The Labour party just suffered a major defeat and lost the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
All kinds of people out there are trying to cast a judgement on why this happened but we all know it comes down to being a remain party that would not honour the result of the referendum in the eyes of millions of traditional Labour voters in the North. I say that as a remainer currently forced to eat humble pie.
I’m from Carlisle and something of a traveller having lived in seven of the constituencies across this region; Copeland, Penrith, Carlisle, Newcastle, Durham, Middlesbrough and Scarborough. I have friends in every constituency labour party across the region and have volunteered in some capacity for Labour in each of them. These factors provide me with a unique advantage in judging why our core voters across this region left us.
I must admit though, I did not call it. I expected the Brexit Party to run against Boris and split the Tory vote like they did Labours resulting in another hung parliament. The only person who’s judgment was perfect on this was Labours Chairperson Ian Lavery MP who warned within the leaderships Londoncentric bubble that a remain position would lose these seats that have been taken for granted for decades.
Londoncentricity is ultimately what lost the north over the last few decades with Brexit coming along in 2019 to push them over the edge. Many analysts have explained these last few days the Labour vote has degraded almost linearly as leader after leader has taken them for granted over-ruling the local members and spring boarding in candidates with no local connection such as David Milliband and Tony Blair. After visiting Carlisle Liam Lavery (A party volunteer at the time) asked me how the city was not Labour describing it as “The most Labour city” he had ever been in.
In northern towns the idea that working class voters should have some affinity to Labour is long gone. This was obvious in 2015 when the voters told the establishment “They’re all the same”. Labours refusal to “Get Brexit Done” was the final straw and sent enough Labour voters elsewhere to give Boris the largest Tory majority since Thatcher.
Even Boris Johnson has had the humility to recognise what happened thanking northerners for “borrowing” him their vote.
Now the Party is scrambling around for a leader as if we are about to fight another general election forgetting we are five years away and could reasonably have two or three leaders by then. We need to calm down. We have a lot of time to get this right. Any leader selected now will ultimately be blamed for Brexit and every negative that comes with it. I can hear the critics now complaining that Rebecca Long-Bailey didn’t provide an effective opposition… Having no leader would be the best option for a while but the membership is desperate for leadership and so I propose a different approach.
The Party National Executive Committee could in theory appoint somebody to lead in the interim period whilst we decide on how to select a new leader more permanently. Whilst we lick our wounds from the general election its important that we are looking ahead to whats around the corner. In May we will have Local Elections which will be our first chance to say to those disillusioned voters that we are listening and ask them to come back. That will be only eight weeks after Jeremy Corbyn stands down and a potentially fractious leadership race ensues. If Labour looks divided entering into the Local elections it could spell disaster at the time we need results that inspire confidence. It therefore makes perfect sense to wait until after the May elections to begin a Leadership race.
But who will fill the leadership vacuum? We need some sort of leadership now and have no deputy. However, we have a Chairperson. Ian Lavery is the one MP who warned of what was happening. A Champion for the North who has appeal in every seat we need to win back. The people in these northern towns have gave us a clear message that they want to be listened to and they want to be represented by one of their own. A working-class miner, Northerner and Brexiter, with Ian at the helm we Labour can change the current trajectory. The win we are looking for is an increased vote share and Councillors in each of the northern heartland constituencies we just lost. That’s what we will point to and celebrate.
After May we will be well placed for an eight-week leadership race and will have had some time to see which of the contenders can campaign, show leadership and stick to the theme of our universally loved manifesto.
After this we ought to hold a separate eight-week deputy leadership race ending on the first day of conference. The time will have provided the membership with a chance to work out which of the candidates are best placed to work with and support the new leader learning from our mistakes in 2015.
So that’s the plan which I propose. Managed well this will give us ten months of positive press instead of falling into chaos in the new year.
We still stand on the dawn of a wonderful socialist revolution in Great Britain. It’s just going to take a little longer.
In Solidarity, Gavin Johnston
The Art of the Activist