To stop Boris Johnson, the left need to look beyond Corbyn

We need a progressive alliance to stop Johnson's hard-right government. But could that require new leadership?

British politics is in a bleak place. Arguably the most right-wing government in British history has been assembled to push through an act of huge economic self-harm in the name of an outdated and incoherent nationalism.

Despite his ineptitude in so many areas, Boris Johnson looks capable of leveraging his media profile in a general election just as Trump has in the US.

Meanwhile the opposition leader has squandered a huge amount of public support and the near-victory of the 2017 election. Corbyn has shown himself to be incapable of capitalising on Tory collapse despite the lack of any credible internal challenge since his re-election as leader in 2016. Anti-semitism may be a worrying (if often cynically weaponised) factor, but the real story is one of a man paralysed by the challenging political position he finds himself in.

As Corbyn struggles to convince anyone that he agrees with the party membership on Brexit, space has opened up for the Lib Dems and Greens to capture the progressive (dare I say ‘centrist’) vote. But as it stands this will split the anti-Tory vote, just as they lurch rightward to close off a split in that side of the electorate and defeat Farages’s Brexit Party. The highly likely outcome is another Tory victory and delivery of no-deal Brexit.

Despite how much it pains Labour supporters understandably still angry with the Lib Dems for their part in the Tory coalition, Jo Swinson has laid out a clear anti-Corbyn position, and said the Lib Dems wouldn’t join a coalition led by him. But what if Labour installed a new leader who was palatable to the Lib Dems, SNP, Greens, and to the Labour membership?

Tom Watson doesn’t fit the bill. His attacks on Corbyn have been too bitter and divisive to have any likelihood of securing the necessary support. He should probably return to the backbenches. John McDonnell is ultimately too close to Corbyn, despite being infinitely more competent (he was clearly the instrumental voice behind the excellent Labour manifesto of 2017) and with a tangible economic vision (sorely lacking from both the Tories and other progressive parties).

Keir Starmer is the obvious choice as a leader who could deliver an electoral pact. He has been competent on Brexit with an intellectual clarity that makes it hard to brand him an arch Remoaner, and he can successfully bridge the left-wing activist side of Labour with the necessary institutional gravitas required of such a governing coalition. A broad church with him at its head could stop the Tories from further destruction of our public services and ensure that the public has another say on Brexit.

Corbyn is likely to be grateful for a way to bow out gracefully, and the intention of this post is to explore ways that that could happen. The bunker mentality of Corbyn’s office and his die-hard wing of the party is unlikely to make this easy: many of them seem convinced that the only way to deliver a left-wing policy platform is through Corbyn and only Corbyn. It’s a position which is not only plainly untrue but also damaging to the wider cause, not to mention to Corbyn’s own well-being. But if Corbyn himself can be convinced – especially if the plan has the blessing of McDonnell – then it could be a viable way forward.

It wouldn’t be easy, but it’s now not outside of the realms of the possible that Momemtum (who are crucial to determining which way the wind blows with the wider Labour membership) could support such a move. This would take some careful bargaining to make it clear that the principles underpinning Corbyn’s rise are not being abandoned (i.e. that this is very much not a ‘Blairite coup’) and that any break with the Corbyn mantra has the blessing of the man himself.

McDonnell could keep his position as Chancellor, and Corbyn could take a fairly senior role in the new government – which he may indeed welcome given the relentless opposition, pressure and inevitable compromise that comes with being leader.

How other roles in the proposed coalition government would be divided is undeniably tricky, with the resurgent Lib Dems likely to make their support contingent on some weighty roles being handed to them, and of course there would have to be space for the SNP, Greens and Plaid Cymru.

But given the stakes — an even greater lurch to the right á la Trump, and the catastrophic consequences of a No Deal Brexit — hopefully there are enough adults in the room to make it happen. Time is very short.

Jamie Andrews is a tech entrepreneur, environmentalist and writer.

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15 Responses to “To stop Boris Johnson, the left need to look beyond Corbyn”

  1. nshgp

    1. Lack of investment

    What’s your plan? Currently 110 bn a year goes to the welfare state for pensions. None of that is invested.

    Investments pay back money, either as hard cash, or in cuts to spending. Invest in the NHS and you cut spending on the NHS. Somehow when its put that way you don’t believe in investment

    2. The debts. 13,000 bn. The root cause of austerity. 220 bn a year, 30% of taxes going on the debts. But you want more debts. You won’t win with those arguments.

    3. The invest, to grow the economy, really means this.

    We borrow lots, then we spend lots. The economy grows – yipeee! . We tax people more – boo! We cut their benefits – boo!. Then we we have to repay the debts we have to impose austerity – boo – you didn’t mention that part.

    4. Consent. You can only get your way if you say people have no right of consent.

    5. But an antisemitic socialist party didn’t work last time. It won’t work this time.

  2. Anthony Sperryn

    Jamie Andrews has not got it right and his article (a) shows his ignorance of what is going on in the Labour Party and (b) seems intent on smearing Jeremy Corbyn.
    It appears to me that the facts are these:-
    (1) Britain is very divided on Brexit, whatever the background and reasons.
    (2) Corbyn is trying to keep the Labour Party united, despite the huge amount of malicious and untruthful undermining of him, personally, that has taken place. He is not fairly reported on by the main stream media
    (3) Corbyn has huge grass-roots support in the country, not just in the Labour Party.
    (4) The big problem for the future of the world is the dominance of the neo-liberal ideology, which treats individuals as trash. The less money you have, the worse you are treated. This ideology is also pushing what could, already, be irreversible climate change.
    (5) Jamie Andrews could be a tech entrepreneur, and good luck to him. But he needs to remember that his business is built on there being a livable, sustainable society, which must be paid for (in part through taxes he pays, or his business pays).
    (6) Part of the economic difficulties of the world arise from the unwillingness of business to make proper contributions to the public realm.
    The first person to comment on what Jamie Andrews wrote, nshgp, also seems intent on smearing Labour policy, if somewhat facilely and incoherently. I would say to him that the drive of Labour policy is to involve people, to democratise and to allow participation. Not so easy, perhaps, but it is definitely not for the Sovietisation of the economy.

  3. Tom Sacold

    Another Blairite coup is building up.

    The Blairites took us into an illegal war and did nothing for equality – Remember how New Labour were “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”. Hardly ‘progressive’ !!!

  4. David T

    Reads more ‘right foot forward’ than ‘left foot forward’.

  5. Jamie Andrews

    Thanks for the comments. I’m really surprised that anyone thinks I have a right-wing agenda. The article explicitly states that I want John McDonnell’s excellent economic policies to be implemented, and that I’m trying to look for ways to get the Tories and their right-wing agenda out of government. It’s sad that there is such a blinkered view from so many in the Labour Party who wrongly assume that the only way to get left-wing policies implemented is through Corbyn.

    Also, full disclosure: I am an active member of the Green Party, and would love to see them enter a coalition with Labour (Caroline Lucas head of climate policy). This is one of the many reasons why the splitting of the progressive vote pains me so.

    And to answer the comment about me being an entrepreneur and relationship with sustainability – the company I set up is loco2.com (before selling to the French state-owned rail operator SNCF in 2017). The main objective of Loco2 was to make it easier to book trains so people can reduce their flying carbon footprint. I agree that dismantling neoliberalism and replacing it with a new economic system is crucial to tackling climate change.

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