Where next for the Labour Party?

Thomas Messenger

MHP Account Director Thomas Messenger reflects on the Labour 2019 general election campaign.

Jeremy Corbyn is finished. But we didn’t need the exit poll to tell us that. It was blatantly obvious from the moment he was elected in September 2015 that this was how his tenure as Labour Party Leader would end.

His time as Leader needs to go down in the party’s history as a shameful episode. One where Labour lost its way and fell in to the self-satisfying comfort blanket of recycled left-wing tropes combined with cash giveaways for the middle-class party members.

There is much lamenting today about what this result means for the country. My personal views are far too partisan for a family newsletter. But those who enabled Jeremy Corbyn, and those who voted for him (twice!), need to be clear that they are as responsible for what comes next as anybody in Boris Johnson’s Cabinet.

The civil war in the Labour Party is going to be horrific. Think the 2015 and 2016 leadership elections were bad? You haven’t seen anything yet.

Campaigns have already begun. Indeed, some of the most prominent Corbyn supporters didn’t even feel the need to wait until the ink was dry on the ballot papers. The blame game is fully underway. Word from up high is that Labour’s worst result since the 1930s is down to Brexit. The media. Smears by Blairites. Nothing to see here guv, not the Leader, oh no.

There’s talk of Jeremy Corbyn staying on to enable a “period of reflection” within the party. In normal times, this would never wash. The response to Corbyn remaining from party members will be revealing as to where Labour goes next. There should be an outrage, but I imagine most paid-up members will welcome a few more months of “oh Jeremy Corbyn”.

To be fair, there are benefits to delaying the election. It gives candidates more time to set out their stalls and, importantly, allows moderate members to re-join and to vow never again to allow a left-wing sect to take over one of the country’s greatest forces for progressive good.

But who to stand? The generally accepted wisdom is that Corbyn’s successor will be from within the fold. I’m not so sure.

Rebecca Long-Bailey may be McDonnell’s favoured candidate, but she doesn’t inspire the same fervour among the #JC4PM crowd as the man himself. And as she has so explicitly associated herself with his leadership, she also has the most to lose by adopting a conciliatory approach to bringing the party back together. The left loves nothing more than a shout of ‘betrayal’.

Emily Thornberry is too Islington for a party which, and I can hardly believe I’m writing this, now has Blyth Valley as a target seat.

Angela Rayner, while impressive, remains untested.

Keir Starmer would represent a clear resumption of normal service, but will a party which has just lost a load of Leave seats, and which has embarrassingly never had a female Leader, vote for the male Remain option?

And then there’s Jess Phillips. She would be a welcome break from the past and would represent the party’s focus on winning back the North and the Midlands. But what is her key message beyond her personality?

There’s even a definite case for Yvette Cooper or Dan Jarvis, two of the few remaining members of the old guard, to dust down leadership campaigns… but those slim majorities, though. Or do we look further north to Bridget Phillipson or to the east with Clive Lewis?

It didn’t need to be this way.

After nine years in opposition, Labour should be within spitting distance of getting back into Government. Instead the party is going to tear itself apart while Boris Johnson – utterly remarkably – presides over a Conservative Party which is now entirely united over Europe.

There is no clear answer on where Labour goes next. What is needed to get back into Government may be far from the priorities of members who have just had their views bruised once again. But I will say this. Much as we saw last night, things can change quickly and the Labour Party should not be written off just yet.