To the relief of many, the Labour leadership contest finally culminated last Saturday, and with it the replacement of Jeremy Corbyn with Sir Keir Starmer, the expected winner. Labour’s accidental leader was, exactly that, a monolithic accident that proved detrimental to the party and the wider country. His decisive victory in the summer of 2015 had marked the renewal of everything Tony Blair tried to bury. For over thirty years as a backbench MP, he was never given responsibility beyond that of his Islington constituents as he became one of the most rebellious Labour MPs of all time. Whilst some attribute the engagement of younger people to the left-wing causes he has forever championed as an obvious indictment of success, this is dumbfounded. It is far outweighed by issues ranging from two successive election defeats, a split in the party and frequent poor local election results though the worst moment must be his complete incompetence at dealing with anti-Semitism, leading to an investigation by the EHRC into the party. Overall, the man contributed more to the electoral fortunes of the Conservatives than anyone else in modern history.
By the morning of December 13th last year, Corbyn couldn’t have been much further from Number 10 if he tried. The worst result for the Labour Party since 1935. A fourth consecutive defeat. Seats the party has held for over 100 years turning blue for the first time. The ‘red wall’ demolished. Lifelong Labour voters voting for the Tories. These were people in their droves in former coal-mining communities putting an Etonian into Number 10. Many supporters would lay claim that Brexit was the detrimental factor, but Corbyn’s questionable baggage from throughout his time in Parliament didn’t help, either. In many ways, the inability to deal with his own party’s internal issues made voters rightly cynical over whether he could effectively tackle the country’s. Labour’s ever changing policy on Brexit was inevitably a factor; the idea that Labour would somehow negotiate a more credible deal with Brussels and then put it to a referendum, campaigning against it and to remain in the EU instead both confused and alienated voters. Failure to rule out a second referendum on Scottish independence in attempts to woo the SNP only furthered the party’s lack of conviction on certain issues. Talk of properly funding the NHS and providing free broadband to everyone won’t happen due to one hard truth those of his ilk have always struggled to comprehend: you can’t truly help anyone unless you win elections. Ardent supporters point to 2017 as an example of success, though take it in the context of his opponents: Many Tories argue their 2017 campaign was one of their most disastrous ever, of which Labour finished over 60 seats behind.
The greatest stain on Corbyn’s leadership was something completely unimaginable five years ago, the party becoming rife with anti-Semitism and his ineffectiveness at dealing with it. Historically, the left has always had an issue with anti-Semitism and the party’s change in direction allowed it to become a home for those that hold such views. The equation of Jews with capitalism and the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that have arisen from this has made them fair game to certain members within the party. The leadership should never have allowed legitimate criticism of the Israeli government to act as demonisation of the entire Jewish people. In April, the Jewish Labour Movement passed a vote of no confidence in Corbyn’s leadership and a month later, the EHRC launched a formal investigation into the party. The treatment of Luciana Berger, Louise Ellman, Ruth Smeeth and Margaret Hodge alongside the wider Jewish community during Corbyn’s time as leader was disgraceful. Following December’s election, Hodge is now the only female Jewish MP left in the party. The very idea that Jewish people feared this man is a damning indictment of his leadership. Failure to match condemnation with substantive action meant that Jewish women were left to lead this fight by themselves, something of which he should candidly be ashamed.
In recent months, Corbyn has sought to define his period as leader with a phrase that has been rightly ridiculed by his opponents, that he ‘won the argument’. The promises made by the government to increase public spending must be taken in the context of the current, unprecedented circumstances we are living in, the Covid-19 pandemic has clearly led to the government intervening in the economy far more than would be seen in usual times. Prior to this, the Tories were already promising to spend and their strict fiscal rules they had adhered to for almost a decade to cut the deficit vanished. It would be legitimate to claim this has come at the expense of Corbyn rather than because of him. For the first time, the Tories hold seats in the North they have never before, and they either change or lose their new voters. A self-described One Nation Conservative, it makes sense for Boris Johnson to make such guarantees to the public. Furthermore, Corbyn’s views on foreign policy, nationalisation, the EU and the future of the union are far from won. The notion he ‘won the argument’ implying he was the only opponent of austerity, is far from true and a desire for a boost in public spending does not translate to a shining endorsement of what the Islington MP has championed for over thirty years.
No one can be in any doubt that Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure as Labour leader featured much controversy. The 70-year-old went almost overnight from being a relatively unknown Member of Parliament to one of the most prominent figures in the country. He will fondly be remembered by some for engaging a new generation of youngsters and reigniting a brand of politics which hasn’t been mainstream since the early 1980s. However, a far more accurate evaluation of his leadership would be to recognise he failed to unite his party, failed to deal with the rife of anti-Semitism in it, failed to provide a strong opposition and ultimately failed the millions of people who desperately need a Labour government. His departure from frontline politics is in his party’s interest and the national interest.
Image - Flickr (Jeremy Corbyn)