Labour scored a momentous victory on Thursday. It was totally unexpected because the campaign was so effective, the leadership was outstanding and a new group of young people were engaged through social media. It matters because it clipped the wings of the right-wing Conservative party making it clear that a hard Brexit, more cuts and austerity, and the UKIP racist agenda are not the flavour of the month. And, it has forced Theresa May into an understanding with the Northern Irish DUP – an appalling misnomer of a political party with extremist and abhorrent views.
Where do we go from here? The first answer is not back to where we were. There are murmurings within the Labour Party that this isn’t quite good enough and they are inspired by the people who wrote off this election because they thought Jeremy Corbyn would be pursued by his past and he was too old and too divisive to lead the party through it. They were proved totally wrong and some of them are still trying to justify themselves in their reflections and comments.
I’ve heard it said that Jeremy Corbyn’s next task is to unite the party but that’s wrong. The next task for the Parliamentary Labour Party is to line up behind Corbyn and help form an even stronger shadow cabinet. It has been a fair criticism that the shadow cabinet lacks depth and I’m hopeful that Corbyn will reach out to some of the people who criticised him in the past and that they will respond warmly. It’s a shame to see a few people writing off this possibility two days after the vote.
They don’t need to lose face either because they are lining up behind a manifesto which very few in the party could not support. I’m also inclined to think that Jeremy Corbyn puts the interests of the party before personality and I’d like to see some of the bigger beasts in the grumpy camp come out clearly for him in the next few days. That will avoid a continuing political game. If members of the PLP continue to act up, the groundswell of support for deselection will split the party and none of us wants that so critical comment which pushes us in that direction is both unhelpful and damaging.
Theresa May’s ‘coalition’ is inherently insecure. It is clear that she would not win a motion of confidence if she negotiated a Brexit deal which pulled the UK out of a proper trading relationship with Europe. It could be scuppered even more quickly by chaos in Northern Ireland where, in the past, the UK has been the honest broker in the shared government negotiations. The DUP deal is not going to help with the upcoming negotiations about power-sharing and could be disastrous. Think how the balance would change if the Sinn Fein members of Parliament suddenly decided to take their seats to keep the DUP under control! And, it must be abundantly clear to many Conservative MPs that Theresa May simply lacks the charm and charisma and the ability to talk to people which are necessary for a successful election campaign. She is unlikely to win another election under any circumstances and, frankly, we are quite likely to have one within a year.
There are plenty of chances for the party to be in a state where it can win a landslide whenever it comes. One of the key positives of this election has been that social media has challenged the hegemony of the loathsome right-wing press. The BBC has falteringly come to realise that the lies perpetrated by some newspapers simply cannot make up an agenda which they follow. And, at last, there are voters to outweigh the ignorant and bigoted people who swallow what they read in the Daily Mail, Express and the rest.
So, there’s plenty to be cheerful about. I think the Guardian and Observer are absolutely key to taking this forward. They offer an alternative view to Murdoch and Dacre and for three years they have got it all wrong, quoting senior and anonymous members of the party who gripe about almost everything. They called the election wrong from start to finish and their editorial stance ought to recognise this. I’m not saying they should be gagged and I know they offer a multiplicity of views as they should but it’s time that the anonymous sneering and gossip stopped. That’s a message for the PLP as well. If you can’t be loyal, what are you doing in the party when its direction of travel is so clear and the opportunities are so evident?
A change of direction doesn’t have to be massive but it is necessary. Everyone has to encourage the PLP to get back into line and Jeremy Corbyn’s team has to make a gesture as well. None of that is impossible, particularly with positive messages of support and let’s hope that in the next couple of weeks we see it working out in the interests of the nation.