The demise of New Labour and election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader will kill the Labour party unless a new “project” is born to champion modern progressive policies on the centre ground, a leading figure in Tony Blair’s former administration says.
In a devastating critique of the party’s recent failures, from New Labour’s second term onwards, Blair’s former speechwriter and chief strategist Peter Hyman suggests its plight is now so desperate that it may even be necessary to form a new party with others, including the Lib Dems, to fill the “gaping hole in the centre and centre-left of British politics.”
Writing in the Observer, Hyman argues that Labour is now made up of “two strands, two parties”. One, he says, is composed of Corbyn and his supporters on the left, who he says will never win an election, while the other comprises more “mainstream” elements on the centre and centre-left. The two will never be able to co-exist as a coherent force, let alone form a government, he believes.
“This is the biggest existential moment in Labour’s history. Labour may not survive,” Hyman says, adding: “Either the current Corbyn party will need some home outside the Labour party or the mainstream of the Labour party will need to make common cause with others to forge a new party.”
Now a headteacher in a London comprehensive school, Hyman praises the many achievements of New Labour while outlining errors that contributed to its decline. These, he says, meant it squandered a chance to lock the Tories out of power and ensure the 21st century was a Labour century.
While he is writing in a personal capacity, his views are in line with a growing number of current and former MPs from the centre and right of the party who, while recognising that Corbyn has a strong mandate and strong principles, believe the party under him is heading for catastrophe.
However, 57% of all voters – including 30% of Labour supporters – believe he will not lead Labour into the next election. When asked to choose between Cameron and Corbyn, 41% said that Cameron would be the best PM, compared to only 20% who opted for Corbyn. Only 54% of Labour voters thought Corbyn would be the best PM compared to the 91% of Tory voters who selected Cameron. Of all voters, 61% do not think that Corbyn’s first 100 days have been a success, as do almost a third of Labour voters.
Hyman argues that the need for a new project, based on centre-left values and a new sense of “moral purpose”, cannot wait until Corbyn’s leadership implodes or a coup is mounted to replace him. “Those who think it is enough to bide their time, find a more palatable candidate and stage a coup are deluding themselves. The issue is not just the leader but the passion, the ideas, the policies, the organisation that will produce a dynamic enough force to win.”
Hyman says the project needs to champion true progressive values, emphasising social mobility, increased opportunity for all through education reform, higher productivity, a leaner more agile state, reform of the welfare state based on the contributory principle and a recommitment to the green agenda.
He reserves his strongest criticism for Ed Miliband, whose leadership “was more destructive to the Labour party than any that had gone before”. Hyman says Miliband paved the way for Corbyn by introducing a “potty” new system for electing leaders and by making people believe that “posturing rather than serious policy” was the answer. And Miliband, through his distaste for much of what New Labour did, “made it acceptable for Labour to rubbish its own achievements and treat winning elections as unprincipled”.
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