Robert Hoskins of Glasgow Cathcart CLP sets out what he thinks are the five tests a successor to Jeremy Corbyn would have to pass, and comes up with a name which some might find surprising.
For every political obsessive, a winning general election night for your party is one of the most thrilling, intensely emotional and memorable live events one will ever witness. These are the nights where the political process is stripped of its civilised facade, allowing us mere mortals to participate in the tribal blood sport of going completely bonkers at every seat gained and gloating in the misery inflicted on our opponents.
Watching this gladiatorial contest pan out in front of us – in 650 constituencies throughout the UK – is for me the most riveting live television experience of all time. Watching Tory big beasts who have inflicted misery on millions lose their seats releases a heady dose of unbridled euphoria into the blood stream. The hit from that concoction when it is laced with additional lashings of schadenfreude produces a unique rocket-fuelled high. This high is so intense that its effects cannot be reproduced from the contents of any pharmacy or off-licence.
The 1997 election was one such event, when so many dragons were slain in one night that the resulting euphoria lasted for weeks. June 2017 was right up there as a magical night as well but for different reasons of course. The feeling of impending doom which preceded the gut-wrenchingly stressful wait for the exit poll – which even the Labour movement believed would confirm the party’s demise as an electoral force for a generation – was offset by the unbridled joy of the completely unexpected double whammy of depriving the Tories of a working majority and the added bonus of making an unforeseen comeback in Scotland.
The swing in the 2017 general election was unprecedented. No party in general election history had achieved such a dramatic shift in vote share (from 28% to 40%) during a 7 week period. This wasn’t just any dramatic shift in vote share, this was the largest ever vote share achieved by any leader of the Labour Party since Clement Attlee in 1945. A vote share which removed any question of another challenge to the leadership for at least the lifetime of this parliament.
The sense of utter relief experienced by the Labour movement in general and the Parliamentary Labour Party in particular can only be compared to how the condemned must feel on receiving a last minute pardon from the hangman’s noose. The genuine outpouring of gratitude towards the leader from some of those MPs who had wanted to exploit the predicted thrashing by calling for Corbyn’s resignation was palpable when many joined in a rousing chorus of ”Oh Jeremy Corbyn” on the first day of the new parliament. The fresh mandate of renewed support for the leader resulted in 9 months of PLP discipline where criticism of the leader from the usual dissenting voices was conspicuous by its absence. Opinion polls reflected the turnaround in Labour fortunes by demonstrating a consistent slender lead over the Tories.
However, in the last 2 months, three events have synergised to shatter this new found PLP unity. Firstly, the leadership’s sloth-like response to recognising that anti-Semitism not only exists in the party but is a major problem which needs urgently tackled. Second, Corbyn’s inability to criticise Putin for his part in the Salisbury poisoning of the ex Russian agent Sergei Skirpal and his daughter, which gave the impression that there was a question mark about his commitment to properly protect citizens of this country from foreign attack. And third, the perception that Corbyn was soft on terrorism was compounded by his refusal to criticise Assad for the alleged use of chemical weapons on his own people and his refusal to endorse the subsequent allied bombing of the factories which made these weapons.
These perceived leadership flaws on all 3 issues have emboldened and re-energised the centre left of the PLP to ditch their cease fire and resume their attacks on the leadership. This fresh outbreak of disharmony begs the question as to whether the Labour Party’s broad church might be at breaking point with the apparent refusal of a large section of the PLP to accept or support Jeremy’s leadership. Further speculation has also fuelled the notion that secret plans have been underway for over a year to build a new party which could draw malcontent MPs from both Labour and Conservative parties. According to an Observer article, £50,000,000 has already been set aside by a network of entrepreneurs and philanthropists to make this happen.
These developments got me thinking as to whether there is anybody else in the PLP who could unite the party after Jeremy eventually stands down. Is there a unity candidate out there? If there is, what kind of CV would that MP possess which would be acceptable to both the Corbynista Left and the Blairite/Progress Right?
Here are 5 tests which I think provide the minimal criteria that a unity candidate would have to pass to be acceptable to both wings of the party. Readers may disagree with the following list and may wish to remove or add criteria.
