Should Labour replace Jeremy Corbyn as leader? I’m in two minds here.
On the one hand, there seem obvious shortcomings in his leadership. There are many stories of the sort from Lilian Greenwood, Thangam Debboniare and Heidi Alexander about basic failures of organization and person-management*. There seems to be a lack of sensible prioritizing, such as attending a Cuba solidarity meeting at the height of the political crisis. There’s a general lack of vigour about him, such as in his failure to exploit Tory divisions about welfare spending, or his silence about Theresa May’s cabinet. And, as Richard Murphy says, what was once the jewel in the crown of his leadership - the development of sensible economic policies – seems (until very recently) to have stalled.
What’s more, leadership is to a large extent performative: if enough people say you are bad leader, then you are. This seems true of Corbyn. It might be unjust to boot him out for this reason alone, but leaders should be picked on grounds of effectiveness, not justice.
But, but, but. I fear that a defeat for Corbyn would represent a victory for the worst sorts of Labourites, such as quasi-racists who want to “listen to concerns” about immigration or those who want to divert £100bn from public spending and poverty relief to spend upon the macho posture that is Trident.
What’s more, Corbyn has two great achievements to his credit.
One is that he has moved Labour away from its economically illiterate tolerance of austerity and inequality, perhaps for good: would Owen Smith have made the speech he did had Corbyn not helped to change the ideological climate? Corbyn’s great achievement might have been to save the party from what Paul Krugman rightly called the “sad moral and intellectual collapse of Labour moderates.”
Secondly, Corbyn has reinvigorated Labour as a mass party. Granted, Matt might be right to say the new members are clicktivists rather than active in old-style politics. But I’m not sure this is wholly a bad thing: is envelope-stuffing and canvassing really so effective?
And whatever form the activism takes, Labour desperately needs it. Whoever is Labour leader will face massive ideological resistance and get dog’s abuse from a media that is both biased and deferential to power. Labour needs a counterweight to this, in the form of a social movement which can put a leftist case in millions of individual conversations in pubs, workplaces and online.
I fear that Corbyn’s replacement would – inadvertently or nor – lead to a retreat here. One of the most worrying things I’ve seen about Owen Smith is the claim that he has “very little self-doubt.” Labour does not need a leader so overconfident that he thinks Labour can win an election on the basis of the leader’s force of personality alone. It must be a mass effort.
So I have a dilemma. Ideally the solution would be to have Corbynism without Corbyn – a leader who preserved his achievements but has management skills he seems to lack.
To wish for this, however, would be to fall into the error of which I have accused the left before – of holding out for a hero. The fact is, however, that there are no heroes – or at least, none we should pin our hopes on. The question for Labour is: given this fact, what form should the party take?
* Many of these stories come from women. I hope that’s just coincidence.