John Mann MP: Ditching Corbyn as a quick fix to Labour's problems is 'deluded'
Labour MPs should spend less time pontificating on how voters should think and more time understanding what they do think, argues John Mann MP.
Those who think that there is a quick fix to Labour’s problems are deluded. Far too much discussion remains isolated within personal social circles and inside the bubble that is Westminster. This is not a problem confined to one faction of the Labour Party.
Sometimes it can be a mercy. Last week Owen Smith criticised Conservative MPs for invoking “the memory of Agincourt, mini-Union Jack’s clutched in their sweaty hands, like Prommers on parade” in The New European. I am pleased to note that few outside of London read his comments.
Opinions like these will strike a chord with readers of The New European but come across as patronising and insulting to many people. They also serve as a reminder to those who want to see Labour return to Government: do not be lulled into assuming that our electoral problems can be solved simply by replacing Jeremy Corbyn with a self-styled ‘moderate candidate.’
Other would-be leadership candidates face the same accusations that are levelled against Corbyn. Believe that Corbyn is out of touch with ordinary people and giving a confused message on immigration? Fine. But how would a Labour Party led by someone who explicitly refutes, even mocks, those who want to leave the EU fare any better?
Corbyn’s vision of Britain is itself statist, based on the belief that a benign state should step in at every opportunity. The current alternative, summed up by Smith as “it’s time to fight back, in the interests of the people” is just as problematic. Either way the message is that we know best. We will fight for what we decide is in your interest, not what you believe is in your interest. The smart people who know what we are doing. That view has the distinction of both being wrong and of being electorally toxic.
When Hillary Clinton told a town hall in Ohio that she was going to “put a lot of coalminers and coal companies out of business”, the message received was clear: your way of life, your beliefs, are in the past. We know best. In 2012, Barack Obama won Ohio by three percentage points. Clinton lost to Trump by nine points. Nobody should have been surprised, but most were.
Those demanding a second referendum have a fundamental weakness. They presume that those who voted leave were so stupid, so incapable of discerning opinion, that they were merely fooled.
It may or may not be in the national interest or in workers’ interest to leave the EU. But the facts are there to see. Not just did most of the working class vote to leave, but they did not waver at all in that belief. Telling them now that they are implicitly too stupid to see through Johnson and Gove and giving them the promise that tomorrow will bring catastrophe and misery - thereby effectively saying “it’s your own fault, idiots” - is perhaps not the best election strapline. That is where some are earnestly in danger of heading.
It has distant echoes of Labour’s opposition to council house sales. People owning property telling others why such ambition is not in their interests.
The reason that the referendum result was such an unexpected and profound shock to most of Westminster is because the mind-set is similar to the message given out in Ohio. Now that Labour MPs are being forced to listen to the wishes of their constituents, particularly their working class constituents, some are finding that they do not like what they hear.
Labour’s solution can only come from becoming, as it originally was, the party of the enabler and the empowerer, where people are given the opportunity to shape their own future. Our offer should not focus on our policies to help you, but how we can give you power. Our MPs should spend less time pontificating on how voters should think and more time understanding what they do think. They will discover that simply removing Jeremy Corbyn as leader will not in itself lead to a Labour Government. We could be in an even worse place than where we are today.
John Mann is the Labour Member of Parliament for Bassetlaw
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