Labour members have a better instinct for picking winners than Labour MPs. Photo: Getty Images
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Seriously, could Jeremy Corbyn win?

The endorsement of Unite, tumbling odds with the bookmakers, and now second place among local parties all raise the same question - could Jeremy Corbyn really win?

Could Jeremy Corbyn actually win the Labour leadership? Over the last week, he’s secured the endorsement of Britain’s largest trade union Unite, and, is currently second in our rolling list of constituency nominations, with 19 nominations, just eight behind the bookmakers’ frontrunner, Andy Burnham, and ahead of Yvette Cooper, who is widely believed in Labour circles to be the most likely winner. William Hill, the bookmakers, have slashed his odds to 7/1, almost equal with Kendall, currently fourth place in our list of nominations.

Can Corbyn do it?

Well, it’s possible. Since Labour party activists were first given a direct say in electing the party leader, they have, variously, backed Tony Blair, David Miliband and Jim Murphy by large margins. The older Miliband got 55 per cent of the vote among party members, while Murphy and Blair both got 64 per cent and 65 per cent in the first round of voting.

You can say a lot about those three men, but you can’t really call any of them Bennites.  Just one candidate from the Labour left has won an election among party members, in fact: Ken Livingstone, who polled 60 per cent of the vote from members in 2000 and did even better in 2012, with 64 per cent. And that’s not because Labour members in the capital are to the left of the rest of the membership: they backed David Miliband by a bigger margin than the rest of the country.

“One thing people forget about Labour members,” a Kendallite MP told me recently, “is they hate losing. Hate it a lot more than the PLP, actually.” Another insider notes: “The membership voted for Ken Livingstone, an election winner, when the PLP were playing silly buggers. They voted for David Miliband when the trade unions fixed it for Ed.”

Although the other three candidates disagree about what Labour’s leader has to do to win, they are all pitching themselves to Labour members as candidates who can win an election.

Don't forget, either, that these nomination meetings hold no real force. They're more likely to attract ultras: and, almost by definition, Labour's left are more committed than activists from the centre or right of the party. 

But what if it’s different this time? The success of Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain and the SNP north of the border might have convinced Labour activists that victory lies to the left, no the centre. The defeat of the Scottish Labour party, with a centrist candidate in the shape of Murphy, might have changed the party’s perception of what “a winner” looks like.  

As I’ve written before, Corbyn is the candidate best-placed to benefit from Labour’s new electoral system – he has the greatest ability to reach outside of the Labour movement, in his case to the broad left.  His campaign is also being run by Simon Fletcher, a veteran from Ken Livingstone’s bid for the mayoral nomination in 2000: that one-off triumph for a candidate from the party’s left.

It doesn’t, to me, feel likely that Corbyn will triumph in September. But his odds look good enough to me that I regret not putting a fiver on him when the bookmakers were offering odds of 100 to one.

 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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How the Democratic National Committee Chair contest became a proxy war

The two leading candidates represent the Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders factions.

While in the UK this week attention has been fixed on the by-elections in Stoke-upon-Trent and Copeland, in the US political anoraks have turned their eyes to Atlanta, the capital city of the state of Georgia, and the culmination of the Democratic National Committee chairmanship election.

Democrats lost more than a President when Barack Obama left the White House - they lost a party leader. In the US system, the party out of power does not choose a solitary champion to shadow the Presidency in the way a leader of the opposition shadows the Prime Minister in the UK. Instead, leadership concentrates around multiple points at the federal, state and local level - the Senate Minority and House Minority Leaders’ offices, popular members of Congress, and high-profile governors and mayors.

Another focus is the chair of the national party committee. The Democratic National Committee (DNC) is the formal governing body of the party and wields immense power over its organization, management, and messaging. Membership is exclusive to state party chairs, vice-chairs and over 200 state-elected representatives. The chair sits at the apex of the body and is charged with carrying out the programs and policies of the DNC. Put simply, they function as the party’s chief-of-staff, closer to the role of General Secretary of the Labour Party than leader of the opposition.

However, the office was supercharged with political salience last year when the then-chair, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, was exposed following a Russian-sponsored leak of DNC emails that showed her leadership favoured Hillary Clinton as the party’s presidential nominee to Bernie Sanders. Schultz resigned and Donna Brazile, former campaign manager for Al Gore in 2000, took over as interim chair. The DNC huddled in December to thrash out procedure for the election of a permanent replacement – fixing the date of the ballot for the weekend of February 24.

The rancour of the Democratic primaries last year, and the circumstances of Schultz’s resignation, has transformed the race into a proxy war between the Clinton and Sanders factions within the party. Frontrunners Tom Perez and Keith Ellison respectively act as standard bearers for the respective camps.

Both are proven progressives with impeccable records in grassroots-based organizing. However Perez’s tenure as President Obama’s Labor Secretary and role as a Hillary booster has cast him as the establishment candidate in the race, whereas Ellison’s endorsement of the Sanders campaign in 2016 makes him the pick of the radical left.

The ideological differences between the two may be overblown, but cannot be overlooked in the current climate. The Democrats are a party seemingly at war with its base, and out of power nationwide.

Not only are they in the minority in Congress, but more than a third of the Democrats in the House of Representatives come from just three states: California, Massachusetts, and New York. As if that weren’t enough, Democrats control less than a third of state legislatures and hold the keys to just sixteen governors’ mansions.

Jacob Schwartz, president of the Manhattan Young Democrats, the official youth arm of the Democratic Party in New York County, says that the incoming chair should focus on returning the party to dominance at every tier of government:

“The priority of the Democratic leadership should be rebuilding the party first, and reaching out to new voters second," he told me. "Attacking Donald Trump is not something the leadership needs to be doing. He's sinking his own ship anyway and new voters are not going to be impressed by more negative campaigning. A focus on negative campaigning was a big part of why Hillary lost.”

The party is certainly in need of a shake-up, though not one that causes the internecine strife currently bedevilling the Labour Party. Hence why some commentators favour Ellison, whose election could be seen as a peace offering to aggrieved Sanderistas still fuming at the party for undermining their candidate.

“There's something to be said for the fact that Ellison is seen as from the Bernie wing of the party, even though I think policy shouldn't be part of the equation really, and the fact that Bernie voices are the voices we most need to be making efforts to remain connected to. Hillary people aren't going anywhere, so Ellison gives us a good jumping off point overall,” says Schwartz.

Ellison boasts over 120 endorsements from federal and state-level Democratic heavyweights, including Senator Sanders, and the support of 13 labor unions. Perez, meanwhile, can count only 30 politicians – though one is former Vice-President Joe Biden – and eight unions in his camp.

However the only constituency that matters this weekend is the DNC itself – the 447 committee members who can vote. A simple majority is needed to win, and if no candidate reaches this threshold at the first time of asking additional rounds of balloting take place until a winner emerges.

Here again, Ellison appears to hold the edge, leading Perez 105 to 57 according to a survey conducted by The Hill, with the remainder split among the other candidates.

Don’t write Perez off yet, though. Anything can happen if the ballot goes to multiple rounds and the former Secretary’s roots in the party run deep. He claimed 180 DNC supporters in an in-house survey, far more than suggested by The Hill.

We’ll find out this weekend which one was closer to the mark.

Louie Woodall is a member of Labour International, and a journalist based in New York.