Centrists want us to forget 2017. But we mustn’t let them.

Angela Rayner and James O'Brien
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In 2017, Jeremy Corbyn oversaw an energetic election campaign that almost put Labour in power. The party was moving in the right direction. Two years of smears and sabotage later, however, and the 2019 election was a different story. And because centrists think the disastrous 2019 result favours their narrative, they’d love us to just forget about 2017. But we mustn’t let that happen. Because 2017 is something progressives should take as inspiration going forwards.

Dear centrists…

Under Corbyn, Labour membership grew to over 500,000 – the biggest number since the 1970s. The party’s 2017 election campaign, meanwhile, was largely successful despite massive establishment opposition, with Labour increasing its vote share more than under any other leader since 1945.

Ignoring what happened between 2017 and 2019, however, Corbyn’s opponents on the centre and right have recently sought to blame him almost entirely for the 2019 election result. And this line of attack will likely continue, because they think it hurts the progressive cause.

Last week, for example, Corbyn held Boris Johnson to account for his absence while people suffered from serious flooding. But some critics sought to score cheap political points:

They failed to mention, of course, the brutal propaganda offensive from the establishment media that spent years trying to undermine Corbyn, consistently ridiculing his sensible, moderate policies and painting the peaceprize winner as an existential threat to the country. They also failed to mention how Labour centrists like Keir Starmer pushed Corbyn into a second-referendum policy which, according to some, played a massive role in Labour’s terrible 2019 result.

Now, some media commentators have the nerve to suggest that ‘it’s finally time to criticise Corbyn’ – as if years of constant attacks simply hadn’t happened:

Dear Labour right-wingers…

It seems Labour deputy leadership hopeful Angela Rayner would look to take Labour back towards centrism. She recently claimed that Corbyn “didn’t command respect” within the party, for example. And she said “I resonate with people in the country in a way that Jeremy doesn’t”. This would seem to clash with the party’s membership numbers under Corbyn, along with the 2017 election result.

Progressive deputy leadership favourite Richard Burgon responded to Rayner and others by pointing out the difference between respect from parliamentary party elites and ordinary people in the party and across the country:

This comes as some supporters of establishment favourite for leader Keir Starmer have seemingly referred to party left-wingers as “Stalinists”. Starmer never favoured Corbyn as Labour leader, and resigned during the failed parliamentary coup attempt of 2016. Fellow leadership hopeful Lisa Nandy didn’t favour Corbyn either, and also left the shadow cabinet in 2016. And she even became co-chair of Owen Smith’s dire leadership campaign (which openly called for a second referendum on Brexit).

And it seems anti-Corbyn sentiment in the parliamentary party is going nowhere. Labour MP Neil Coyle recently tweeted:

The real “utter balls”, however, is Coyle’s comment. Because in 2017, Labour sought to honour the Brexit referendum result (rather than having a second referendum). So to suggest Corbyn received the “anti-Brexit vote” in that election is absurd.

Centrists can’t claim any moral high ground

Britain’s electoral system is terrible and undemocratic; and Labour has for too long failed to forge an alliance of non-Tories in favour of electoral reform – which could see a ‘progressive majority’ in Britain. Only now do Labour members seem to be waking up to this. But parties entered the 2019 election under the current electoral system. And this favoured the Tories, leaving their opponents on the back foot.

As University of East London professor Jeremy Gilbert has written, many centrists preferred not to back Corbyn’s Labour – allowing the united right a landslide victory. Centrist politicians lost in 2019. But many centrist voters “could not be persuaded to accept a compromise on Brexit in order to prevent a Johnson landslide”. The constant media propaganda against Corbyn and his party didn’t help, either. In the end, opposing the hard-right Tory agenda simply wasn’t important enough to the extreme centre.

Labour’s economic policies were very popular across Britain. But in an election where Brexit dominated, Labour’s compromise policy was a mistake. And a mixture of our putrid electoral system and elitist media establishment sealed the deal.

We mustn’t let centrists fool us about what 2019 represented. And we certainly shouldn’t forget 2017. Because that represented what can happen when there’s clear progressive leadership – backed by ordinary people – that trusts its instincts and doesn’t let extreme-centrist sabotage win.

Featured image via Labour Party and LBC


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  • Show Comments
    1. Talking of “accepting the Establishment narrative”; here’s a simple question to pop another one –

      A new Political Party was formed 2 months before the GE, from Tories. It was funded by illegal foreign ‘dark money’, and was scrapped the week AFTER the GE. So, what would the “disasterous Corbyn result” look like WITHOUT this in-your-face election rigging? A LABOUR landslide?

      Corbyn should not have resigned, but demanded an investigation.

      Can you imagine the legal outrage if Labour had run a Brexit-Party ONLY in Tory areas, funded by Maduro? I think its fair to say BloJo would call “foul”.

