Labour’s apparently resurgent left needs to be put into context, argues Trevor Fisher
Labour’s internal elections were a remarkable victory for Jeremy Corbyn and his campaign, which won fair and square. But it is not the case that this marked a left surge within Labour – and certainly not in the country, which moved right on May 7th save in Scotland – and while Blairism had a reverse, it is not down and out. The results for the three establishment candidates certainly showed a rejection of their limited politics, as a combined vote of 40.5% against Corbyn’s 59.5% makes unmistakably clear. However other results are not so decisive, as Luke Akehurst has argued.
For the deputy leadership, Watson aside, not fitting into a simple left – right analysis, the left candidates did worse than the right candidates, even on the curious three section franchise used in this election. If Angela Eagle was Corbyn’s flag carrier – she is not hard left, but was backed by Livingstone who was central to the Corbyn campaign – her result of 16.2% was poor. She was knocked out before Stella Creasy and Caroline Flint who are to her right. Bradshaw, Creasy and Flint on the first round got 44.5% combined, 3% better than the establishment leadership candidates put together. Bradshaw’s vote understandably then split evenly among the three leading candidates but far less for Eagle who dropped out. On the third ballot curiously Eagle’s vote split roughly 2.4;5.0:8.5 for Flint, Creasey and Watson in that order giving Watson his narrow but decisive victory taking 50.7% of the vote.
The reformed electoral structure benefitted Corbyn as his strength among the £3 non members shows – he got 83.8% of the £3 brigade, and it will be interesting to see how many become full members. He gained 49.6% of full members, 57.6% of a worryingly low vote of 71,596 from affilated members. This is very low – the unions normally count their votes in millions. Was this the moment Labour ceased to be the party of the organised working class?
The hard left did poorly in the London Mayoral candidates, despite London being polarised with much hard left support. Sadiq Khan is neither hard nor soft left, despite being backed by Ken Livingstone. Hard leftist Diane Abbott got a similar score to Eagle on the same electoral basis (the three section structure), 16.6% suggesting that this is the real strength of the Hard Left on this flawed electoral struture. CLPD backed Abbott.
To continue with London, Tessa Jowell, clearly on the Right, got 29.7% on the first ballot, and Lammy gained a respectable 9.4%, the combined Right total exceeding Khan’s 37.5%. Name recognition is important in this type of ballot. While London is often seen as Hard Left territory and has a disproportionate number of members, the reality is a substantial soft left and right wing presence among Labour supporters. Shifts among the latter groupings were decisive for Khan.
With the votes for the Conference Arrangements Committee, now OMOV but without the three section system, as only full members count, the results show a right wing triumph which will block changes to conference and rule changes – like mandatory re-selection. Gloria Del Peiro romped home with 109,888 votes, despite backing Liz Kendall. Michael Cashman, the actor and gay activist, got 100,484 and beat ex Campaign Group MP Katy Clark who only got 80,193. Remarkably, Old Left veteran Jon Lansman, a serious activist supporter of Corbyn running the Left Futures site scored only 37,720 votes, just ahead of an independent candidate with 33,077. It is clear that among the members who were the only ones allowed to cast a ballot, the hard left was not popular and name recognition is important.
The conclusion has to be that these internal elections do not show a hard left landslide and Corbyn won for two major reasons. The first was the poor quality of the Establishment candidates, who represent a bankrupt New Labour Project. Burnham saw the voters were tired of the ‘thin gruel’ of New Labour, but could not add meat to the mix. As Paul Salveson has pointed out, the rail nationalisation proposals look back to 1947, not forward to the next election. Secondly, Corbyn himself came across as an attractive and honest person, though without the charisma of Ken Livingstone, whose office seems to have provided him with key campaign resources. The result was a party whose activists have rejected the New Labour Project at leadership level, and want at least an honest politics though not neccessarily a left politics. It was very clear that the more Blair and the old Establishment argued against Corbyn, the more votes he gained. As far as Labour activists are concerned they do not want the old Left to run the Party but principal result is that they now reject the New Labour Project.
How these contradictory currents will play out in the next year is hard to see. It is remarkable that Corbyn ran into trouble for endorsing the EU pro vote even before the week of his triumph was out. While it was argued that this would mean lining up with Cameron, held to be a reason for losing Scotland because of the Better Together campaign, the Pro EU vote will in fact lead to Sturgeon campaigning alongside Labour and the Tories. She has said that if the UK leaves Europe, and Scotland votes Yes, this will trigger an independence referendum. Logically this should mean the SNP backing UKIP in the rest of the country but campaigning for the EU in Scotland. Impossible of course, so she will have to line up backing Cameron like the rest of the pro-EU campaign.For Corbyn, this may make him class traitor of the month for September among the sectarian Hard Left.
There are no simple conclusions to what is happening in the Labour Party. All that one can say, one week after Corbyn won, is that there is no straight Left upsurge across the Labour Party, and Corbyn is obviously the accidental victor of a backlash against the New Labour Project. Sensible debate must reflect this curious situation.