Labour needs to recognise it has new heartlands it needs to represent – not just its traditional ones, says Mary Honeyball
As the Labour Party prepares for one of its most significant conferences of the past 25 years, the leadership would do well to engage in some of the self-criticism beloved by Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, guide and mentor to Jeremy Corbyn and his adviser Seumas Milne.
The official opposition party facing a charlatan, lying prime minister with a declining economy ought to be 20 points ahead in the opinion polls. Instead Opinium in the Observer last weekend put the Conservatives on 37%, Labour 25% with the Liberal Democrats at 16%.
A YouGov poll conducted at the same time was little better: Cons 32%, Lab 23%, Lib Dems 20%. Labour’s only crumb of comfort was ComRes which gave the Conservatives 28%, Labour 27% and the Lib Dems 20%.
None of these results will achieve a Labour victory. Corbyn’s inner circle are sadly deluded if they think otherwise. While Milne and the hard-leftists around Corbyn may prefer purist demands to the responsibility of government, this is not the view of most MPs, Labour Party members or the shadow cabinet.
While Corbyn’s talks with Jo Swinson, Ian Blackford, of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens were welcome, Labour needs more to win a majority. The party leadership must unequivocally back remaining in the European Union. Nothing else will cut it.
Labour members overwhelmingly want to remain. So far, more than 60 motions have been submitted to the conference from local Labour parties calling on Corbyn to commit to staying in the EU in all circumstances.
The fudge at Labour’s conference last year – that the party would keep the idea of a second referendum on the table if it could not force an early general election – cut no ice with voters.
More than 100 Labour councillors recently wrote to Corbyn warning that any form of Brexit would threaten jobs, public services, workers’ rights and the environment.
So far, neither electoral nor member pressure has done much to change the Labour leader’s line. The only pressure which seems to work is from Len McCluskey, Unite’s general secretary, who has made it clear that the party must not commit to backing Remain if it wins a general election. At a recent meeting with Corbyn and John McDonnell, McCluskey said Labour should be clear that it will negotiate a Labour version of Brexit and there should be no attempt to advocate Remain in the subsequent referendum.
This is paymaster power at its very worst. What is more, McCluskey’s views are not those of Unite’s members, many of whom see their jobs disappearing under Brexit wherever it comes from. The Unite leader is now playing the vanguard role, as Lenin would have said, in consolidating the far left’s control of the Labour Party.
The McCluskey hard-left fantasy view of the world is supported, perhaps unwittingly, by those Labour MPs in what are still known as ‘heartland’ seats in the old industrial areas where the majority was for Leave in the 2016 referendum.
These so-called ‘heartland’ constituencies are indeed vulnerable, and Labour should, of course, take notice of their MPs.
However, the solution to these concerns is not Brexit. A cursory look at voting patterns shows that Labour’s new ‘heartlands’ are those diverse and multicultural cities where Labour’s messages on human rights and inclusion resonate with voters.
Several English cities, both north and south, backed Remain in 2016. Labour’s new ‘heartlands’ are Remain. Now that the electorate is split as much along Remain-Leave lines as left-right, Labour must be a strong Remain party to stand any hope of becoming the government.