The Morning Star editorialises:
It is fitting that Jeremy Corbyn’s fiery response to critics who say he should pack it in after last week’s reversal in Copeland came at the Scottish Labour conference yesterday.
For no part of the country better illustrates than Scotland how bankrupt New Labour’s vision for the party had become, and how counterproductive returning to it would be.
It’s hardly surprising that Corbyn’s traditional enemies are making a meal of Copeland, arguing that it spells disaster to have lost this “stronghold,” while dismissing the positive result in Stoke since “retaining a rock-solid seat” is “the minimum ask of an opposition party in midterm,” to quote the Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland.
Actually, the fact that Labour had held both seats for a long time does not make them “rock solid.”
When previous MPs Jamie Reed and Tristram Hunt threw in the towel, the media was near unanimous in terming them marginals — the BBC, Guardian and Spectator all used the term for Copeland, on the reasonable grounds that Labour’s lead over its rivals in both seats had been whittled away for years and was looking distinctly threadbare based on the 2015 results which, of course, predated Corbyn’s election as leader.
Understanding Labour’s loss of millions of votes from 1997 on is key to any serious fightback for the party.
The way the British electoral system works means that a slow decline of this sort can be masked for years. A seat in Parliament is a seat in Parliament, no matter how large or small the majority.
But, as we saw in Scotland in 2015, it cannot be masked forever.
And a party which once dominated the political scene was reduced in one fell swoop from 41 MPs north of the border to a single one, all under the leadership of “more Blairite than Blair” Jim Murphy, a supporter of all things Tony from tuition fees to Iraq.
Quite possibly Corbyn’s long-standing opposition to nuclear power went down badly in Copeland, where jobs depend on the nuclear industry.
But the real tragedy is not that Corbyn is sceptical about an industry over which serious safety questions abound, but that decades of free-market dogma have so decimated British industry that other skilled jobs in the area do not exist.
If Labour is to turn that around, it needs to be pushing for a real industrial strategy — just as Corbyn and John McDonnell have fleshed out with their plans for a national investment bank to develop our regions and an active, interventionist government that does not leave economic policy to the City of London and the Bank of England.
Labour activists in Copeland heard on doorsteps that locals had not been canvassed for a decade or more.
The story will be familiar in many parts of Scotland, where a mixture of Tory-lite economics, complacency and a sense that decisions were being taken in London rather than locally contributed to the success of the nationalists.
But the SNP’s allure is empty.
In government it has proved a party of spending cuts and austerity, not of the “redistribution of power and wealth” that Corbyn promised yesterday.
Because Labour’s leader is spot-on that “class, not identity, is what still impacts most on people.”
Turning Labour into a movement of the class again, into a party made up of and representing working-class communities, is a mammoth task that will not be completed overnight.
It faces a long legacy of mistrust.
But Corbyn is right that “now is not the time to retreat, to run away or to give up.”
Britain needs radical change. Not one of Corbyn’s critics is offering that.
Few of them seem even to understand it.