For the Conservative Party, the by-election victory in Sleaford and North Hykeham on 8 December will have come as something of a relief after the disastrous result in Richmond a week earlier. But for Labour, it presents a worrying sign. And with Momentum imploding, the future for Jeremy Corbyn is looking increasingly shaky.
The Conservative candidate, Caroline Johnson, won the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election with a 53.5% share of the vote on a 37.2% turn out; only 2.7% lower than at the 2015 general election.
If in Richmond, the Liberal Democrats managed to win the seat on an openly “anti-Brexit” platform, in Sleaford, they weren’t able to repeat the same performance. The Lib Dems only received 10.98% of the vote, behind UKIP at 13.48% but in front the Labour Party, who got 10.23%.
For the Labour Party, the by-elections in Richmond and Sleaford and North Hykeham were always going to be difficult campaign territory. Nevertheless, Labour should have polled more votes.
In Sleaford and North Hykeham days before the election, details were leaked of the downgrading the Accident and Emergency Department at the Grantham Hospital near Sleaford, to an urgent care unit.
Unfortunately, Labour failed to capitalise on the growing crisis in NHS England. Labour’s share of votes has declined by a staggering 7.02% since the general election, at a time when the Government is in chaos over the Brexit vote.
And the day after the by-election, YouGov’s latest voting intention figures put Labour on 25%, the lowest that Labour have recorded since 2009.
As others have commented, it appears to be the lowest they have had in opposition since way back in 1983.
On the other hand, the Conservatives seem to be enjoying an ‘everlasting honeymoon’ with their new leader.
Of course, the slip from second to fourth in the Brexit territory of Lincolnshire was not surprising. But this gloomy electoral performance followed by disastrous polling, has reinforced the scepticism about the capacity of Labour under leader Jeremy Corbyn to mount an effective opposition at Westminster and beyond.
Is Corbyn to be blamed?
At the time where hard-working families face the prospect of a return to the stagflation of the mid-1970s, where rising prices coincide with stagnant or falling real incomes, Labour should do better.
Let’s be clear, winning elections is the reason why the Labour Party was been set up by the trade unions in the first place. It is the voice of the organised Labour Movement, and ignoring bad electoral results and bad polling rates isn’t what the party should be doing. Yes, winning elections matters, as it is how a Labour government will be able to implement the changes in society that the left want.
But it would be too simplistic to think that Labour’s current misfortune is only down to Corbyn’s leadership, even if he has to share part of the blame.
The Labour Party has indulged itself in a civil war that only helped to make the party less electable. From the start of his leadership, the ‘right-wing’ have played against their own party, and the last leadership election was a clear example of political stupidity. This stupidity led a bunch of MPs to launch a coup against Corbyn, when they didn’t even have a natural candidate or even the support of the membership.
But they also started their coup right after the EU referendum, at the time where most Labour voters were looking for guidance and leadership from their MPs.
What followed was weeks of bitter campaigning, which has damaged the credibility of the Labour Party as a credible alternative to the Tories.
But Labour is also paying the full price for its lack of consistency regarding Brexit.
Labour’s own ‘Brexishambles’
For many, Labour’s Brexit policy is a farce as it varies in function depending on who is talking.
When John McDonnell called for Labour “to all be more positive about Brexit” and that Labour wanted “a more ambitious Brexit Britain” Labour was then committed to respect the decision of the British people to leave the EU.
This confusion gives the impression that Labour is on the both side of the argument, with both those who are Brexit deniers and those who want to go ahead with a Brexit deal that works for Britain.
But it is the responsibility of the leader of the Labour Party to force upon them his vision for Britain.
Corbyn, however, also needs to get his own supporters to stop with their own ‘civil war’.
Momentum at war?
Momentum – the grassroots movement set up in the aftermath of Corbyn’s leadership victory in 2015 – is experiencing a political crisis between various leftist organisations, against the current leadership organised around Jon Lansman.
Without talking about a “take-over” by Trotskyists organisation of the movement as Owen Jones said, it is true that Momentum is fighting for its survival.
The most prominent, sectarian left-wing organisations have seen in Momentum a way of winning new members to their own organisations. They aren’t interested in building Momentum or campaigning for Labour, they just want to get more influence within Momentum. Yet, they represent just a tiny proportion of the 21,000 strong Momentum’s membership.
But the sectarians are highly disciplined, highly organised, and highly experienced and will do everything they can to get the control of Momentum.
For them, Momentum is a hybrid party that will eventually split from Labour. If allowed to succeed, the sectarians will push Momentum to be transformed in a so-called new ‘working class party’ that will soon become irrelevant.
Momentum represents the desire to defend Corbyn and fight for democratic socialism, and its immediate task should be to organise the left and transform the Labour Party from top-to-bottom.
What is needed, above all, is a political party that seeks to abolish austerity once and for all.
Momentum’s main priority should be to help the Labour Party to become that party. An anti-austerity, working class party. A party that believes in socialism, a party that can win power and transform this country.
As suggested by Jones, Corbyn should intervene and save Momentum.
By any means, I believe that Labour’s poor electoral performance is not only down to one man, as the “right-wing” would like us to believe.
It is a collective failure to draw a clear vision for Britain out of the EU that makes Labour unelectable at the moment. And this must change.
But if Corbyn really wants Labour to reconnect with its socialist roots, he will need to get Momentum to stop with its pointless infighting and then show the leadership that both Labour and the country really need.