HAS Labour learned anything from its catastrophic General Election result? The early signs are that it has not. Jeremy Corbyn, in his curiously unapologetic post-election apology, offered the curious suggestion that his policies had proved really popular with the electorate, which had then somehow neglected to vote for them.
What the Labour Party needed now, he said, was a period of reflection. Everyone nodded wisely — but then reverted to the old ways, as if the first stage of reflection was recrimination. The official Labour explanation, sent out before the defeat in a private briefing, was that their defeat was all about Brexit. They also blamed the media, pointing out that the expected bias of the Tory press had been buttressed by broadcasters who had been cowed into pro-Conservative compliance.
Party members moved straight to promoting their favoured candidates for the next Labour leader. They set out Continuation Corbynism versus a more centrist realignment Next came familiar manoeuvrings from the hard Left — for whom control of the party seems more important than the creation of a party with a realistic chance of regaining the trust of the British electorate. Moves might now be made to ensure that anyone now joining the party in the hope of assisting a return to a moderate position will not be allowed to vote in the election of the new leader.
This all sounds like business as usual — the kind of business that led it to electoral disaster. What is needed, instead, is a more strategic analysis of what went wrong. Opinion polls and reports from the grass roots suggest that the leadership of Mr Corbyn was a far bigger factor in the defeat than Brexit or Labour’s ambitious economic policies.
Many Labour policies were, indeed, attractive to voters. The problem was that there were so many of them that they looked like a Christmas wish-list rather than a realistic programme for action, especially in the hands of a man with no experience of government.
But Mr Corbyn looked weak, not just on the prospect of delivery, and not just on his faltering have-it-both-ways Brexit strategy, but also in other areas. His handling of Labour’s anti-Semitism crisis was too little too late. His response to Russian poison on the streets of Salisbury was feeble. His long history of cosying up to extremists failed to make a distinction between liberation struggles and armed terrorists. Not to mention Trident.
Labour’s problems go much further and deeper than Mr Corbyn, however. The party needs a strategy in Scotland, which once returned 40-plus Labour MPs to Westminster, but now has only one. It needs a strategy in the North and the Midlands, where the decline of heavy industry and the consequent decline in trade- union membership have enervated its electoral heartlands. The party needs to find a way of reuniting the old alliance between the natural conservatism of ordinary working people and the trendy metropolitan liberalism that has lost touch with the party’s old supporters.
The idea that Mr Corbyn, with his demonstrable lack of insight and judgement, can preside over this rethink for the next three months is risible. He should step down at once, and allow a genuinely fresh debate to take place.