Peter Mandelson, Jeremy Corbyn and the electoral credibility of Labour

John Harris was too kind to say that the single force holding the parliamentary Labour party together is that we no longer know what we collectively stand for (When are Labour ‘moderates’ going to do more than moan?, 2 January).

Each of us has ideas on representing Labour in parliament, but we’ve long ceased to be on a collective journey. To win we must regain the ability to respond to what people see as their fears and hopes, not what we think those fears and hopes should be.

Jeremy Corbyn will take us into the next election unless the PLP has an alternative candidate. But we won’t have a candidate until we have worked out what we stand for on the agenda that is already engulfing the country. To say Labour stands for the least advantaged is too easy by half. Voters’ loyalties move out from their loved ones, getting progressively weaker as they view their community, our nation and then the world. It’s Labour’s inability to respond to issues within this framework of loyalties that kills the party’s electoral prospects.

For over a year now, as people from poorer nations move en masse to share western Europe’s wealth by demanding entrance, voters’ fears are centring on the question of borders. On what terms, if any, do we concede entrance when the living standards, particularly of our poorest citizens, will be cut, at least in the short run? The well-meaning response of woolly internationalists hits up against the force of that framework of loyalties and fears.

We all moan about declining social mobility while we have never had more knowledge of how to revolutionise life chances which are largely determined before children enter school. Isn’t this the great home issue that could be central to representing voters’ hopes? It’s through the hard work of making policy, and making choices that respond to widespread hopes and fears among the electorate, that a leader might emerge free of being trapped by yesteryear’s political agenda. Otherwise we will continue impotently to put the political cart before the political horse.
Frank Field MP
Labour, Birkenhead

Peter Mandelson (A Corbyn-led Labour will divide and fall into the abyss, 1 January), as a good PR man, used the terms of “hard-left” or “far-left” in almost every paragraph to ram home his point that those who support Jeremy Corbyn are a small, dangerous group, either naive or from long-standing near-communist groups, and that this will result in a split party. He instances the creation of the SDP as an example of such division, suggesting that they were the pure, fleeing from internal differences. In my opinion, those who went were the culpable ones, not those who remained.

Attlee, an elderly, quiet, modest man shunning publicity, achieved enormous changes which have benefited us all for the last half century and more. Tony Blair, also with a large majority, did little to remedy the harm done by the Thatcher years. Many left the party, disgusted with the waste of opportunity, and it is these leavers who are now rejoining. The Labour party was embedded in the non-conformist traditions of my home town, with belief in the equality of people and obligations of us all to our neighbours. We hold these beliefs still. At my local party meeting, before registered supporters and new members appeared, the members voted overwhelmingly for Jeremy Corbyn, as one who could once again join in our aspirations, going for principle, not personal glory. Attlee had to deal with strongly differing cabinet members. He was more experienced in government than Jeremy, but there are yet four years to go.

I hope we can have some articles restating the principles of our party and our determination to put them into practice. Winston Churchill toured the country warning of a communist-type future with the Labour party. Everyone turned out to cheer him but they voted Labour.
June Perry

• Peter Mandelson suggests that Corbyn, elected with a majority by all parts of the Labour party, is dividing it. His answer seems to be to encourage Labour MPs to fight against Corbyn, thus bringing about the very thing that will make Labour unelectable. He suggests that pursuing what he seems to consider a far-left agenda is more important to the current Labour leadership than opposing the Tories, yet appears to discount all the criticisms made by Labour on the impact of austerity on the NHS, tax credit cuts and lack of infrastructure spending resulting in more flooding. He publicises all these accusations in an article which he must know will provide more ammunition to those who fear that a Labour victory in 2020 will lead to a challenge to their privilege. Thus Mandelson is ably helping to bring about the very result that he says he doesn’t want.

But does it matter to Mandelson if his arguments blight Labour’s chances in 2020? He is not young. He is not on a zero-hours contract or living in insecure, expensive, substandard accommodation. He is not reliant on falling universal credit to make ends meet or deprived of much-needed decimated local authority public services. He doesn’t need further education provision or a skilled job in renewables or steel. He won’t be affected if there is no real long-term strategy to build a resilient country for future generations that provides opportunities and prosperity for all, not just the elite one percent whose views he appears to be representing.
JD Budden
Exmouth, Devon

• It seems impossible for Peter Mandelson to grasp that the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party reflected a decisive rejection of Labour’s performance in recent years. Take education. It is now Tory policy for all schools in England to become contracted to and dependent on the secretary of state as academies. Academies are government schools with contracts that are assignable by the secretary of state to anyone he or she chooses. Accordingly, England’s schools are now well on the way to becoming privatised. The response to that of leading Labour politicians has been not to notice it. That is why, although Tory education policies are perceived by Labour voters with some understanding of education as being well to the right of Mrs Thatcher’s, Labour’s policies on schools are not seen as much better. Whether Jeremy Corbyn can improve on this performance remains to be seen. Meanwhile, it is not “revenge” politics, as Peter Mandelson suggests, for Jeremy Corbyn to remind members he appointed to the shadow cabinet that he was elected to perform that function and that they were not. If that leads to the return to the back benches of some members unwilling to accept the implications of this, I cannot be the only person who believes that the sooner they are required to do that the better.
Peter Newsam
Thornton Dale, North Yorkshire

