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10 May 2016updated 27 Jul 2021 3:45pm

Jeremy Corbyn has made Labour’s moderates intellectually lazy

On the major issues of our time, moderates do not appear to have an alternative direction of travel, let alone a set of popular policy proposals.

By Ben Craig

Thursday was a bad night for the Labour Party. Anyone who disagrees is deluded. While there were some bright spots, most notably in London, expectations have fallen to a point where most Labour activists were breathing a sigh of relief rather than pointing to the monumental task that lies ahead if Labour are to win in 2020.

Jeremy Corbyn is leading the Labour Party away from power not to it, that much is clear. But the ascendancy of the hard left is making Labour moderates intellectually lazy. His refusal to sing the national anthem, his obsession with nuclear weapons and his past comments on Hamas and Hezbollah mean that moderates are focusing their energy on the obvious, and not the difficult. On the major issues of our time, they do not appear to have an alternative direction of travel, let alone a set of popular policy proposals.

What would a ‘sensible’ Labour Party be saying on the economy, on immigration and on how to win back Scotland? How does the centre-left articulate a positive vision of the future if the money has dried up and raising public spending is not an option? What does it do about immigration, an emotive issue where the left continues to lose votes to UKIP, eroding its white working class base? And how the hell does it even begin to win back Scotland?

Sadiq Khan’s victory in London showed how to win in London. He campaigned from the so-called soft left, while reassuring The City that London’s financial services sector was in safe hands. He also benefitted from the upcoming EU referendum, where his pro-European stance found him favour with big business.

But Londoners are not like the rest of the country, they’re pro-Europe and more comfortable with immigration. They’re better off than the rest of the country, but also face an acute housing crisis, with exorbitant prices and ever-rising rents. London is a Labour city. Sadiq Khan ran a smart and inclusive campaign, but it wouldn’t work at a national level. He ran on a similar platform as long-time friend and ally, Ed Miliband, and we know how that ended.

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What would Tony Blair stand for if he ran in 2016? Welfare reform? A higher minimum wage? A defender of immigration and of the EU? Economic competence? Being trusted on the economy is key. But what does that mean in practice? Does that mean defending the record of Labour in government or does it mean demolishing it? There are no easy answers. 

And we need to have answers on how we prepare our country for the jobs of the future, how we tackle inequality and how we solve the housing crisis. The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party has left many in the party hankering for the late 90s. But we live in a different world, with different problems. It’s not enough to trot out the same playbook. The left won the culture war, but lost the economic war. We are a more tolerant and better country than we were 25 years ago. But we’ve lost the argument on the economy and until we win it back we won’t win power. It’s time to start doing some hard thinking.

Ben Craig is a Labour Party activist and former parliamentary staffer.

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