As Labour gears up for another leadership contest, Anne Power makes an appeal to Jeremy Corbyn to stand down. She writes that although she respects him as a good local MP, his divisiveness in the PLP and weak performance during the Brexit campaign indicate he is unsuited to leading the party. She writes that the UK must have a functioning parliamentary opposition now, in order to sort out Europe.
I am a long-standing constituent of yours and know your work and talents from close quarters. I was on the Islington Fairness Commission (2010), was a founding member of the Holloway Tenant Cooperative (1972), and helped set up the Martin Luther King Adventure Playground in Holloway in 1968! All my neighbours recognise your commitment, kindness, truthfulness and sense of fairness. You are a remarkably honest and sincere local MP. These qualities are rare and I have voted for you as a good local MP.
But these qualities do not make you a suitable leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Your current job is to represent in parliament the main opposition to a powerful and patently privilege-oriented government. Your voice is drowned out, not by the opposition but by your ineffectual efforts to protest. Your fellow MPs are paralysed by a lack of unifying leadership.
The overwhelming majority of Labour MPs have openly expressed no confidence in your leadership. Several of your would-be allies withdrew from their jobs in your office. Many MPs previously working with you and in your cabinet are no longer with you and asking you to go. You must listen to what they are saying. What at first was seen as a divisive move to oust you unfairly is now widely seen as a brave attempt to reunite the party and create a viable parliamentary opposition. These MPs are our representatives, elected by us. For all the deficiencies in this system, it is closer to representative democracy than the current £3 quick sign-up membership with no questions asked.
As a long-time Labour supporter and former member, I joined with £10 to be able to vote for a different leader – I honestly thought you would damage your unblemished record of protest by becoming leader, and you would not manage the conflict-prone demands of parliamentary opposition. You yourself confirmed this view in your seeming reluctance to stand, in your widely recognised lack of public appearances in spite of being leader of the opposition, and in the constant “spokesman role” being played by your great friend, John McDonnell.
So feeble was your endorsement of the Remain campaign that you were virtually invisible. Labour supporters began to suspect a plot in your HQ to allow the defeat in the referendum, so that Labour could surge into power on the back of the Conservative-created chaos. That could still happen, but what would happen to 45 years of slow building across Europe; North and South, East and West? It is easy to comfort yourself about your opponents with “too right wing” or “too Blairite”. But you no longer command the support of the Parliamentary Labour party, including those from all sides of it, so you have to step out of the leadership role in Parliament.
Momentum is not at all representative either of parliamentary democracy or the wider grassroots as I know them. They have made many progressive Labour supporters feel intimidated and threatened. They did not speak out on Europe, yet every progressive movement in Europe wanted us to stay in, because we can help Europe as the United Kingdom, with Scotland and Northern Ireland united with us. So much is put at risk by this failure to speak out that you must bear some responsibility. Your messages were so diluted as to suggest, as many did, that you did not believe what you were saying. This would indeed be a betrayal of your record of scrupulous honesty. Why did you allow so many to believe you were insincere on such a critical issue? And why was Alan Johnson, who many truly respect as an honest MP so angry with your office over the campaign he was asked by you to head and organise?
Some of your sympathisers feel sorry for you and hate to see you so “humiliated” and “knocked down”. One of my local friends who voted for you wants you to “go with dignity” before you are forced to go. Please listen.
As it stands, even if you run without the required parliamentary backing and win the leadership contest again, the Parliamentary Labour Party will be in even worse disarray – your cabinet comprised mainly of inexperienced, unknown MPs who have not yet cut their teeth on government responsibilities; your “consensual” approach to leadership causing disintegration at every turn.
Many things are wrong with this country, with the European Union and the world – your outspoken opposition to many evils is both admirable and valid. Protest and grassroots movements have their place and can play a vital role in democratic change, but that is not the key task of parliamentary opposition. Nor is it the role that you currently fill.
