Labour must win power to bring progressive change – and Jeremy Corbyn should say so

We wouldn't have an NHS without Labour governments


Democracy is a term bandied about frequently by those supporting Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party.

Yes, there is no doubting the substantial support he enjoys from party members, but there must also be an understanding that Corbyn, along with all other Labour MPs, has the health of the broader democratic process to consider.

For example, how can it be democratic for Corbyn to reject any renewal of the nuclear deterrent, despite having been re-elected as a Labour MP last year on a manifesto commitment to support ‘a minimum, credible, independent nuclear capability, delivered through a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent’?

And how can democracy be well served when the official opposition’s leader seems indifferent to winning power and getting into government?

On his programme yesterday, Andrew Marr pressed Corbyn on this point, asking: ‘is the victory of the left inside the Labour Party more important than winning the next general election?’

Any leader of the opposition should at this point have argued forcefully that their priority was to be able to enact their policies and ideas in government. Corbyn’s response was faint, concluding that ‘what’s most important is to change the way politics is done in this country’. Not long after, Momentum chair Jon Lansman took to Twitter to declare:

‘Democracy gives power to people, ‘Winning’ is the small bit that matters to political elites who want to keep power themselves.’

This cannot simply be batted off by those around the Labour leader, given Corbyn himself told the Andrew Marr show that Momentum comprised of members, many of whom he admitted are ‘supportive’ of what his ‘leadership is trying to achieve’.

The likely brutal and difficult campaign for Labour’s leadership and future will be based on the question of who is best placed to get Labour back into government.

For all the difficulties that governing brings, it is only be winning a majority of seats in parliament that we Labour members can ever achieve the core aims that unite us all as a party: social justice, fairness and a progressive, outward looking and confident country.

It was because Clement Attlee saw the need for and secured power in 1945 that parliament passed the National Health Service Act of 1946 that created the NHS; passed the National Insurance Act 1946 which introduced social security; and past the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act 1949 which gave the public rights of way and access to open land.

It was because Harold Wilson saw the need for and secured power that Labour in government, supported by a majority in parliament, passed the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965 that suspended the death penalty in England, Wales and Scotland; and managed to establish the Open University.

And it was because of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown together seeing the need for and securing power that Labour in government managed to achieve so many progressive measures that could only be achieved thanks to winning power:

  • Devolution for Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and London.
  • The introduction of a minimum wage.
  • Introducing the Human Rights Act.
  • Abolishing Fox Hunting thanks to the passage of the Hunting Act.
  • Free eye tests for the over 60s.
  • The Climate Change Act 2008 which made the UK the first country to have legally binding long-term targets to cut carbon emissions.
  • Free prescriptions for people being treated for cancer or the effects of cancer.
  • Introducing Educational Maintenance Allowances.
  • Statutory union recognition.
  • Free television licences for those aged 75 or over.
  • Established the Department for International Development.
  • Delivered 2,200 Sure Start children’s centres.

The list could go on, but the point is simple – none of this would have happened had it not been for Labour seeking and securing power and a majority of seats in parliament.

If Jeremy Corbyn cannot make crystal clear that his overarching ambition is to win a general election to enact his ideas and policies then he is letting down all those voters looking for a credible alternative to the current government that is so vital to the health of our democracy.

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor to Left Foot Forward

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.