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government in British history has been assembled to push through an act of huge economic self-harm in the name of an outdated and incoherent nationalism.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.

  6. Richard Hull

    Jamie, I am so sorry you have been misunderstood and I appreciate your support for McDonnell’s policies. However, you really should have looked more carefully at the history of the UK’s parliamentary politics, where First Past The Post means the two major parties never overtly consider alliances or coalitions an election, for very good tactical reasons.

  7. John macDonald

    Just leave J C. He is doing a spectacular job. You people are clearly part of Bomber Blair mob.

  8. Dr.R.L.Symonds

    I completely disagree with you about Jeremy Corbyn, who has a lot more mileage left in him and is only just starting: but agree about a Labour- Green alliance, and why not combine – The Labour & Green Party – as there is very little we disagree on

  9. Blissex

    «convinced that the only way to deliver a left-wing policy platform is through Corbyn and only Corbyn.»
    That is the usual argument to fool the gullible, and I guess that J Andrews either has fallen for it or is peddling it, because with current leadership rules Corbyn is indeed the only way to have a centre/centre-left socialdemocratic “northern european” policy platform.
    The reason is very simple: to be elected leader by trhe membership, which is 65% for centre/centre-left policies, a leader candidate must be nominated by at least 15% of MPs, and currently 90% of MPs are centre-right or Mandelsonian Tendency entrysts.
    If Corbyn loses the leadership, the chances of a centre/centre-left leader being nominated by New Labour MPs are zero.
    Either the nominating threshold falls to 5% or at least 15-20% of new MPs with a political position aligned with that of Labour voters and members (rather than that of Thatcher) need to be elected. The fight has been going on for 4 years now to make those vital changes, and it is very difficult.

  10. Blissex

    «Remember how New Labour were “intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”. Hardly ‘progressive’»

    Actually the “quasoi-Conservative” P Mandelson at least added “as long as they pay their taxes”, and from a socialdemocratic point of view if people get rich fairly and pay their fair taxes that’s good on them, as far as being very rich goes; socialdemocracy does not begrudge the very rich their luxurious lifestyles, if that’s all it comes to.
    The problem is rather that very rich people don’t use their wealth just to to have luxurious lifestyles, but also to buy influence, and that is an affront to democracy itself, rather than to socialdemocracy. Even if they pay their taxes, very rich people wound democracy, and sometimes replace it with rent-a-politician like in the USA.

    When the Mandelsonian Tendency entrysts controlled New Labour campaign funding for the party came in large part from donations from very rich people who got a huge influence on the policies being shaped, and a lot of members left in disgust.
    A large part of the enormous success of J Corbyn has been to attract so many new members that now Labour is funded much better than New Labour, and pretty much entirely from subscriptions by ordinary members. And that’s another thing that the Mandelsonian Entrysts are angry about.

  11. Gill McCall

    I think Anthony Sperryn makes several excellent points. Corbyn is principled, focused and confident; he leads by example, he is inclusive, he is a democrat. As the next Prime Minister, he and his front Bench team will lead the most transformative government we have seen since the post-WW2 Atlee government: nay-sayers need to bite their tongues, they need to stop looking backwards and start looking forwards to a major inversion of priorities: where the economy works for the people; where services industries are not run for profit; where the wealthiest bear the biggest tax burdens; where education is the best it can be, for the needs of every child; where health and social care is free at the point of need. Please stop carping and start anticipating the biggest change in our society that we have seen in 75 years, with Corbyn as leader.

  12. ytitnedit

    This article is delusional. I am dissatisfied with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership on the EU issue, but there is no possible way (unless he dies) that replacing him could improve Labour’s position. If a ‘centrist’ or anyone who appears to be endorsed or supported by the ‘centrist’ (i.e. right) wing of the party replaces him, the party’s grassroots support will collapse and membership and activist numbers will plummet. That will be true even if that new leader has a broader appeal to voters (which is highly dubious); the support of the mass membership and activism that Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has produced is not sufficient for Labour to win an election, but it is necessary.