- A unity candidate would have to have abstained in the last 2 leadership elections. Otherwise they would be rejected by the Blairite/Progress wing of the party if they had voted for Jeremy Corbyn, and would be rejected by Corbynistas if they had voted for Burnham, Cooper or Kendall in the first contest, or Owen Smith in the second.
- A unity candidate would have had to have abstained or voted against the no confidence motion in Jeremy’s leadership, otherwise they would be rejected by the Corbynistas.
- A unity candidate would have to have a voting record which included a willingness at some point to take an interventionist military approach in middle east affairs. Otherwise that candidate would be rejected by the Blairite/Progress wing of party.
- A unity candidate would have to be non-aligned with Momentum, Stop the War Coalition or Progress. Otherwise that candidate would be rejected by both wings of the party.
- And as if the above criteria weren’t a nigh-on impossible ask for any candidate to meet, the unity candidate would also have to be a credible parliamentarian and an excellent debater and TV performer.
Is there any Labour MP out there who ticks all of the above boxes and would indeed be a credible unity contender for the next Labour Leadership election? Well is there?
Well comrades, I am pleased to tell you – oh yes there is! And an additional bonus, he’s Scottish too!
Step forward Weegie born and bred, Glasgow High School boy and St Andrew’s University graduate – who is the current MP for Brent North – Barry Gardiner!
Barry, who once held junior front bench roles under Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband, ticks all the above boxes and then some, and is in my humble opinion the only possible candidate who would be able to unite both wings of the party. Ironically, for a parliamentarian who is always on the TV and radio, up until the last election he kept a very low media profile and has so far, gone completely under the radar with regards to having his credentials scrutinised for possible leadership material. So here goes…
Either intentionally or by pure coincidence, Barry has played a blinder of a game by positioning himself perfectly for a crack at the leadership by abstaining in both leadership contests. Barry voted against the motion of no confidence in Jeremy’s leadership and also spoke out vehemently against those MPs who voted in favour of it.
Barry is by no means a pacifist and is on record as saying that there are certain circumstances where military action is both necessary and justified. Barry believed that Iraq was one such circumstance and voted in favour of military intervention. But he is not by any stretch of the imagination a gung ho interventionist either. He was one of only thirteen MPs who voted against the bombing of Libya in 2011. He also voted against air strikes in Syria in 2015. He also condemned Assad for using chemical weapons to attack his own people.
Barry has a long-standing record of naming and shaming anti-Semitism in the party, and has condemned Naz Shah and Ken Livingstone for making anti-Semitic remarks. More recently on Question Time he condemned film producer Ken Loach for being ”absolutely wrong” to call for the sacking of those Labour MPs for attending the recent anti-Semitism demonstration.
Barry is unswervingly loyal to the Labour Party, and has taken on the somewhat thankless task of being Jeremy Corbyn’s “attack dog”, defending his position on anti-Semitism, the Salisbury poisoning and on the use of chemical weapons in Syria with aplomb. His most recent outing in front of the cameras was his robust defence of Labour’s local election results.
Barry came out of nowhere to become the star performer in last year’s general election campaign – superbly defending the manifesto and holding the Corbyn line with his robust style of interviewing. To his great credit, he has also passed the gold standard test for any parliamentarian with flying colours when he more than held his own when defending labour’s position on the currency union whilst being cross examined by that forensic slayer of blowhard politicians, Andrew Neil.
Most importantly of all, he is on record as saying he is not an” ista” of any kind, has never been a Blairite, Brownite, Milibandist or Corbynista, and has never been part of any faction or cult. His loyalty is to the Labour Party only.
Whenever that leadership election comes, be it when we are in power or out, Barry has the perfect leadership credentials to heal old party wounds, unite us around a radical populist manifesto and deliver real change for the many not the few.
His election campaign would be markedly different from previous, and every Labour candidate would be proud to have Barry’s face on the front of their election leaflet.
The election night? Well that would be the mother of all election nights wouldn’t it? One which would top them all for being a fiesta of rocket fuelled unadulterated ecstasy and air punching triumphalism. Bring it on – I can’t wait!