How to fix the Labour Party
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The polls have closed, the results are in, the watchmen leave their stations. The Labour party, fighting to hold two seats in what was once thought to be its northern heartland, successfully fought off the challenge of UKIP in Stoke Central. But – and this is quite remarkable – it was defeated in Copeland by the Conservative candidate. It’s only the fifth time in more than 90 years that a governing party has gained a seat in a by-election. Stoke Central, where a Labour victory was always thought to be more likely, nevertheless looked for a time as though it would be a close-run thing. Despite the frequent mistakes and missteps of the testicular Paul Nuttall, the Labour candidate, Gareth Snell, never seemed all that secure. This is due, in part, to his own remarkable propensity to kick himself in the face. Sensible observers seem to agree: it is unwise, when running in a constituency which voted so heavily to leave the European Union, to describe the result of the referendum as a “pile of shit.” In the event, he survived a 2% swing against him and took the seat. But this would seem to say more about the inadequacies of the UKIP strategy than the boons of Labour, and it is the loss of Copeland that is – rightly or wrongly – setting the tone today. How exactly has this happened? How is it that the Labour Party, founded to give representation to the very working-class communities that now seem wont to disparage it, is facing the very real prospect of losing seats it once considered safe? And how, since that is the case, can the party possibly recover? One is naturally wary of simple solutions that attempt to account for far too much, but it strikes me that there is one principal reason which, if properly understood and acknowledged, might help to reverse this apparent decline. That problem is not – or not just - Jeremy Corbyn. Indeed, there is a bitter irony which is lost on far too many of his opponents and allies: he was elected, in part, because he appears to be a principled man. Anyone familiar with his record knows that those principles to which he is committed include, or did until recently include, a deep opposition to the European Union, a belief in direct democracy and the power of the people. That he has bowed under the pressure exerted by the Parliamentary Labour Party and reneged upon almost all of the above suggests that those principles were not as important to him as they first appeared, or that he was never that principled to begin with. And yet those very principles, learned under the tutelage of Tony Benn (arguably the most popular toff ever to set foot in the North), represent exactly those things that the people of Stoke and Copeland, for example, would seem to want more of. (The obvious exception to this is Copeland, where Corbyn’s anti-nuclear stance was understandably toxic. That it was left to the Green Party to point out that nuclear really isn’t ‘all that’ is at best evidence of laziness.) So recriminations should be far more evenly spread around than have been.
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