David Blunkett: Labour could be unelectable for a generation

Labour could be unelectable for a generation if Corbyn doesn’t heed the rebels’ protests, warns former Home Secretary DAVID BLUNKETT

Rt Hon Lord David Blunkett, Ex-Labour Home Secretary 

Be under no illusions. We are facing the potential disintegration of the Labour Party and the end of its existence as a serious political force.

There are major implications, not just for Labour but for British democracy. That is why these departures matter to us all.

The testimonies of the seven yesterday saddened and moved me. Many are personal friends and will remain so. I disagree with the action they have taken — but not with their concerns.

It is clear that virtually all have been under enormous pressure. In the case of Luciana Berger, it has been anti-Semitism, unacceptable in any democracy.

Unless Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and others listen to these heartfelt protests, more Labour MPs may take the same road. And if that happens, Labour will hand victory at the next election to a divided, incompetent Conservative Party.

We might see the Tories in power for a generation, which would undermine everything for which I’ve argued during half a century in politics. And it would be disastrous for democracy.

The Labour leadership must treat the departing MPs with respect and try to grasp why they felt compelled to leave. And Labour’s leaders must understand that there is a gulf between the direction in which they would like to take the country and the one the electorate is prepared to embrace.

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Ever since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader in 2015, I have said he must choose: does he alienate voters to the point where Labour becomes unelectable, or does he alienate some of the party’s latter-day recruits who want full-blooded socialism?

What is needed now is mature political thinking and true statecraft. You cannot behave as though running the country is a game.

The internal pressure group Momentum refuses to see that by espousing extreme policies and bullying other members, it denies Labour the chance of regaining power.

Members of the Independent group at their press conference at County Hall in Westminster this morning. Anne Coffey, Angela Smith, Chris Leslie, Chuka Umunna, Mike Gapes, Luciana Berger and Gavin Shuker

And without power, Labour won’t achieve anything.

But there is a problem with the new Independent Group. Without a charismatic leader, a clear set of policies, a manifesto or a plan to build support, no one will know what they stand for.

I understand why some feel they can’t take the bullying any more. I experienced something similar in the Eighties as a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee, taking on the Militant Tendency. I was spat at, jostled and abused.

But we didn’t have social media then, which is where a lot of the abuse now takes place. And more pertinently, in Neil Kinnock we had a leader who took on those determined to destroy the party from within. Today, instead, there is a constant tirade of personal attacks, along with the threat of MPs’ deselection.

Labour MP Chuka Umunna (right) answers a question as Angela Smith listens after announcing their resignations from the Labour Party at a press conference

The party leadership needs to stamp this out. We need a leadership that understands how the voters truly see us. We need to put the interests of the country before internal ideological purity.

I am appalled by the way Momentum activists are trying to rewrite history.

Jon Lansman, its founder, claimed yesterday that it had been impossible to argue against Conservative austerity until Jeremy Corbyn became Labour leader.

That’s nonsense. In fact, in 2015, six months before anyone dreamt Corbyn could become leader, my final speech in the Commons was a diatribe against austerity.

During Labour’s last period in power we were able to implement huge social improvements: a genuine legacy of employment, housing, education and health. Now these achievements are being dismissed as if they were enacted by a quasi-Tory administration.

Labour MPs (left to right) Chris Leslie (Ann Coffey, Angela Smith, (both hidden left), Gavin Shuker, Luciana Berger, Chuka Umunna and Mike Gapes, after they announced their resignations during a press conference at County Hall in Westminster and the creation of a new Independent Group in the House of Commons, in the most significant split in British politics since the breakaway of the Social Democratic Party in the 1980s.

The truth is, the Labour MPs being pushed out of the party are the very ones we need to get back into government.

If more quit over the coming year, the result will be the destruction of the Labour Party, though this does not mean a viable alternative will emerge. Tearing down a great institution is depressingly easy; creating something to take its place is not.

But there is still cause for hope. Half a million people have joined Labour in the past few years, and most are plainly not anti-Semitic. They are simply frustrated by British politics, swept up in the cause of Jeremy Corbyn and hope to make a difference for the better. They still can.

It’s up to Labour’s membership, as well as its leadership, to see what a pivotal moment this is. They need to understand why these seven MPs left the party they loved.

Above all, they need to see that this is not class warfare. This is about the future of the United Kingdom.  

Lord Blunkett was in the Cabinet from 1997 to 2005 and is Professor of Politics in Practice at the University of Sheffield.


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