Labour under Jeremy Corbyn have ambitious progressive plans (Photo: Sophie Brown, reproduced under Creative Commons license)

Yes­ter­day’s Unit­ed King­dom snap gen­er­al elec­tion was an unmit­i­gat­ed dis­as­ter for the Labour Par­ty, the polit­i­cal voice of Britain’s work­ing fam­i­lies. The par­ty saw its worst elec­toral per­for­mance since the 1930s, los­ing dozens of seats to Boris John­son’s Con­ser­v­a­tives, who had gam­bled (adept­ly, as it turns out) that an ear­li­er than expect­ed gen­er­al elec­tion would strength­en their hand.

A fierce debate is already rag­ing online about why Labour lost so badly.

Neolib­er­al forces have tried to argue that the prob­lem was Labour’s man­i­festo, which was bold and unabashed­ly social­ist. But pub­lic opin­ion research indi­cates that much of what Labour had to offer is very pop­u­lar with the British public.

Cor­byn’s camp has argued that the elec­tion turned on Brex­it, the Unit­ed King­dom’s planned exit from the Euro­pean Union.

While it is true that Brex­it was def­i­nite­ly a fac­tor in this elec­tion, with Boris John­son using it as a wedge issue to sep­a­rate Labour from key seg­ments of Labour’s coali­tion, Labour had a big­ger prob­lem than its posi­tion on Brex­it: vot­ers’ intense dis­like of par­ty leader Jere­my Cor­byn.

Had Cor­byn stepped aside for the good of the par­ty and made way for a new leader, Labour would like­ly have per­formed bet­ter in the election.

But he did­n’t, and now Labour is in cri­sis. Even after last night’s shel­lack­ing, Cor­byn has refused to step down, con­ced­ing only that he will not lead Labour in the next gen­er­al elec­tion. For many in his par­ty, that is not good enough.

Labour MP Wes Street­ing told Sky News:

If this elec­tion were just about hard work and sheer foot­work on the ground, the Labour par­ty would have won a land­slide major­i­ty. Labour activists could not have worked hard­er. This defeat wasn’t theirs. I believe in par­ty democ­ra­cy. And I believe Labour mem­bers have just as big a respon­si­bil­i­ty to lis­ten to the vot­ers as me.

And what I would say to Jere­my Cor­byn and his apol­o­gists is they had every­thing they want­ed at this elec­tion. They had the leader they want­ed, the NEC [nation­al exec­u­tive com­mit­tee] they want­ed, the polit­i­cal strat­e­gy they want­ed and, hav­ing sacked a load of peo­ple in head office, the exec­u­tive lead­er­ship that they want­ed too.

The one thing they didn’t have was the sup­port of the British peo­ple. You can side­line Labour MPs, you can sack the staff, you can des­e­lect the NEC and all the rest of it, but you can’t des­e­lect the vot­ers, and it’s time we start­ed lis­ten­ing to Labour voters.

Because right across the coun­try, in leave seats like mine, in remain seats, Labour’s vote share went down.

Labour MP Ian Mur­ray, the last Labour MP left in Scot­land, con­curred.

Every door I knocked on, and my team and I spoke to 11,000 peo­ple, men­tioned Cor­byn. Not Brex­it but Corbyn.

I’ve been say­ing this for years. The out­come is that we’ve let the coun­try down and we must change course and fast.

Lon­don May­or Sadiq Khan, a Remain­er, was equal­ly blunt.

If we are tru­ly hon­est with our­selves, we know in our hearts that Jere­my Corbyn’s lead­er­ship was deeply unpop­u­lar with the British peo­ple and that we were extreme­ly unlike­ly to form a Labour gov­ern­ment last night. Labour’s shock­ing and repeat­ed fail­ure to tack­le anti-Semi­tism, and our inabil­i­ty to put for­ward a cred­i­ble and believ­able set of pri­or­i­ties for gov­ern­ing, have made a major con­tri­bu­tion to the scale of this defeat … Labour now stands more polit­i­cal­ly and cul­tur­al­ly removed than ever before from many of the peo­ple our par­ty was formed to represent.

Khan had pre­vi­ous­ly warned that Cor­byn’s lead­er­ship would lead to dis­as­ter.

Polling offers evi­dence that it was indeed Cor­byn, not Brex­it or the man­i­festo, that prompt­ed vot­ers to turn away from the Labour Par­ty in this election.

“We asked vot­ers why they had not vot­ed for par­tic­u­lar par­ties in our on the day poll (12th Decem­ber). For Labour, the key issue was the lead­er­ship,” Opini­um Research tweet­ed, refer­ring to Jere­my Cor­byn.

The Guardian’s Pol­ly Toyn­bee declared that Cor­byn and his aides had guid­ed Labour straight into an abyss — “devoid of agili­ty, charis­ma and cred­i­bil­i­ty”:

Labour was dis­as­trous­ly, cat­a­stroph­i­cal­ly bad, an agony to behold. A coterie of Cor­bynites cared more about grip­ping pow­er with­in the par­ty than sav­ing the coun­try by win­ning the election.

The nation­al exec­u­tive com­mit­tee, a slate of nod­ding Cor­bynite place-per­sons, dis­graced the par­ty with its sec­tar­i­an decisions.

Once it was plain in every poll and focus group that Cor­bynism was elec­toral arsenic, they should have pro­pelled him out, but elec­toral vic­to­ry was secondary.

Labour sup­port­er Russ in Cheshire authored a lengthy tweet­storm swat­ting down the many excus­es peo­ple have made on Cor­byn’s behalf for Labour’s per­for­mance.

Peo­ple will say “we had to let him try”. We did let him try. For years. He lost the ref­er­en­dum in 2016. He lost the elec­tion in 2017. He lost the EU elec­tions in 2019. He’s lost again. The only thing he’s won was “most unpop­u­lar Leader of Oppo­si­tion in history”.

Peo­ple will say “the soft left did­n’t help him”. We did. We pro­posed him as leader. We elect­ed him leader. We vot­ed for him in elections.

Giv­en the elec­tion result and the evi­dence that his lead­er­ship has been dis­as­trous, Jere­my Cor­byn’s plan to stay on as Labour leader dur­ing a “peri­od of reflec­tion” seems extra­or­di­nar­i­ly unwise. He should step down imme­di­ate­ly so that he does not remain the face of Labour dur­ing the Speech from the Throne and the ini­tial meet­ings of the new Par­li­manet in West­min­ster. Labour can’t waste any time begin­ning its recov­ery from this elec­toral catastrophe.

About the author

Andrew Villeneuve is the founder and executive director of the Northwest Progressive Institute, as well as the founder of NPI's sibling, the Northwest Progressive Foundation. He has worked to advance progressive causes for over two decades as a strategist, speaker, author, and organizer. Andrew is also a cybersecurity expert, a veteran facilitator, a delegate to the Washington State Democratic Central Committee, and a member of the Climate Reality Leadership Corps.

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