• The article brought back a defining image of the New Labour project: a story about Peter Mandelson, George Osborne and assorted financiers all gathered together in a cosy huddle on an expensive yacht, in the Adriatic I think. I remember thinking at the time: these people are all members of the same club, and it’s not one I want to be a member of, let alone vote for. Good luck, Jeremy.
Jonathan Smith

• The great irony is that the broad church in which Mandelson believes is most likely to be achieved in a ruling coalition between Labour, Green and Lib Dem parties that Corbyn’s leadership can well deliver in 2020. If that’s the abyss, bring it on.
Adam Hart

If Mandelson believes Corbyn is unelectable, he should consider how the SNP wiped the board in Scotland with democratic socialist policies.
Morris Bernadt

Peter Mandelson of course is not an “intentionally divisive figure”, is he?
Colin Challen
Labour MP 2001-10

• Soul-searching should be the order of the day for Peter Mandelson. New Labour was so afraid of its own shadow that – having won the centre ground and gained power – it felt obliged to go along with the latest neoliberal notions, however daft. It was, for instance, happy with tax-privileged individual pension pots as high as £1.8m. It danced to the bankers’ tune by indulging in costly private finance initiatives for hospitals and schools. It didn’t bother during its 13 years of power to lessen the highly regressive nature of council tax by adding more bands. It helped employers keep down unskilled wages by opening the door to eastern European migrants. No wonder the cost of its working tax credit scheme ballooned. So much for a lowly set minimum wage. More shameful still, it was left to the subsequent Tory-led coalition to start reining in non-dom status.

New Labour unashamedly outsourced foreign policy to Washington yet paradoxically embraced our so-called independent nuclear deterrent, even though its delivery system has “made in the USA” stamped all over it. Those Labour MPs who voted to bomb Islamic State in Syria should tell us how to engineer regime change in Damascus while retaining Syria’s secular state structures. Do they view Saudi Arabia and Nato member Turkey as our allies, given that both facilitated the rise of Isis? Will they condemn the government for supporting Saudi Arabia’s war of aggression against Yemen’s Shia Houthis? Needless to say, the resulting turmoil has enabled the sworn enemies of the Houthis, al-Qaida and Isis, to consolidate their foothold in Yemen.

Labour can succeed and retain its moral compass, but it needs to avoid the dogmas of the right as well as of the left.
Yugo Kovach
Winterborne Houghton, Dorset

• The unelected Peter Mandelson may be right to predict electoral failure for a Corbyn-led Labour party: but it is tragic that he is so sure of his own political righteousness and Tony Blair’s messianic reign that he fails to recognise their leading role in Labour’s current malaise, especially in Scotland. His claim that Labour is a “broad church” is instantly undermined by his unwillingness to extend this breadth to the Labour left, which he labels “far-left” and implies is illegitimate. Furthermore, his risible advocacy of Labour’s historical “equality and internationalism” is likewise rubbished by the fact of deepening inequality under New Labour governments and allying with George W Bush’s crazy imperialism in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Under neoliberal New Labour, thousands of party members quit in despair. I’m 66, a green social democrat, and have never been a member of a political party. However, I was inclined to join Labour after Corbyn’s leadership victory. The latter’s agenda is moderate: consisting of effective anti-austerity Keynesianism, peaceful internationalism and a perfectly sensible anti-Trident stance. Unfortunately, the parliamentary party is dominated by post-1995 one nation “Tories” and value-free centrists such as Shaun Woodward et al who were parachuted into safe seats by New Labour’s high command, often against local wishes.

I’m not a tribalist but a progressive who would be perfectly comfortable with an electoral pact with the Greens and the social liberals within the Lib Dems, but I’m not prepared to join a party which is tearing itself to shreds. Corbyn may be an accidental leader with little humour or charisma, but he has a massive mandate, unlike Mandelson et al, who should basically shut up or get out. Corbyn will have the massed opposition of our majority feral rightwing press, economic elite and Tory elective dictatorship (Lord Hailsham’s famous phrase has never been more apt), without destructive sniping from within Labour.
Philip Wood
Kidlington, Oxfordshire

• You ascribe to George Osborne a “keenly developed sense of where the political centre ground lies” (Editorial, 1 January). Rather, the Conservatives have, as Mrs Thatcher did, relentlessly promoted “Tina” (there is no alternative) as the dominant discourse. The alternative, of course, being the mess inherited from Labour and their ongoing incompetence. Tina only works when there is a weak opposition that accepts at some level the premise and only offers a “lite” version of what, anyway, the Tories will do better. This was the politics of 2010-15 with which Labour engaged rather than challenge at its root. Contrary to Peter Mandelson’s contemptuous pessimism, the people that voted for Corbyn occupy the real centre ground, don’t accept Tina and want instead “Tracie” (The real alternative: compassion, internationalism, equality). A Corbyn-led party has to make “her” credible.
Harold Mozley

• Mr Corbyn is said to be considering replacing Mr Benn as shadow foreign secretary due to his speech earlier this month on Syria. He should not do so. Mr Corbyn might consider the Labour conference of 1957 in Brighton, when Aneurin Bevan spoke in opposition to unilateral nuclear disarmament. The Labour party is justifiably proud of its history since the 1930s of opposing militarism and at the same time opposing the appeasement of fascism. The conditions in Syria and Iraq are vexed. Mr Corbyn and Mr Benn are each acting in the best interests of progressive democracy and belong in the big tent of the Labour party.
Antony Ryan
Brooklyn, New York, USA

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Powered by article was written by Letters, for The Guardian on Sunday 3rd January 2016 20.12 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


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