Mon, 27 May 2024

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By Lord Watson of Wyre Forest
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From ‘worst leader ever’ to ‘inspiring hope’ - as Jeremy Corbyn steps down we asked Labour politicians what his legacy will be

Jeremy Corbyn steps down as Labour leader after four and a half years in charge (PA)

8 min read

After 1,667 days, two elections and one vote of no confidence, Jeremy Corbyn is handing over the reins to a new Labour leader.

A divisive outsider, he reshaped the party after the New Labour and Miliband years, and leaves it in a very different place to when he shocked the political world with victory in 2015.

We asked a host of Labour politicians what they think his legacy will be as the 70-year-old returns to the backbenches:

History will judge Jeremy Corbyn as the worst leader ever - Neil Coyle, MP for Bermondsey & Old Southwark

Corbyn failed by not ensuring the Party was run properly, preferring factionalism to functionalism. Had he bothered to listen to concerns about racism, bullying, antisemitism and intimidation, his disgrace might not be so deep.

History will judge him as the worst leader ever. This will upset his brocialist social media outriders, but their sanctimony and patronising attempts at excuses cannot override the facts.

They claim he ‘nearly won’ in 2017. The Tories won 318 seats with May at the helm. Labour got just 262. It was desperate hubris to claim that as a win.

2019 can only go down as Labour’s worst defeat in modern history. The lack of responsibility for such a catastrophic result and using the coronavirus global pandemic to claim he was right about public spending has led to narcissistic accusations. 

Corbyn’s most spectacular failure was not capitalising on the rise in membership when first elected. 

He also failed as ‘CEO’ by not ensuring the Party was run properly, preferring factionalism to functionalism. 

He also failed in self-awareness. His legacy? Whatever Johnson chooses. 

After five years, all Corbyn has achieved is handing the Tories an 80 seat majority and a further potential decade of misrule.

With Jeremy Corbyn, we had a leader who stood side-by-side with the oppressed - Zarah Sultana, MP for Coventry South

Jeremy’s leadership inspired hope of a better future in hundreds of thousands Labour members and millions of voters. That hope needs to be kept alive.

Raised in a Labour household, I joined the party when I was 17, but the Iraq War, the racist Prevent programme, and New Labour ministers who refused to meet veiled Muslim women had tested that support.

But with Jeremy, I knew we had a leader who stood side-by-side with the oppressed. 

His leadership promised a kinder, more caring country. And in spite of internal resistance and fierce external opposition, in 2017 we came within a whisker of winning. Had the campaign lasted a few more weeks, we probably would have won. 

But as we approached the 2019 election, unprecedented press attacks and Brexit paralysis took their toll.

But the next election won’t be a Brexit election and that’s what we need to prepare for.

This is no time for an abandonment of principle.

On investment in public services, the social security system and an interventionist state the current crisis has proved Jeremy’s socialist politics to be correct.

When this crisis is over, we need to be ready to build a society defined not by greed and fear, but solidarity, compassion and equality.

Jeremy Corbyn’s failure on anti-Jewish racism will rightly forever tarnish his reputation - Ruth Smeeth, former MP for Stoke-on-Trent South

While our position on Brexit cost the Labour party votes, the unresolved crisis of anti-Semitism nearly cost us our soul.

In the shadow of a global pandemic, it would be easy to forget just quite how turbulent the last five years have been.  

Personally, it’s been one hell of ride – often feeling like a ride through hell.

Others will explore Corbyn’s failure to pick a side on the totemic issue of our generation and the damage his lacklustre leadership did to Labour’s reputation with our electorate. But, his equivocation on Brexit was the final straw for too many voters, Corbyn was the face of a Labour party that they simply did not recognise or trust. 

It’s his failure on anti-Jewish racism which will rightly forever tarnish his reputation – and those around him in both Parliament and the party. 

For three years, nearly every week, we would see yet another anti-Semitism scandal. Every week I, with others, tried to make Corbyn act to fix it, but we were ignored and dismissed – occasionally shouted at.

