The Labour party is in crisis, with a recent poll showing the Conservative government racing ahead of their main opponents. But there is a solution, says Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, Clive Lewis.
In a letter written in the Guardian on 27 July, the Norwich South MP explained why he was backing Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn in the party’s upcoming leadership elections. He said:
Even if we could combine Clement Attlee, Harold Wilson, Barbara Castle, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown into one leader, they couldn’t cope with the crisis Labour is now facing.
That’s because it’s an existential crisis of Labour and social democracy happening the world over. To try to find the one leader who can somehow solve the crisis for us is to miss the point.
For Lewis, the “top-down, vertical power relationships of the past” are now clashing with popular demands for more democratic decision-making processes. This conflict, he says, is what lies behind “the current fault line between the “membership” and the parliamentary Labour party (PLP)”.
His proposed solution? Accepting that “the game has changed and that Labour needs to change with it”.
Moving with the times
The Labour leadership, Lewis says, needs to embrace “electoral reform and broader, progressive cross-party alliances”. For him:
The job of the political leader will increasingly move away from top-down legislative change to one of legitimising and helping enable change from below.
The party has moved in the right direction, Lewis insists, but it still hasn’t changed enough – partly because of media and PLP attacks which have had a destabilising effect since day one of Corbyn’s leadership. In spite of opposition from within the PLP, he says, Labour must start to look at “the bigger picture” of how to return to government.
Referring in particular to the Green party, the SNP, and the Liberal Democrats, Lewis says:
There is a common set of themes and values and principles that we need to identify as progressives and then start to work out how we can work together not just to stop the Tories but to have better politics… the more people you can bring along, the less tribal you are and better decisions you will make. The more consensus you have the longer term the decisions you make
Support and opposition to Lewis’ suggestions
Labour, Green, SNP, and Lib Dem members have already discussed in recent weeks the possibility of a “progressive alliance” to defeat the Tories. And a Green spokesperson responded to Lewis’ comments this week by saying:
It’s great that Clive Lewis has the courage to say people are better served when politicians work together on areas where they agree.
It must be increasingly clear to Labour that they cannot win an outright majority at the next election, no matter who their leader is.
Some of Lewis’ PLP colleagues, however, were less supportive of his comments. MP Phil Wilson, for example, said on Twitter “Will this madness plse stop”. MP Ian Austin, meanwhile, called the idea of a progressive political/electoral alliance “a mathematically impossible, self-indulgent fantasy”. Austin didn’t, however, go into the exact facts and figures he was referring to here as ‘impossible’.
And criticism didn’t end with the absent evidence and sentimental sectarianism of Austin and Wilson. Another MP, who spoke to Politics Home, resorted to sarcastic condescension to make his divisive point. Referring to the friendly cooperation between Lewis and Green MP Caroline Lucas, this anonymous minister said:
They’re welcome to each other. Maybe they could do a job share as Defence Secretary. They could replace army bases with a series of recycling centres. Rename one of the aircraft carriers ‘Rainbow Warrior 2’. Insist that the Chief of Defence Staff is a vegan. The possibilities are endless.
This was clearly an attempted dig at the fact that both Lucas and Lewis (a military veteran) have voted consistently against use of UK military forces in combat operations overseas.
But no matter how much Corbyn’s opponents in the PLP hate to admit it, a progressive alliance with other parties opposed to Tory policies would be a clear step forward in an increasingly divided political environment. And Lewis believes the creation of such an alliance should be at the heart of the debate during Labour’s upcoming leadership vote, insisting:
we must use the campaign to seize the future and help Labour escape from its past – or it will die, whether Jeremy Corbyn is leader or not.
In the coming weeks, Britain will see if Labour has heeded Lewis’ warning.
See Owen Jones’ interview with Clive Lewis at the Guardian below:
– See the full stream of the recent ‘Post-Brexit Alliance Building’ event.
– Join the Electoral Reform Society and the ‘Make Votes Matter’ Facebook group.
– See other Canary articles on proportional representation and electoral reform, and support The Canary so we can continue to report on the issues that matter.
– Write to your MP, asking if they support electoral reform (or a progressive alliance). Let them know that it’s an important issue for you.
– See this article on the “top 10 most ridiculous things about Westminster”.
Featured image via Kinversam/Wikimedia Commons