Surely it is vastly better to do this in collaboration, and not in dogged deafness to the pleas to change your role. The job of Parliamentary Leader of the Opposition requires vastly more than protest. It requires a different kind of leadership. Please do what you do best. Let others, a large majority of MPs, form the government-in-opposition. You can protest within and outside our parliamentary democracy as you have done throughout your career.
We must have a functioning parliamentary opposition now, to help sort out Europe. It is the continent to which we belong, for which we have fought and which has prevented war for the longest time in its bloody history. Now it fights to avert catastrophic climate change. Please, again – go.
Note: this letter was originally published on Democratic Audit.
Anne Power is Professor of Social Policy and Chair of the National Communities Resource Centre.
A wonderful article from a dedicated labour supporter. I am of mature years and voted for the labour party for some 45 years. I, like many others could not bring myself to vote for Ed Miliband. I would never, ever vote for a labour party led by Mr Corbyn. I have followed his career for many years and seen him side with Hamas, the IRA etc and vote against a labour government so many times. Funny that the same government did not threaten him with deselection because of his serial disloyalty. i have listened to him on Middle East Tv programmes. I have lived through Militant Tendency and I did vote Labour even in 1983 when the manifesto was appalling and went against everything I believed in. Those days of tribal politics are now over and labour should know that they do not have the support of the older generation. (I do of course exclude those older lefties, the poly lecturers etc who have no knowledge of the real world).. We hate debt be it personal or national and, have lived through poor public services when they were nationalised. In short we oppose everything Mr Corbyn stands for. We were brought up to believe the State was there as a safety net not the notion that one can not work and have the same standards of living. We believe in a state that is not too big and cumbersome as we know that it is inefficient and has in the past been overstaffed. Yes, that is the view of many labour party supporters. At one time labour was a broad church but that is no longer so. You may have attracted many young idealistic people – we were all the same in our youth. The public are not all idealists and make political decisions based on what is best for them. I will make my decision based on the economy and who is best to ensure it grows to protect my pensions and investments. I would never place my well being in the hands of John Mcdonald who expressed delight at the financial crisis as he hoped it would be the downfall of capitalism.
In short, many of us are well informed . You know – the type of people that Tony Blair appealed to. Look at what wonders he did to public services when he had the support of the public. Mr Corbyn would never have such support and many middle of the road supporters will vote for the Tory party as the Lib Dems have collapsed.
As a Labour member of some 30 yrs like very many I voted for Corbyn last year he did indeed promise to revitalise Labour and UK politics and like Ann he comes over as a caring decent thoughtful man. I didn’t really do my home work on him went on a gut feeling so didn’t know the history of voting against the Lab.party 500 or more times, his history with,shall we say some very dubious people BUT for all that he is a leader of movement I bow to that. Tragically that is where his leadership characteristics stop in their tracks !
I was finally committed to coming out against him (that took some doing on Twitter am still getting abuse !) after the EU ref. his truly pathetic limp minded campaign was abysmal and I think went along way to a Brexit vote. All his fans say his redeeming feature is his honesty YET he changed his mind over the EU that speaks volumes to me.
This country has never ever voted for a radical left government. The nearest was H Wilson and he soon reigned back to centre with Callahan taking up the centre baton.
Next year we have Boundary changes we have the SNP we have UKIP the LD’s not to mention Wales . Corbyn is trailing no sorry the worst opposition leader in eyes of the voters ever ! And please don’t say polls don’t mean a thing because if Labour were 20 points ahead which they should be against this insane Government the crowds would e even more estatic .. No this nice man has not the passion or the skills to unite a great party that labour is soon to be was ! to any victory other than a big celeb rally with a loud megaphone ..
Labour has been a party for the working class for decades.If the grassroots win this struggle, there is a possibility that a renewed Labour movement may have a positive influence on democratic governance.
Please note, my praise “a really good comment” was written as a reply to the comment on this article by Noel, which begins:
“An opposition which does not have a strong connection with a grassroots has no moral right to seek power and no business being in parliament. Democracy must work from the bottom up or else it is not democracy.”
