The labour movement is buzzing. The old order is crumbling and something new, something fresh, has been created. The fervour is justified at the very least because any credibility claimed by successive Conservative governments to run a halfway fair and equal society has been turned on its head.
The arrogance of a Prime Minister unfit to govern aided the phenomenon which – barring the issue of actually winning the next election – has taken Britain closer to having a Labour government with a left-wing radical agenda than it has been for decades.
“We have delivered something different,” rock-star Jeremy Corbyn told the tens of thousands in the audience at Glastonbury. They cheered to the heavens. The question is, what? Corbyn’s achievements are undeniable – a better election result than many, including his own side and the systemically cynical media, expected; popularity for Labour policies; inspiration, vision, engagement and credibility backed by party unity not witnessed for years. By any measure he has proved to be a good leader at the end of the day, even if getting there was a bit of a rough ride.
So how does he use this power, and how does the Labour Party contain and maintain what many feel is a new consciousness among voters, particularly of course, younger ones? How to focus this energy into an election win?
Corbyn has said he is determined to “force an early election” and that it is “ludicrous” to suggest Theresa May could stay in power. The call for a “permanent campaign” was made at the Unison annual conference the day after his opinion poll rating overtook May’s for the first time, placing him ahead in all categories under the age of 50. Perhaps more tellingly, because it indicates an interest in policy not just image and personality, the YouGov poll for The Times suggested voters feel trade and jobs are priorities, with Labour far ahead as the best party to handle Brexit.
Corbyn is right: the time to mobilise and stay mobilised is now. The cackhanded, dogmatic leadership of May will continue to pose the question: was ever a party less fit to govern? With warnings that the NHS is “running on air” and that police forces cannot cope because of cuts, with angry parents battling against cuts in schools, and wages continuing to fall against the cost of living, the Tories and their neoliberal agenda have been exposed. That is the shape of the battle across the Despatch Box and in the country.
Internally, Corbyn has some hard thinking to do. Some of the “refuseniks” who either resigned or refused to join his shadow cabinet have to think again. According to shadow cabinet members close to Corbyn some already are and their belated interest, now that Corbyn has proved not to be the disaster waiting to happen, has provoked some resentment. It was them, after all, who lost the party crucial votes. Just like Owen Smith, the leadership challenger, they have to swallow their pride. But, for he sake of public confidence and credibility, Corbyn has to show that his determination to deliver on the policy pledges is forged in some hard-headed choices.
The prospect of an early election leading to a Labour victory makes a Team Corbyn more imperative. Cohesion in the executive team and cohesiveness in the delivery of product/policy are known to be key factors in purchaser/ voter trust. Standing by old friends is an admirable, civilised quality. But it ceases to be admirable if the loyalty is greater than the effect on he project. Diane Abbott, for whatever reason, damaged the cohesion of Corbyn’s team and lost the party key votes. She, and a few others, should be thinking of a move. All good chief executives need a superlative managing director. Corbyn has one in John McDonnell, who perhaps should be let out to deliver more policy-led speeches during this “permanent campaign”.
Noises off will come from the handful of MPs and – no other word for them – Blairites who will not accept that they do not control the party any longer, some of whom are still obsessed with the idea of a third party.
All will, however, be tested if there is an early election Above all, discipline and a defined sense of purpose are the priorities. Corbyn and his shadow cabinet have indeed created something precious. But it’s extremely delicate, too, because, as a few of those close to Corbyn agree, not enough people in the party, the shadow cabinet and, least of all he voters out there, are fully “up to speed” on what the party’s ‘Project’ is. Part of the reason an early election is favoured is a desire to ensure that the energy high that has created this new force, this new “buzz” does not simply fade away.
Corbyn is right to call and campaign for an early election. A new society based on tolerance and equality is achievable. The sooner the better.