The Labour left and the problem of unity

Updated: Aug 5, 2020

By Leo Quartermain

On the 4th of April, Keir Starmer won the Labour Leadership election by an astounding margin. The so-called continuity candidate, Rebecca Long-Bailey, was nowhere close to success. I voted for Long-Bailey, and I felt disenfranchised from the party when Starmer won. I was convinced that he was a centrist, who would not continue the movement that started under Corbyn. It goes without saying that a lot of people on the ‘left’ of the party voted for Keir Starmer because they liked his politics, his eloquence, or his reputation, so I am not trying to generalise here. I must also say that I am now very glad that Starmer is the leader of the Labour Party. I have never felt more politically active, and while some of this may be because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, I really do feel like the Labour Party is making serious moves that could lead us to victory in 2024. There is still more that needs to be done, including (and especially) at the bottom. A lot of this starts with Corbyn, and his supporters, which used to include me. I am on the ‘left’ of the party. The 2019 manifesto was (mostly) perfect for me, and I do not want to see any huge deviations from it. I now find myself in a unique position. I dislike all factions and I do not support Corbyn any more, because I think the party needs to unite and move on.

Under Corbyn, the ‘left’ thrived, as they were reflected in the leadership. Any side of the party will thrive when they feel represented at the top. In my experience, I felt listened to and wanted. I felt that I was part of an unstoppable movement which, in hindsight, was very easily stopped. It sounds awful to say, but I was morally self-righteous at times. It has become a joke, with the ‘soft left’, that we were ‘winning the argument’, a quote taken from Corbyn's post-defeat speeches. I did genuinely feel like this way — that my opinion was better than others because I had the moral high ground. Corbyn said so! Every policy that was announced, I loved. I retweeted every speech and member of the shadow cabinet. I admit, I was a bit obsessed, and ignored criticism of them for the sake of ‘unity’. Now, I know that most of this criticism was very much warranted — especially around anti-semitism. I felt disengaged from the ‘right’ of the party and my echo-chamber of a Twitter feed supported my idea that Labour really was united, supporting the left leadership.

I was 15 when I became interested in politics. In fact, I can give you the exact moment. I was sitting in my Year 10 English class, and we were studying newspaper articles. The lesson was the day after the 2017 election, so the papers were focused on that entirely. I went home, and of course, saw Corbyn on the news. I followed the Labour Party from this point, and something about Corbyn and the party spoke to me, moved me and inspired me. That was a widespread view amongst many young people. “Jezza”, “King Corbyn” and “Oh, Jeremy Corbyn” were commonplace terms amongst people in their late teens and early twenties. On the outside of the party (the people who are not overly political) Corbyn’s legacy is a man disgraced and betrayed by the media, who wanted the best for the country. For me, I still find it impossible not to (at least to some degree) see him as someone who motivated me and stood for me. It is clear that many people still hold this view of him. They are mostly known as the ‘cranks’ of the party: anti-semitic apologists who uncritically support Corbyn. These are the people that need to move on.

His legacy on the inside of the party is one of disgrace and mistrust, and the left of the party needs to accept this if they haven’t already.

As a matter of fact, Corbyn’s legacy is riddled with negatives. His mishandling of anti-semitism, the libel case and consequential ‘Corbyn Legal Fund’ does not sit well with many people. While many ‘corbynites’ view 2017 as a victory, Labour still lost that election. This took me some time to properly internalise and understand. Corbyn lost 3 elections, and I now think he should have stood down after the 2019 EU Parliament elections, if not earlier.

As I said, Corbyn’s legacy is full of positives and negatives. I know him as the man who inspired me politically, but also as a leader who did not deal with anti-semitism and lost multiple elections. I think it’s possible to have this view, and I think ‘corbynites’ need to do more to educate themselves on Corbyn’s flaws. In my honest opinion, we will not win another election without unity in the party. The ‘right’ of the party needs to stop labelling everyone on the left as a crank, but the ‘left’ of the party need to reevaluate their admiration of Corbyn. If they want to be taken seriously, they need to act like it. Starmer is not a ‘Blairite’, or a ‘centrist’, he is left-wing too.

There are people out there who need a Labour government. I mean, desperately need one. Striving for ideological purity in the party is not going to help those people. It was difficult for me to recognise this, but when I did, I realised how important it was.

Unity, not uniformity.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica as a company

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