Don Brind on how Labour should react to Corbyn’s likely victory
It’s a pretty boring picture – two men and a woman standing in front of a model train. What made it newsworthy for the Metro, the London free sheet, in October 2007 was that the two men were Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Mayor of London Ken Livingstone. Flanked by the Transport Secretary Ruth Kelly they are gazing at a Crossrail train as the £16 billion project was given the green light.
Such moments of amity have been rare in the rollercoaster relations between the Livingstone and Labour leaders going back to Neil Kinnock. In recent days Brown and Livingstone have been at odds over Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership credentials.
But that eight-year-old newspaper picture prompts two reflections relevant to the current contest in the Labour party.
The first is a message for Team Corbyn. Labour Londoners are rightly proud of the legacy of the Livingstone-led GLC in fighting racism and homophobia. It laid the groundwork for the diversity and tolerance which we now take for granted in the capital.
But the GLC was abolished by Margaret Thatcher. We had to wait for her municipal vandalism to be undone by a Labour government – with an electable leader. Ken Livingstone’s opportunity to resume his leadership of London was created by Tony Blair.
The second message is for Teams Burnham, Cooper and Kendall. The Crossrail project which Livingstone worked tirelessly to bring about – winning massive cash commitments from the government and private business – was emblematic of something broader.
The Livingstone mayoralty was a business-friendly administration.
“At the heart of the Mayor’s job” says a report by his top adviser John Ross, “is making sure that London’s success as a city economy continues. This requires more than just taking account of account of business issues in making decisions. It means forging an effective partnership with business.”
With that in mind Jeremy Corbyn’s rivals should all look positively at his his “Better Business” plan and seek to find common ground.
This means engaging with Corbyn not signing up to his plan in its entirety. As the Guardian’s Economic Editor Larry Elliott observes: “He didn’t expect to be Labour leader and it shows from his economic prospectus, which looks like something hastily put together … most of the eye-grabbing policies are merely “options”.
Elliott says Corbyn will not get the kind of honeymoon Tony Blair enjoyed in 1994 when the Major government’s economic credibility trashed by Black Wednesday. The Tories will try to deliver an early knockout by questioning the economic competence of the new leader. “Corbyn needs to be ready for this, because unless the details of his economic policy stack up, he won’t get a hearing for his big-picture analysis.”
The party as a whole should be thinking about how to counter the inevitable Tory assault when the results is announced on September 12th. Corbyn should not be left to fend for himself, especially as his leadership is likely to be short-lived. Paul Flynn MP whose opposition to his friend Jeremy’s candidature I highlighted in a previous post has tweeted a call to all the candidates to agree to a new vote in two years time “if new leader flops and is less popular than the party.”
The case for a constructive response Corbyn is made by the brilliant Mary Riddell who tells her Telegraph readers he is “no monster. He might even be the saviour of the Labour party”
She says the party should try to harness the mood he has created by inspiring you people. “He is likely to be out well before 2020 having, with luck, bequeathed to a more moderate successor a party reshaped to the demands of modern democracy.”
Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall have had their ups and downs but, in my view, all have grown during the protracted campaign. They have spent many long hours in the same room as Jeremy Corbyn. Enlightened self-interest suggests they should keep in talking to him after September 12th.
Don Brind writes a weekly column for PB