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Cambridge professor insists Labour need to debate a leadership change

The Labour History Research Unit at Anglia Ruskin University has offered itself as a space for discussion on the future of Jeremy Corbyn’s shattered party.

Professor Rohan McWilliam, director of the unit, says the Labour Party needs to host a debate both about the leadership but also about its policy, strategy and principles after producing their worst election results since 1935.

Prof. Robin McWilliam (24175707)
Prof. Robin McWilliam (24175707)

Prof McWilliam said: “The Tories, it is clear, fought a very effective and disciplined campaign.

“The message about getting Brexit done resonated. The party’s unadventurous manifesto was part of this. It promised little except an end to the ongoing Brexit stalemate.

“The result also suggests that the 2017 election was unusual. The 2019 results, with a Labour meltdown, were what many expected to happen two years earlier. Depriving Theresa May of a majority persuaded many in Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour machine that there was a large constituency for radical political change and Labour could afford to be bolder. They took the wrong lessons from what happened.

“This was the worst result for Labour since the 1935 election but, for many, will be compared with the 1983 election.

“Corbyn is now fated to be linked with Michael Foot: two left wing leaders with considerable integrity whose appeal was resisted by the electorate. The 2019 Labour approach was very different to Tony Blair’s in 1997 where the strategy was that it was better to under-promise and over-deliver.

“Corbyn’s Labour did the reverse, offering the electorate a transformative programme. It ended up losing many of its working-class heartlands including Dennis Skinner’s Bolsover. Clearly, Brexit was a part of this, the party’s approach was a fudge which was also impossible to sell politically, but it is only part of the explanation.

“Another is that many voters made clear that they could not vote for Corbyn, who they distrusted: too left-wing, too metropolitan, too other-worldly: to be blunt, too weak. The issue of anti-semitism had a major impact, leading the Jewish Labour Movement to disown the party’s leader.

“Corbyn failed to deal with this and did not seem to know how to do so. His reluctance to apologise was hugely damaging, creating a feeling of hurt among many voters that will last for a long time.

“The issue is what will happen within Labour now. There clearly needs to be a debate both about the leadership but also about policy, strategy and principles. Historically, this is not something that the party does well.

“What the left wing membership is likely to want is some form of Corbynism without Corbyn. This risks making the basic political mistake: claiming there is nothing wrong with a policy, only its presentation. They will also have to deal with the question of Brexit which is now inevitable. The Labour History Research Unit offers itself as a space for that intelligent and difficult discussion that the party needs.”

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