All too predictably, the media this morning are completely focused on Labour’s defeat last night in Copeland, with questions about Corbyn’s leadership repeated ad nauseam and Stoke treated almost as an irrelevant footnote.Genuine Labour supporters are understandably disappointed, but most are rallying and asking ‘what’s next?’.
Here are a few observations from the by-elections that you’re highly unlikely to hear from a mainstream obsessed with finding reasons for more Corbyn-bashing and the lessons that flow from them for how what many are now calling ‘ordinary Labour’ to take forward.
Taking the fight to..
‘Taking the fight to the Tories’ is a mantra on both sides within the Labour party. But what has become clear during this campaign is that, for the pro-Corbyn left, taking the fight to the Tories means ‘first clean house‘.
From Tony Blair‘s ridiculous ‘rise up against Brexit’ intervention last week and Mandelson‘s follow-ups at the weekend, to the avalanches of anti-Corbyn articles and TV appearances by ‘Labour’ MPs and anti-Corbyn journalists in the days and hours before polling, to Tom Watson‘s ‘two fingers’ to the membership with his ludicrous ‘Dab’ attempt during PMQs and his photo opportunity at London Fashion Week just before polling, to the stream of opportunistic nonsense from red-Tory idiots like Progress’ Richard Angell and Labour First’s Luke Akehurst, one thing is inescapably clear:
The Labour Right wanted Labour to lose both by-elections and did everything it could to cause it – and, having failed in Stoke, is now focusing on Copeland to try to undermine the party, its members and its leadership yet again.
A Labour party that continues to struggle on with the saboteur-right in its midst is a Labour party fighting with one hand tied, racing with a huge ball and chain fixed to its ankle.
Cleaning house has at least three absolutely essential steps:
- correct the balance of the NEC by removing the two unlawfully-imposed and unelected members the right-wing crowbarred onto it, to facilitate step 2. If that means taking legal action, so be it
- remove, by whatever means are available, certain key figures among the Labour right. This blog would recommend Watson, McNicol, Dugher, Spellar, Reynolds, Phillips, Austin. Withdraw the whip, expel from the party, whatever it takes
- force through the much-needed and democratically essential rule change on nominations for leadership candidates, so the right loses all hope of ever excluding a left-wing candidate from any future leadership contest. If they can see no hope of restoring what to them are ‘the good old days’, remaining right-wingers have far less incentive to sabotage Labour’s efforts
When the right talks about focusing on taking the fight to the Tories, it is nothing more than cover for their plots. It has to end – and if it’s brutal and bloody, it’s a price well worth paying so that Labour can fight as Labour, not as some sickly chimera of genuine Labour people and values spliced with crypto-Tories determined to win a graft vs host battle even if it kills both.
If Labour fights as itself, unencumbered by those prepared to see it fail if it lets them return to their prestige and influence, the battle is winnable.
Communication and presence
Labour’s convincing win in Stoke last night, over a UKIP that – regardless how it now tries to downplay it – fully expected to win at the start of the campaign, was primarily a triumph of digital campaigning – with a clear target in the UKIP leader – with a strong helping hand from a well-supported ground campaign.
By contrast, in Copeland, which has much poorer broadband coverage and perceived strengths on both sides – NHS for Labour and nuclear for the Tories (wrongly, as they have studiously avoided any promises about the future of Sellafield and are planning raids on workers’ pensions) – there was less opportunity for the online campaign to gain traction.
Set against the ubiquitous nature of the mainstream – press and TV – that can reach places with wide geography and poor online communications and which amorally and unequivocally push Tory themes and narratives, the online message couldn’t have the impact it would in other places.
So, what to do about it?
Labour’s traditional strength has been as a community presence, organising support for local people, events around which communities can coalesce etc. This was one of the main casualties under Tony Blair and since – and it’s what Labour must return to.
It needs to do this everywhere, but if it’s to have the connection and impact that its policies, sense and moral superiority deserve, it’s absolutely essential in places like Copeland.
The bad news is that this takes time and effort. The good news is that, with 550,000 members and counting, Labour is better positioned to do it successfully than it has been in decades – as long as the new membership is willing to do it.
Combined with this, Labour needs to work out ways to win the communications war. Labour’s left consistently ‘wins’ on Twitter; Facebook is more or less a neutral zone; the mainstream is owned by the right-wing Establishment more than ready to support Labour right-wingers toward its overall goal of controlling the narrative and fooling enough people into thinking there is no credible alternative.
Winning Twitter and holding its own on Facebook is nowhere near enough if the genuine-alternative left wants to swing places like Copeland under a barrage of pro-government, pro-Establishment narrative from BBC News and the commercial press and broadcasters.
A better, more co-ordinated approach – combined with community presence – is urgently necessary. If it means sacking, for example, whoever was behind last autumn’s ridiculous ‘glitterballs’ idiocy and replacing that person and others with people who understand messaging, fine.
It can be done
In the midst of all of the current nonsense, it will be easy for Labour members of good will to lose heart. It should, but doesn’t, go without saying that no genuine supporter of a real Labour alternative can allow her- or himself the luxury of depression or discouragement – to permit those is to give the saboteurs what they’re hoping for.
The most important lesson coming out of Stoke is that, when Labour’s members and representatives get it right, it can be done. The media machine was fully expecting to be dancing on the corpse of the Labour left today after defeat in Stoke as well as in Copeland.
Nuttall would not have run if he didn’t think he was going to win. The media have been talking up his chances since he stood and UKIP’s ‘threat’ to Labour long before that.
That everything didn’t go according to the Establishment’s script is down to the hard work of huge numbers of people, both online and on the ground, inspired by Corbyn’s integrity, authenticity and vision – and to Corbyn’s nous in his approach to the Brexit bill earlier this month. To win convincingly in a ‘leave’ stronghold against a constant media barrage was huge.
Labour didn’t get it right in Copeland, not quite – although if polls depicting catastrophic Labour falls in support were remotely accurate, Copeland would have been lost by a landslide and Stoke would have been unwinnable.
So there is neither room nor cause for discouragement. It can be done.
The policies, ethics and authenticity are there. People – even in places like Copeland – are desperate for different and better than the Tories can offer.
If Labour gets its ground game a little better and broadens its communications strategy so those people can hear the policies, ethics and authenticity – and gets rid its rotten wood so it can be its natural self unencumbered – it will win.
That’s what we should be learning from Copeland. And Stoke. Let’s do it.
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