A Fabian Society report at the start of 2017 determined that Labour had no chance of winning the next election. Combining the issues of Brexit, Scotland and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s supposed unpopularity, the report suggested the Labour party was pretty much finished as a singular political entity. It would be better, the report concluded, for the party to join with other forces across the United Kingdom to take the fight to the Tories.
With friends like that, who needs enemies?
This week saw Corbyn’s response to the challenge. He relaunched himself as a populist force for progressive good. There were some early signs that Corbyn stands prepared to adapt to this new role. The first example came in an unlikely form – online banter between the leader of the opposition and TV pundit Piers Morgan. Though some were quick to brush it off as a cheap tactic, it was one of the first posts I’ve seen that was shared both by the Westminster political bubble and my old classmates from back home.
Reaching beyond the political class is perhaps the biggest test that Corbyn faces, in his attempt to win the trust of the country at large. An ability to reach out to the “great ignored” would reap more than just a general election victory – it would create a sea change in British politics. Though Corbyn’s supporters are mocked for talking about those who don’t vote, a plan to entice these people to turn up on polling day offers a genuine chance to reverse the Fabian Society’s prediction. Football banter will not achieve this alone, but a plan to engage with those across the political divide on common-sense issues should certainly be explored.
Corbyn’s support for a “maximum wage cap” also sparked a long overdue debate surrounding pay inequality. Though a spokesman later confirmed that the “wage cap” was but one potential proposal, the theme of fairness in pay will surely stand as a central point for Corbyn’s populist relaunch. While the announcement concerning freedom of movement was somewhat muddled, it proved that the leadership is ready to grasp the nettle and discuss the best way forward considering the decision to leave the European Union. I’d much rather the party be engaged in this debate than maintain the deafening silence that we witnessed over the Christmas period.
As Corbyn and his team attempt to paint the Labour leader in a different light, one thing has remained concrete: the offer of an alternative. It is imperative that Labour continues to highlight the disastrous economic and social management of this Tory government. In a week when the Red Cross reported a “humanitarian crisis” within our National Health Service, the alternative vision offered by a genuinely radical Labour party has never been needed more. In a week when the Tory vision for Brexit was confirmed as a hard-right rush towards the exit door, Labour’s promise to fight for access to the single market stands as a rallying call for progressives.
The choice at the next election remains a decision between Theresa May’s backward Tory party and Corbyn’s optimistic Labour party. There is no other choice. It is time for Labour’s friends – such as the Fabian Society and its backbench MPs – to offer the support that Corbyn needs in order to at least offer his vision to the British people. We are, after all, a democratic socialist party that believes that by the strength of our common endeavour we achieve more than we achieve alone. We must hold true to this motto in the dark months ahead and unite so as to achieve the Labour government that we know this country desperately needs.