Shifting The Party

My old boss, the BBC political editor John Cole, had a perceptive test of political leadership. Good leaders, he said, had to be ready  to “chip away at the prejudices of their followers”. 

It looks as though Lisa Nandy gets it. “Steadying the ship isn’t enough. Labour needs to change or it will die”, she says. Richard Burgon doesn’t. 

Richard blames everybody but Jeremy Corbyn for Labour disastrous defeat last December. Deputy leadership contender Burgon is the true continuity Corbyn candidate. He launched his signature Peace Pledge policy, which gives Labour members a veto over military action by a Labour government, with Corbyn by his side. 

Corbyn, who has a streak of vanity which makes him concerned for his leadership legacy, was taking a bit of a risk with his endorsement.  Burgon faces a drubbing. He scored just 15% in a YouGov poll of Labour members a month ago. My sense is that vigorous campaigning by Rosena Alin Khan, Ian Murray and Dawn Butler could push him lower. 

That would be good news for the leadership favourite Keir Starmer -- if he is willing to take on the John Cole task of chipping away at followers prejudices. But is he?

An interesting declaration of support for Starmer has come from Laura Parker, formerly Jeremy Corbyn's political secretary and then national coordinator of Momentum.  

She praises Starmer’s “unequivocal commitment to preserving our core policies”. 

But she writes she will be on the lookout for any backsliding. “In defending the transformative economic agenda upon which he stood as a shadow cabinet member in 2019, I trust that Keir means what he has written in his ten pledges to us. It would be self-defeating for him to say one thing then act otherwise.”

Parker adds, “One of the lessons we all – leadership candidates, MPs and members – have just learnt the hardest way is that a perceived lack of authenticity is fatal. I am confident that under his leadership, we can build an enduring coalition.”

Other Corbyn loyalists are deeply distrustful of Starmer and of Lisa Nandy. The charge is led by Matt Wrack, leader of the Fire Brigades Union in a video which highlights their resignation from the Shadow Cabinet in 2016 following the referendum – what Corbynistas call the “chicken coup.”

Starmer’s ten pledges are clearly designed to reassure former Corbyn supporters that he supports the “core values” and radical policies developed in recent years.

But as he seeks to win over the electorate, rather than the party, he is likely to face some testing choices. To have the authority to make necessary changes, he needs a victory as decisive as the new YouGov poll suggests he is heading for.  

By Don Brind - Labour Movement for Europe Press Officer & Former BBC political correspondent

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