Labour's quest back to the 21st century begins tomorrow

Denis MacShane
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Jeremy Corbyn Tours The UK On The Final Day Of The Election Campaign
Labour's problem is that there is no replacement for Corbyn - as yet (Source: Getty)

What will happen to Labour once the results are in early tomorrow morning?

Well Labour could win 100 seats and form the next government. Or win one more seat than the Conservatives so the Queen would invite Jeremy Corbyn to see if he can win the support of 326 newly elected MPs in the House of Commons, possibly in coalition with other parties as in 2010.

In the event of neither of the above happening, what will Corbyn and the Labour MPs do? Much depends on the number of Labour MPs returned. The nadir would be William Hague’s total of 166 Tory seats in 2001. Labour currently has 229 MPs. Were that number to fall below 200 it would be hard to see how in honour Corbyn could hang on.

He may go or he may decide to stay, but neither he nor Theresa May will lead their parties in 2022 when Corbyn will be over 70 and May 65. Labour’s problem is that there is no replacement for Corbyn – as yet.

No Labour star has emerged in the campaign. Radio 4 Today and other interviews of shadow cabinet ministers right up until the eve of polling have been excruciating in terms of lack of professional communications ability, let alone political or philosophical messaging. The election had thrown up no new Labour voices or personalities.

A fashionable thesis is that Labour should split, with a great deal of drinks party chat in London salons on the creation of a new centre-left party. This will not happen.

Britain neither elects a President nor do we have proportional representation. So an Emmanuel Macron cannot emerge and new parties like the Greens in Germany or Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece cannot rise to significance on the basis of the first-past-the-post electoral system in Britain.

Next May, thousands of Labour councillors will be standing and hoping to win control of local councils. If Labour splits, every councillor will be faced with the choice of staying in the existing Labour party or going off elsewhere – or nowhere. It is a guarantee of splitting the centre-left vote locally and again handing municipal power to Tories.

There is chatter about Labour MPs forming their own group within parliament and making clear that Corbyn does not speak for them.

Again, while many Labour MPs (including, for example, Chuka Umunna, who issued with 28 other Labour MPs a manifesto in the election saying Britain should stay in the Single Market and Customs Union) will spend the next years arguing for election-winning Labour politics, a full-on split would be the best news the Tories could have.

The question is how fast can a post-New Labour and a post-Corbyn modernised centre-left policy emerge? Too many of Labour’s MPs and many who write on Labour in the media are past retirement age. The British left is still living in the twentieth century, using categories and arguments they learnt 30 years ago but which are now past their use-by date.

In common with many other European social democratic and socialist parties, Labour has not come up with modern answers to today’s changing post-national economic and social problems that conform to progressive and liberal centre-left values.

It is an intellectual as much as a political quandry. Today’s Labour MPs, pro-Labour academics and their media allies have yet to rise that challenge.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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