LABOUR needs to find a centrist leader with the ability to appeal to party members and the electorate or face years in the political wildernes, argues Keith Geddes
At a time when George Osborne is reducing state expenditure to just 36 per cent of GDP Labour should be well ahead in the opinion polls. It’s not. The latest ComRes poll has the Conservatives on 42 per cent with Labour trailing on 27 per cent and UKIP on 15 per cent. Fears are now being expressed that the party could lose the Oldham West by election, won with a 14,700 majority back in May.
It is clear Jeremy Corbyn has failed to connect with the public. While many welcome his anti-austerity message few see him as a potential PM; and his close allies, John McDonnell, Ken Livingston and Diane Abbot are equally unappealing to the electorate.
But Labour’s problems do not start and end with Corbyn. Indeed, Corbyn’s election was guaranteed when interim leader Harriet Harman decided that the party would abstain on Osborne’s planned welfare cuts. Many Conservative back benchers made trenchant criticisms of the proposed tax credit cuts which put Labour to shame.
And Tristram Hunt speaking to Cambridge University Labour Club argued that “the top one per cent” had the “responsibility to take leadership going forward”, while Chuka Umunna revealed on Question Time that he was not prepared to back the junior doctor’s strike.
And those who opposed Corbyn failed to develop a narrative that would provide Labour with a vision to attract former voters back into the fold. As Harold Wilson once said “The Labour Party is a moral crusade or it is nothing”. Cooper, Burnham nor Kendall failed to echo that rallying cry, concentrating instead on the micro-management of social and economic policy.
The Scottish Labour Party is facing meltdown. The most recent opinion poll for next May’s Holyrood elections projected another majority SNP government, with Labour losing all of its existing 16 First Past the Post seats, relying for survival on MSPs from the Regional Lists.
It is difficult to see a solution to a crisis which deepens with every passing week. Is there a centrist candidate that would appeal to a majority of the party’s now expanded membership to ensure that Labour became saleable again? Would Hilary Benn command sufficient support?
Labour wasted five years under Ed Miliband’s leadership; it cannot afford to waste more time under Corbyn’s. If the present situation continues Labour may be out of power for 15 years.
• Keith Geddes is policy director at Pagoda Porter Novelli and former president of Cosla