With the Conservatives reeling from an election shock and rumours continuing to swirl over Theresa May’s frail premiership, the Labour party comparatively seems to be at ease, a comment that would have provoked laughter only a few months ago.
Gaining 30 seats, winning 40% of the national vote, and depriving the Tories of a majority are signs that the party is in the ascendancy. The fact Theresa May has extended an olive branch to Labour in order to pass legislation is the best proof of this.
Numerous moderates who once denounced Corbyn have now been forced to concede that he does, in fact, have a mandate to take the party forward. While polling in recent years has proven to be shaky to say the least, YouGov (who impressively predicted a hung parliament) has their latest poll showing an 8 point Labour lead.
However, like Theresa May, Corbyn too can become a victim of complacency moving the party forward. The same moderates who have rallied around him can just as easily become adversarial with him once more. In order to succeed, he must befriend his former Labour critics rather than distance himself from them; this isn’t an ideological necessity but a practical one. Chuka Umunna’s rebel Brexit amendment which directly led to the sacking of three frontbenchers would likely have not transpired were he in Corbyn’s cabinet, and Stella Creasy, a prominent critic of both Momentum and Corbyn saw her abortion amendment gain cross-party support, forcing an embarrassing u-turn from the Government. If the party leadership is able to work and consensus build with less natural allies like Creasy and Ummuna and Yvette Cooper, all of whom carry clout within the party, then their ability to function as a strong opposition is greatly enhanced. They are all impressive media performers and Umunna and Cooper both expressing their cabinet availability is something which Corbyn should consider seriously in the interests of satisfying all wings of the party. If his manifesto compromises are anything to go by, compromise within his party may reap similar rewards. When it comes to economic policy, the Labour party isn’t as disparate to the Conservatives as they’d like you to think.
But satisfying all factions may be far fetched, and while much of the Parliamentary Labour Party has been quick to stifle talk of deselection, there have been calls for it from a few vocal Corbyn allies (Corbyn himself has refused to rule it out). Labour chairman Ian Lavery recently claimed that that “Labour is too broad a church”, and MP Chris Williamson quipped that “it’s unreasonable to think we as MPs can avoid any contest”. In a similar vein, Luciana Berger has been pressured by the executive of her local party to fall in line with Corbyn “quite quickly”. Such grievances aren’t without reason when you consider it was only last year that 80% of the PLP passed a motion of no-confidence against his leadership, but re-opening such a fraught issue and fracturing any newfound sense of party unity seems unwise. Even if on principle it seems right for dissident Labour MPs to be replaced, this would be hard in practical terms. Some, but not all local parties (it’s local parties that wield the power to deselect) have a majority of members favourable to Corbyn. This means any attempts at purging the party would at best be partially successful and aggravate remaining MPs, a hypothetical that seems unlikely to benefit anyone, not least Labour.
When looking the party’s long-term prospects, it’s imperative to consider the performance of the man at the helm. People are quick to praise Corbyn for almost erasing all of the deficit he had in the run-up to the election, but it begs the question: why, as an opposition leader, was he trailing by such large margins in the first place? The timing of the election certainly wasn’t favourable for him, nor were the party’s internal scruples, but his lacklustre commitment to remain, the party’s failure to dispel its lingering association with anti-Semitism and its bewildering media spokesperson in the form of Diane Abbott are all blunders that could have been averted; it seems difficult to envisage a Labour victory unless these issues are resolved in the coming years.
Above everything, It’s essential now that Corbyn builds on his success and projects strength. After all, the party didn’t actually win the election, and another election loss would leave Labour 17 years removed from office. That means he can no longer afford to have his party split on big issues as they have been in the past. Corbyn currently has much of the country and his party behind him. If he consolidates his appeal among MPs and continues to propose populist policies that benefit both the working and middle classes, then the future bodes well for him and the Labour party.