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We must unite behind the new leader and turn our fire on the Tories

3 min read

The 2017 election demonstrated what Labour can achieve when it stands together. Our next leader needs backing not brickbats

Politics in this country can be medieval – and after Labour’s failure to win the last general election it seems to be open season on Jeremy Corbyn. Every passing commentator, newspaper reviewer or even Labour MP can throw a cabbage at the Labour leader while he is trapped in the political stocks.

This continues the hostility Corbyn has faced since becoming leader. This constant campaign of vilification was a huge factor in our defeat. If voters hear from the press that Labour’s leader is unacceptable for wanting to nationalise key industries, or raise the minimum wage, or even, ludicrously, that he is Czech spy, and then a chorus of Labour MPs reinforce that message, it is bound to have a negative impact. Voters mistrust divided parties.

Labour could learn a few lessons from the Tories in this respect. Boris Johnson was clearly the darling of the Tory membership, but he was disliked and even distrusted by many of his fellow Tory MPs. Yet, when he became Tory leader only a tiny number of hold-outs opposed Boris Johnson. He dealt with some of them ruthlessly, even expelling former ministers “to encourage the others”.

Labour does not have to go that far. By our nature we are a more democratic party than the Tories. But it should be clear that the demonisation of Jeremy Corbyn was ultimately a rejection of the democratic choice of the Labour membership. It was not just Jeremy the man who was being attacked, but also the preferred choice as leader of the overwhelming majority of the Labour membership.

I hope no other Labour leader has to endure that. We are a party that will always engage in robust debate, and different views must be heard. But differences of opinion must not be allowed to become a sustained campaign to bring down the leader.

The cry that Corbyn was unpopular on the doorstep was not true in 2017. It only became so as the campaign against him was more sustained and gained traction in the run-up to the 2019 election.

As we look ahead, it is imperative we act in a unified way. This is important not only for the future of the Labour party, but for all those who depend on us to be their voice, and British society as a whole.

We are menaced by the threat of war, the reality of climate change, and Trump’s trade plans for Britain – which certainly do include the piecemeal sell-off of the NHS and a big attack on workers’ rights.

After the defeat in 2010 we failed to oppose austerity and the coalition had a free hand to make huge reductions in living standards. We cannot repeat that mistake.

We will need unity to stand up to Trump and Johnson. And whoever the Labour membership choose as our next leader, they will have my support to ensure that my constituents get the Labour government we need.

Bell Ribeiro-Addy is Labour MP for Streatham

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