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.

6 Responses to “Labour must win power to bring progressive change – and Jeremy Corbyn should say so”

  1. Richard MacKinnon

    Every organisation needs a structure. Reporting lines of responsibility. All, individuals within an organisation need to know who they reprt to and who they are responsible for. When these lines, recognised by all are ignored, the whole structure is put at risk.
    Labour’s MPs and The Party’s grandees are playing a dangerous game with the party they profess to hold in such high regard. All the clichés trotted out over the years ‘I’m Labour’, ‘Labour first’ sound ridiculous now when you see the antics of a few wealthy individuals consumed with only one thing – self interest. Their treachery will not be forgotten.

  2. Mike Hart

    I’m sorry to have to say that I think your article is yet more Corbyn stitchupery. What anyone in Momentum says is hardly a stick to beat Jeremy with. The implication of the article is that JC can’t win elections. I suggest people read the article in the Indy ‘The 9 charts that show the ‘left-wing’ policies of Jeremy Corbyn the public actually agrees with’ or the Guardian report on the Survation survey ‘Jeremy Corbyn is most popular among voters from all parties, poll suggests’.
    The truth is that the betrayals of the Blair years need to have a firm line drawn under them if the Labour party is to have any hope of winning an election. Social democratic parties are in retreat all over Europe. Jeremy is actually Labour’s best hope.
    We the members own the party. If the MPs don’t like our choice they should f*** off.

  3. mick w.

    This is silly. A thesis predicated on the refusal to answer Marr’s deliberately slanted questions in an interview that was attack from beginning to end. Of course Jeremy and Momentum want to achieve power. To answer the question would have given credence to the idea that it had to be answered, I.e. that it was in doubt. This is how these shitbags set the agenda. Corbyn played a blinder. Compare that with waffly Angela Eagle being destroyed by Andrew Neill later the same day. Some leader she’d make…..

  4. 3948Bohr

    Dear Ed

    In your piece you ask ‘how can it be democratic for Corbyn to reject any renewal of the nuclear deterrent, despite having been re-elected […] on a manifesto commitment to [Trident]?’

    I’m sure you noticed that the electorate rejected the Labour party at the 2015 election and that there is no mandate for that manifesto. It would be odd if a new leader elected after that defeat did not review Labour party policies. Any policy review process should be open-minded, thorough and democratic; I know of no evidence to show that is not the case. Corbyn has not imposed his views and the recommendations of the on-going defence review are unknown [1].

    I agree with you that ‘it is only by winning a majority of seats in parliament that we [can achieve our] core aims…’ but we also need to have a clear idea of what those aims are and what policies are necessary to achieve them. The election of Corbyn less than a year ago suggests he articulated those aims and policies better than the other candidates.

    I also agree with you that Blair and Brown achieved many positive things in government. But, crucially, they failed to achieve a core aim – to reduce the marked social injustice that had grown up in the 1980’s. Indeed, by some measures inequality worsened under their leaderships [2]. Even Tony Blair has subsequently accepted that his administration failed in this respect [3]. Winning is not enough.

    Finally, I agree that Corbyn and Labour need to persuade the electorate. I cannot see that mass resignations, unattributable negative briefings and unconstructive editorials advance that goal.

    [1] Emily Thornberry to delay Trident review after Brexit vote.
    [2] Joyce R, Sibieta L. An assessment of Labour’s record on income inequality and poverty. Oxford Review of Economic Policy 2013; 29(1): 178-202. DOI: 10.1093/oxrep/grt008
    [3] Tony Blair. Labour must be the party of ambition as well as compassion. The Guardian.

  5. Mark Wheatley

    @richardmackinnon I’m a left of centre member, and have been happy to see Labour party policy move to the left under Miliband and now Corbyn. But I’ve been very disappointed in Corbyn’s impact and would like a change in Leadership before the next election. Am I a ‘traitor’ too? There should be room in the Labour party for Socialists like us, and left of centre ‘Social Democrats’ like 50% of the PLP and a huge chunk of the electorate. If you are unwilling to accept that you are dooming us to opposition for a generation. For gods sake, wake up.

  6. s rossiter

    Sorry Mark Wheatley, social democrats are right of centre. Unless you say that Heath was leftist, Eagles is far to the right of the pre Thatcher tories. She believes that healthcare should be for profit, not health. That children should be seen as legitimate targets of nuclear revenge, and that the Queen, (or Crown if you politically correct prefer that fiction), not the people, should have the right to select PM’s and decide on war. Corporate markets should determine wages for our citizens, who should have no right to demand a decent quality of life until the greed of the elite is satisfied. Yes we need a system, and yes we need to take power, but without principle there is no point in having power, other than to make Ms Eagles and her chums very wealthy, of course. Rather May than Eagles, any day.

Leave a Reply