    2. The irony is, when the economy collapses as it undoubtedly will, it will be the rich who call first and loudest for state intervention, aka socialism, just as they did in 2008, when nearly a trillion pounds of socialism saved the banks to save their investments. And they think it will be paid for by imposing fundamentalist capitalism, aka neo-liberalism, on the rest of us. But that set-up was likely to work only once.

      I think next time the banks will be too big to save. Too much debt. It will still sink every one of us with it of course, and society will be rebuilt either by socialism or fascism. We must be ready to ensure it’s socialism, or most of us will not survive it.

    3. It’s no good harping on about what a wonderful fellow Corbyn is. He failed twice to win an election, has allowed a disastrous Brexit to take hold and in short has actually achieved nothing. He appealed to the young in 2017 and nearly winning doesn’t cut it. Time to think about getting a Labour govt into power and his protege RLB is not the answer. Neither is Milne or McKluskey

    4. Astonishing that these shallow, boring, unimaginative nincompoops should claim that Corbyn handed Johnson power. Nothing to do with James O’Brien calling Labour ‘The Party of Holocaust deniers’ in December 2018, then, for example. I see that the police have now brought ONE prosecution for a/s in the Labour Party, from half a million members. Yeah, it was really Jezza that caused the result. The media and the traitors said so, so it must be true.

      1. I couldn’t agree more, it is utterly illogical to blame those who fought against Johnson for Johnson being Johnson. Following that logic, the very people who complain that it’s Corbyn’s fault that Johnson got into power, are in fact just as responsible by their own false logic.

        If Corbyn failed, so did they, and as he (Corbyn) actually spent a great deal of his time out and about, it could be said that he failed a lot less than those who actually did nothing to ensure he won (just putting an ‘X’ on a ballot paper isn’t enough), and certainly he was failed by a great many supposed ‘supporters’ who did nothing of the sort.

        If we’re going to apportion blame, lets make sure we’re accurate and thorough about it, or no one will ever learn anything of value from anything.

    5. In whose parallel universe is Rayner a centrist? For pointing out that JC didn’t have the respect of LP in a way she thinks she can? Are we looking for somebody who will go one better than JC, or do we want to keep talking about how we missed out on penalties in the ’96 semis and if only Southgate wasn’t picked to take the sixth?

      Yes, JC’s first leadership husting made me get enthusiastic about voting Labour again, made my son join up, made me join up later when the coup was attempted, but he made errors and colossal strategic ones at that. The media were shocking (and even the “let’s do something about the poor” Toynbees close ranks when that’s pointed out), but pages could be written about how a Mongolian Clustershambles of a negotiation, government and even election campaign was allowed to sweep over the opposition like it didn’t exist. And it was happening before 2016.

      It takes more than edgy, B+W portraits to convince me “Why you shouldn’t be voting for… and instead should be voting for [insert name of Momentum’s equivalent of a Stephen Byers loyalist]” articles are The Only Truth.

    6. In 2017 Labour’s share of the vote was 40%. In 2015 30%. In 2010 29%. in 2005 35%. Who’s the vote winner? Brown and Miliband failed to win from the centre and Blair won in 2005 only because the centre held up and squeezed the Tory vote. In February 1974 Wilson won 37% of the vote in October 1974 39% and won both times. Who’s the vote winner? Labour won 32% in 2019, higher than in 2015 and 2010. Who’s the vote winner? Had the last election been fought on RP the Tories would have 288 seats. The right wing parties combined 309 seats. The left of centre parties 262 seats and the Lib Dems 76 seats. There would almost certainly be a minority Labour government with Corbyn as PM. Corbyn was a real vote winner. He added 3 and half million votes to Labour’s score between 2015 and 2017. What scuppered him was leaving the EU.
      Look at the vote across the 60 seats Labour lost. The pattern is clear. Take Rother Valley: 6,000 Brexit, 15,000 Labour, 22,000 Tory. Why 6000 Brexit? Because they were Labour voters who wanted out and can’t bear to vote Tory. Same pattern across most of the 60 seats. How many votes shifted from Labour to either Brexit or Tory in these seats c 300,000 maximum. Did Labour lose in all its heartlands? Manchester, London, Liverpool, Bristol, Nottingham, Leeds, Newcastle? Even smallish places in the north which might have been vulnerable held out: Preston, Blackburn….The truth is small, left-behind towns punished Labour for not looking after them. Who was to blame for that? Blair, the metropolitan shape-shifter, the man who learnt his politics from Marx: “Those are my principles and if you don’t like them I’ve got plenty more.” Groucho not Karl. The radical policies are popular and mainstream. The centrists are Tories in Labour clothing. Labour must stay left because climate change requires a new economy. And end to consumerism and a co-operative form of production. Corbyn was popular but traduced. Keep Labour left.

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