

But it could be around for a few years yet to wreak its damage. However isolated Jeremy Corbyn may be in Parliament, we have a real opportunity to make a difference, building on the huge influx of new members into the Party and the many tens of thousands still outside keen to advance the Corbyn agenda. Now is the time to build a mass movement that can not only support his endeavours at Westminster, but above all drive the Tories from power and put Team Corbyn into Number Ten.

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