    Even more delusional is the idea that the Brexiteers would find it hard to brand Keir Starmar as an “arch remoaner”. If such things depended on logic and detailed legal and political analysis it would be true, but the Brexiteers don’t care about logic or detailed analysis – their entire strategy is built around rejecting them. Branding Starmer in such a way would be the easiest thing in the world for them.

  13. Janey

    There will sooner or later have to be a new leader. Corbyn is 70 after all. But that leader needs to come from the Left not from the Right or a Centrist who sees the Lib Dems – a Tory lite party – as a natural ally in any electoral contest.

  14. Gary

    I agree with everything you’ve written except two things, your ‘facts’ and your opinions.

    The LibDems don’t want an alliance because of Labour policy, not the actual leader. They want to be clearly Remain, Labour is not. The SNP would, and has previously offered, a deal to help keep the Tories out. This has been rebuffed over and over again for two reasons, firstly this has always been the view of Labour in Scotland who despise the SNP and have refused to work with them in Holyrood EVEN WHEN they should have been in agreement with them. In a parliament designed specifically to ensure coalitions Labour have refused to enter ANY such agreement with SNP or vote with them on policies that look more ‘Labour’ than Labour does. It was named ‘The Bain Principle’ after the Glasgow MSP who instigated their non-cooperation some years ago. Why this has been done by Scottish Labour is anyone’s guess, it cost them power in Holyrood and then their Westminster MPs. The other reason was the very (and unexpectedly so) successful campaign run by David Cameron’s Tory Party in which they used the prospect of Labour in a deal with the SNP as a scaremongering technique, billboards showed David Milliband in Alex Salmond’s pocket, remember? They also managed to get The Daily Mail to reprint the ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech with the Scots being the target this time. All this combined lead to the east win (according to the pollsters) for Millliband being turned into a decent majority for Cameron. He had promised an EU Referendum based on the fact he ‘knew’ he wouldn’t be elected, look how THAT turned out!

    That leaves The Greens with their single MP, so that’s not gonna fly, is it? Not that the LibDems would’ve been that good anyway, the real prize would’ve been to get the SNP onside, but they’ve already said no repeatedly to offers from them.

    And that’s not EVEN getting to the idea of changing the leadership. Again, not a good idea. He HAS been under fire for ‘anti-semitism’ over the past two years at least. This is despite him not being anti-Semitic and it being, thankfully, rare in the party. I agree on one point, that this has been “weaponised” And although we see regular outbursts on Guido of fabricated smear stories I fear that the worst of it comes from within. The same people who tried every single Labour procedure to oust him before resorting to dirty tactics and constantly smearing both him and THEIR OWN PARTY in a bid to rid themselves of him. No doubt if they were to cease this the party would stand a much better chance in the next GE. We should stop the smears and keep him. Watson SHOULD go but then so should Starmer. He has constantly tried to overlay his own opinion onto Labour policy. He is one of the reasons why Brexit supporting Labour voters will move away from the party.

    And your point about ‘centrists’ Yes, LibDems ARE in the centre of politics, you are correct. Labour are not and should not be in the centre. Labour is a party of the left. That argument should’ve been settled in the 1980s when the right wing of Labour went off to become the SDP, failed, then joined the Liberals to become the LibDems. If Corbyn and McDonnell are too left wing for some Labour members then they should join the LibDems, they shouldn’t try to make Labour a right wing party.

    Many problems arise when parties forget that their chosen leader has to be elected by voters who are NOT members. The leader might go down well at conference but be hated by the public, Keir Starmer is a perfect example. Those attempting to destroy Corbyn (from within the PLP) are actively sabotaging their own party. Isn’t there something in the rulebook about that being an ‘expulsion’ matter?

  15. Peter Young

    Sadly (because I am a remainer) it seems that Boris will win this election by a landslide. It’s hard to see what in the next two weeks might derail the Tory train. (Some shocking news about Islamophobia today but the Tory electoral base is unlikely to be worried by it.) So, after a massive defeat, Corbyn will have to go. Who would you choose?to replace him.

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