The praise was certainly not directed at the article itself, with which I strongly disagree.
A really good comment.
Yes please, will Labour MPs who don’t stand for the true Labour values of social justice resign, and let the Labour Party get back on track? It’s been left in the hands of the centre/right for far too long.
Time to reclaim the Labour Party for Labour supporters.
The reason for Jeremy Corbyn’s “invisibility” and lack of public appearances as leader of the Labour Party is that the media have conspired en masse to ignore and exclude him, or to misrepresent, ridicule, smear and slander him.
The reason that the PLP oppose him is that he stands for true Labour principles, for social justice, whilst they stand for New Labour with its PFI-corporate friendly,self-serving Tory-lite policies.
Without Corbyn, the Labour party as a party of social justice is finished.
It is not easy to stand up to the combined might of the bullying PLP and mainstream media.
Jeremy Corbyn is a brave man and deserves all our support.
As a true Labour supporter, it’s surprising that you don’t see that.
I consider myself definitely grassroots. I was born in a council house and have been a Labour voter all my life. Now I am retired and although disabled I do what I can by helping to man the office as a volunteer at the local Labour Party Office on the main street of our town. I am finding it increasingly difficult to defend Labour to those who come in to enquire about the state of the party and to find out what’s happening. We seem to be preempted by the press as to the latest news rather than head office informing us. For all his principals Jeremy Corbyn will not lead the party to a victory in the next election because he lacks any real conviction that he will be the Prime Minister. Our party desperately needs to get back in power to redress all the injustices that the Tories have imposed on those who are less able to survive in the present economic climate. With the relentless drive of technology that will put more and more people on the scrap heap through no fault of their own we will need a much more radical approach to our welfare system. Relinquishing power to the Tories will allow them to force through more and more austerity more misery and quite frankly Jeremy Corbyn is incapable of leading our party in this coming struggle.
“Your fellow MPs are paralysed by a lack of unifying leadership.”
So what are they waiting for, Jeremy was elected as representing the will of the membership of the party not the will of the PLP, the PLP should be listening to that and attempting to vocalise the will of the wider grassroots movement, if not that, then what does the PLP stand for?
The agency, the population of the UK have, has been eroded and sidelined by the same process happening in the run up the to this current Labour leadership election, exclusion, restriction, and silence, through fees, deferment, and the silencing of real discussion. The idea that the first past the post electoral system used in our general elections gives a more democratic mandate then a one person one vote in the Labour party election, especially from the perspective of representing an opposing national group in a parliament with a two party system, is fundamentally flawed as an argument.
The EU vote and the closeness of the previous Scottish referendum are part of a bigger criticism, of the position of technocrats in Europe and Westminster respectively, They were as much a platform to voice a criticism of Westminster as the EU, where the policies of both organisations have done immeasurable harm to local communities. There is little agency available through the parliamentary democracy we have at the moment, and any change of the way the current system is working is being hampered by the people who benefit from this system. If this process of change isn’t allowed to happen then these events will get worse. and the rise of UKIP is one result of this.
The Labour party and the PLP especially can attempt to engage with this, or it will again lose a substantial amount of their membership, Jeremy may not be the answer, but if the question is not asked or the response not listened to, then what are we to think the Labour party stands for?
An opposition which does not have a strong connection with a grassroots has no moral right to seek power and no business being in parliament. Democracy must work from the bottom up or else it is not democracy.
If there are MPs with strong support from the wider electorate in their constituencies but not from labour party members then the solution is simple: they should do the decent thing and leave the labour party either to become independent MPs, or to form/join another party. By staying to wage a war they cannot win, they are causing a huge amount of damage to the Labour party. Granted, the damage may only be short-term but there is a lot on the agenda right now.
Of course it’s quite an assumption to make that, outside the labour party, these MPs would continue to have strong support in their constituencies.