His leadership has indelibly stained us as a party that tolerated racists. 

His failure to understand our former industrial heartlands and pit villages means millions of people have a Tory MP for the first time and Boris Johnson has an unassailable majority in Parliament – to do with as he pleases. 

That is the legacy of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. It isn’t something to celebrate.

We should thank Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership for bringing Labour back to being a member-led party - Barry Gardiner, shadow international trade secretary

As Jeremy Corbyn steps down as leader of the Labour Party, it is right that we examine where our party is politically, intellectually and morally.

If political strength could be calculated in membership, then with over half a million we are the strongest in Europe; but with a sickening electoral defeat still heavy in the pit of our stomachs we know that membership does not necessarily translate into seats in parliament and political victory.

If intellectual strength could be calculated by the number of our policies the current government is now implementing then we have driven the intellectual argument in the UK and defeated the old right; but with the pain of Brexit that has divided our party and our country, it is clear that our intellectual response to the new populism was inadequate.

This week it is right that the Labour party should thank Jeremy for his leadership which has attracted so many young people to politics. 

Our party should thank Jeremy for his humility. Few have ever borne such personal vituperation with the resolve and dignity he has shown by keeping a laser focus on the importance of policy over personality. 

And we should thank our leader for giving the party back to itself - a member led party. That is a heavy burden to place on the membership. It is the burden of responsibility. Of realising that politics is not about virtuous positions but the creation of a better, but perhaps not perfect, world.

From migrant workers to free broadband, coronavirus has shown that Corbynism is needed - Dianne Abbott, shadow home secretary

The Government was warned about what would happen when we faced a pandemic – the current crisis facing our NHS is the result of decades of putting profit before people.

The Government’s response to the current coronavirus crisis has been woeful. But it is also a thorough indictment of the ideology that it adheres to and which has dominated British politics for more than 40 years. A coherent and determined alternative to that ideology has never been more needed.

There will need to be a reckoning when this crisis finally passes. It must first include a complete change of the way public services are regarded, and funded, as well as the esteem, pay and conditions of those public sector workers.  

It turns out that routinely-disrespected ‘low-skilled workers’ are among the most important workers in our society.

We also see that properly resourced public services are vital, not just the NHS, and social care, but everything from transport, to infrastructure to education. 

It is not ‘broadband communism’ to suggest that almost everyone now needs free, fast broadband access as a basic necessity to stay connected and inter-connected.

There is no basis for business as usual politics. We are not going to return to sunlit uplands without vigorous state intervention across society and the economy. 

A renewed, reinvigorated version of Corbynism will be required, which puts people before profits is required. Sleep-walking from one crisis to the next cannot be an option.  

Jeremy Corbyn's departure should mean an end to intolerance and factionalism in the Labour Party - Lord Mandelson, former Cabinet minister

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown had no time for the kind of politics practised by Corbyn, his sort of intolerance and factionalism was something they never pursued.

The striking thing about the final days of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership is the mood amongst Labour party members: even many of those who have worshipped at the altar of his idealistic beliefs and ‘authenticity’ now hope we can now turn the corner from what has been an awful decade for Labour.

Of course Corbyn loyalists will blame his detractors for his defeat. But it is above all the leader’s duty to keep the party united, and Corbyn failed this basic test. 

Of course, in 2019, Brexit played its part, but more deeply, Labour’s defeat stemmed from Corbyn’s naivety about politics and inability to grasp what motivates both lifelong Labour and swing voters alike.

His campaign staff were run ragged by a Tory machine whose strategy was based on a correct reading of a large winning block of the electorate whose patriotism and small ‘c’ conservatism was actually combined with a desire for a more interventionist and higher spending state which should have played to Labour’s strength. 

Corbyn’s tin ear and rigid beliefs took him way off the public’s wavelength, delivering on a plate an undeserved victory to Boris Johnson and opening the door to a thoroughly damaging Brexit which the economic effects of coronavirus will make many times worse.

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