The sacking of then shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn, after he revealed to Jeremy Corbyn that he no longer trusted his leadership sparked a whole host of resignations from the shadow cabinet. It prompted a vote of no confidence against the Labour leader in which 172 members of his parliamentary party voted against him.
Since the EU referendum, and the subsequent challenge to Jeremy’s leadership, many of his supporters and colleagues on the left have tried to characterise events as nothing more than a Blairite coup. They claim that those in the Westminster bubble are trying to return to “business as usual” irrespective of the wishes of the membership. The Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell described the coup as “the 1% telling the 99% to get back in their place”. This lazy characterisation of recent events not only derails the conversation but is indicative of the lefts “monopoly of morality” approach to being challenged. The idea that those who are critical of the left are motivated not by principle, but by vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
Ironically, during 13 years of New Labour government, Corbyn rebelled against the Labour whip no fewer than 428 occasions (figure according to the New York Times). His supporters suggest that this is evidence of his principled politics and his fearlessness in standing against the establishment. And rightly so. Corbyn has a track record of voting with his conscious and campaigning for causes regardless of the policy of the front bench of his party. Shouldn’t the same respect be granted to those that are now demonstrating their disdain with Corbyn’s leadership? Criticism of Corbyn should not be synonymous with a visceral defence of the establishment or New Labour. Of course there are those Labour back benchers who were never and have never accepted Corbyn’s mandate, but there are MP’s from both wings of the Labour party who have expressed genuine concerns about his leadership. Take for example the case of Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire. Whilst going through cancer treatment she found out through a press release from Corbyn’s office that she had been appointed shadow culture secretary. For 6 weeks she worked on her brief only to eventually find out that she had been appointed in error and the position was handed elsewhere. She requested a meeting with Mr Corbyn to seek clarification and to also save the party and leader from public embarrassment. When she did finally meet with Corbyn, him and his advisors flat out denied that any such press release was ever issued. In other words, suggesting that Debbonaire randomly decided to work on the brief of shadow culture secretary.
His extremely underwhelming performance in the EU referendum campaign in which he openly declared he was just 70% in favour of staying in is demonstrative of his inability to play the “Westminster game”. This seems to be typical of his leadership of the parliamentary party. Many MP’s have complained about poor communication between him and parliamentary colleagues. His commitment to making Labour a member led movement is admirable, however it is with his MP’s that he will form a government should the unlikely event of a Labour 2020 election victory happen. He needs to be able to lead and communicate with them effectively, not just have the support of members.
However, I am nothing if not a pragmatist. I joined the Labour party last year to vote for Jeremy Corbyn as I believed he was the only candidate capable of setting Labour apart from the Tories. I assumed that anyone who would run for leadership of Her Majesty’s opposition would ensure that they were equipped for leadership. That doesn’t seem to be the case here, but it doesn’t necessarily mean Corbyn could still not have a positive effect on the labour movement. I see no way in which Corbyn can win a general election. However to remove him as leader just ten months after he received the biggest mandate to lead in UK electoral history would be undemocratic and hugely embarrassing for a party that is meant to be pioneers of equality. He should be allowed to serve his full term and lead labour into the next election. In this time before his eventual loss and resignation he has the chance to permanently set labour on a path apart from New Labour and the austerity-lite era of Ed Miliband. This is significant as it means any subsequent challenger to the labour leadership role would HAVE to run on a ticket of social justice, anti-austerity and a balanced economy. To dispose of him now would completely disenfranchise labour members like myself who joined the party to entrench progressive politics on the front benches. Allowing him to serve keeps the trust of those members, and ensures that they are actively involved in the future of the Labour movement.