Support 100 years of independent journalism.

17 June 2017

A memo to Jeremy Corbyn on how to beat the Tories

Use every single opportunity to create and exploit weakness in the Conservative Party.

By John McTernan

Memo to: Jeremy Corbyn

From: John McTernan

Date: 17 June 2017

Subject: Seizing the crown

Congratulations! You won the election campaign, now you have to win the post-campaign. The key to that will be to be as ruthless in tearing down Theresa May’s attempts to form a stable government as you were in shredding her campaign.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

You won the set pieces, the debate and the battle of the manifestos and policies because you were better prepared and more disciplined. But most of all because you wanted to win – and you manifestly wanted to win far more than Theresa May. She called an election for which she was not merely unprepared but also manifestly unfit.

Content from our partners
Transport is the core of levelling up
The forgotten crisis: How businesses can boost biodiversity
Small businesses can be the backbone of our national recovery

There are four strands to maintaining momentum, pun fully intended, and I set them out in this note.

1. Punch the bruise

There must be no let-up in the attacks on the Tories. You know the vulnerabilities – they were laid bare during the campaign. The two most significant strategic victories were to re-toxify the brand of the Conservative Party and to defeat the argument that the continuing massive public spending cuts were required by some iron law of economics. Those victories have been won, but the argument must continue to be prosecuted – again and again. Repetition. Repetition. Repetition. Remember, when you are sick of saying it, the public are just starting to hear it.

New hooks emerge all the time – the hasty and unseemly attempt to patch up a deal with the DUP has become an emblem of Tory toxicity. But voters need to be reminded repeatedly that Theresa May’s personal political priorities in the election were the restoration of fox hunting and the imposition of a dementia tax.

You showed in the aftermath of the London attack how to raise the issue of cuts to emergency services with both sensitivity and impact. There are questions in the public interest which similarly may need to be raised about the fire at Grenfell Tower. This leads to the second point…

2. Be the government in waiting

This is more than simply stating the obvious – if, or realistically when, Theresa May’s grip on power falters then the Queen will ask you to form a government. Being the alternative government is an attitude as well – everything that you and the colleagues do and say has to send the message that Labour is on its way. The constant contrast has to be with the Conservatives desperately clinging to power at all costs and Labour articulating the national interest.

That means announcements – obviously re-announcements as the policy is already set out in the manifesto. And speeches on the big issues that need to be addressed. You should cast the net wide – the NHS got insufficient attention in the election. As did cuts in working age benefits – the savage reductions in tax credits and universal credit did as much to deter working class voters from voting Tory as anything.

The style should be statesmanlike but the intention is simple – to deny Theresa May the ability to project the notion that there is a status quo and that she is it. Now is time for a ‘prawn cocktail’ offensive with business leaders – they need to understand that what you say matters. You have to socialise the notion that you will be the next Prime Minister once this “zombie government” accepts reality and quits.

3. Keep campaigning

Thirdly, this cannot be Westminster-centric or only media focused. You have announced a tour of Tory marginals. That has to be accompanied by a blitz of Labour party activity.

The members, activists and volunteers who re-elected Peter Kyle in Hove and who turfed the Tory MP out in Brighton Kemptown should be mobilised to swamp Hastings and Rye. In a similar way, South London Labour activity should focus on Putney. In Scotland the targets in Glasgow are clear.

This can and must be done round the country. That energy and enthusiasm must be focused. It will also help to keep us on a war footing – the next general election is near. And it will psychologically undermine the confidence of Tory MPs – if they feel under pressure they will, in turn, transfer that pressure to their leader.

Once she loses her footing then she will never recover it. Only fear of the consequences of another election holds Theresa May in place. Tory MPs need to fear for their individual rather than collective survival – that will fuel panic. Divide and Rule!

4. By any means necessary.

All this adds up to one thing – using every single opportunity to create and exploit weakness in the Conservative Party.

Broadening your base in the Labour Party – embracing all the volunteers who delivered this shock and all the MPs who can contribute to the parliamentary struggle.

Learn the lesson of Australia – Tony Abbott showed, as leader of the Tory opposition, that it is possible to combine looking like the alternative prime minister with a ruthlessness in opposition tactics in the House.

If Theresa May cobbles together a Queen’s speech it must be opposed by a better, more popular Labour one focused on building council houses, reversing benefit cuts and renationalising the railways. If the Tory Queen’s Speech passes it must be exposed for what it is – and ripped to shreds in debates and votes.

Above all, the Scottish Conservatives must be forced to choose – between Theresa May’s toxic Toryism and Ruth Davidson’s ‘kinder, gentler’ approach.

In politics, as you know, what comes to seem inevitable eventually becomes inevitable. Burn up the road and make it so.

Good luck.

Happy to discuss.