Owen Jones has misunderstood Labour’s problems (Jeremy Corbyn says he’s staying on as leader. That’s not good enough, 2 March). What the party needs is not a new leader but a clear and coherent political philosophy.
Electing an unequivocally socialist leader, whose approach is inclusive and unaggressive, should have called into question much of what the party appeared to stand for, but we are still waiting for the galvanising statement of socialism for the 21st century. Voters may not care much about philosophy, and the British electorate is notoriously anti-intellectual, but everybody needs to know what it means to vote for a party – and how, in broad terms, that party can shape society for a new future.
It is not realistic to think that the mechanics of policy-making will be enough to compensate for an inadequate vision of the future. It is also unrealistic to blame Corbyn for this situation. It is probably fair to say that he needed to be tougher with the recalcitrant New Labour wing of the PLP, but only after the second leadership election – and, by then, the entire political situation had been compromised by the referendum.
Jones has always given the impression that he would be an ideal person to help shape Labour’s vision, but he is showing signs of impatience. This is not good, and certainly not necessary. Labour can take its time – in spite of the speed with which the political map can change. The important thing is to have something people can believe in, something that can survive success and failure. Perhaps the building and shaping process has been started but it needs to be more visible, and it needs help. Get back on board, Owen!
• Owen Jones is right. While the origins of Labour’s troubles are longstanding, there is no evidence that the leadership elections of 2015 and 2016 have turned the tide.
Labour has appeared paralysed in the face of a resurgent “nasty party”, without a coherent response to Brexit or the continued attrition of public services. Corbyn’s 10-point programme for Britain’s future, set out last August, could have formed the basis for a set of popular policies capable of regaining the trust of the electorate, but these have not been developed or articulated.
In this media-driven age, it is essential that party leaders are able to communicate their ideas clearly to reach out beyond their committed supporters to the wider public. Both personal and external factors have prevented Corbyn from transcending his role as a catalyst for a much needed change of party direction. He has pledged to “finish the job”, but realistically that must include paving the way for a new leader with the necessary qualities, ideally adopted by the whole PLP without the need for another divisive and time-wasting election.
Further, given the dire electoral arithmetic, opposition parties need to collaborate in establishing an electoral alliance to defeat the Tories, the leadership of which need not be confined to any one party. Corbyn has drawn his strength from the mandate of his members, but this did not include a mandate for electoral oblivion. He has previously called for indicative online ballots on policy. How about prioritising the interests of the party and country by initiating a membership ballot on the whole question of the leadership?
Dr Anthony Isaacs
• Owen Jones misses the key core fact: that any genuinely leftist Labour leader promising to transcend and transform the toxic neoliberal narrative would be mercilessly character-assassinated by the rightwing media. For the only Labour leader to whom the media will give anything approaching a fair hearing would be someone of Blair or Mandelson’s ilk – with their love of “the filthy rich”, and their leaving essentially undisturbed current outrageous concentrations of power and wealth in the hands of a narrow ruling elite.
In these circumstances, changing the face of the Labour leader will be utterly futile. Rather, we have to get on the streets, knocking on everyone’s door, having meaningful conversations, and getting under the radar of the establishment media. There’s no other way to meaningful change under the existing system which is so ruthlessly defended by the powerful and the wealthy. Corbyn should stay. Only mass mobilisation around his eminently sensible and popular policies will win the day at the next general election.
Dr Richard House
• Owen Jones is correct to say that helpful advice to team Corbyn has been ignored. I thought that my experience as a trade union official in dealing with the defence industry for over 25 years could be useful in providing some facts that would enable Labour defence spokespeople to avoid having to squirm, through lack of knowledge, when confronted by confident Tory ministers. The Ministry of Defence has wasted billions of taxpayers’ money on military products that didn’t perform and were designed to fight an enemy that no longer existed. The only beneficiaries have been the defence manufacturers.
The list of cock-ups includes the Eurofighter/Typhoon, so expensive that the ministry refuses to release the figures, the Astute submarine and the Type 45 destroyer, both of which are in and out of service due to defects. We await the huge costs of the long-delayed American F-35 fighter plane that is scheduled for the two over-budget aircraft carriers. The Trident debate will be renewed when the rapidly escalating bills, due to the weakness of the UK pound and US changes to specifications, have to be paid.
The facts are stark and I listed them so that they could be used in media debates and speeches. Since then, nothing. Labour defence spokespeople have come and gone, and the long-promised defence review has still not appeared. Corbyn continues with the same speeches that he has been making for the past 20 years at CND meetings and in small rooms above pubs. They are worthy but with absolutely no cutting edge that would impress the uncommitted voter. He also needs to take a hard look at his close advisers to see whether they reflect the hopes and aspirations of the people who elected him.
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