The Labour Party now faces a make-or-break few months. Claiming that they “won”, while not strictly true, has placed them in a position many did not expect following Theresa May’s announcement that an election would be held.
What will be most intriguing to see is the extent to which Labour comes together or falls apart in the aftermath.
Rumours are that the election victory came as such a surprise to some Labour MPs, they have had to scrap near-complete leadership campaigns for the time being – one suggestion allegedly hinting that Yvette Cooper has had to sack staff she had hired in preparation for the previously-inevitable post-election leadership challenge.
There are three positions in the PLP that have developed over the last three days. All of which could be amplified or abandoned after this evening’s PLP meeting at 6pm.
The first is the most remorseful – those MPs who regret ever criticising Corbyn and now asking for forgiveness (and a place back in the Shadow Cabinet) – think, Owen Smith.
The second position is that on the opposite end of the spectrum – Chris Leslie et al. They still believe that any decent leader would have walked this election and now be sat in No.10 – Corbyn was to blame and he should go.
Somewhere in the middle is the third position, the Tom Watsons and Yvette Coopers of the PLP – willing to rescind some criticism of Corbyn, admitting he did better than expected, but not denying there is still plenty more that could and should have been done. They are potentially keen to return to the Shadow Cabinet, but still pretty certain that Corbyn’s position is untenable in the long run. Indeed Tom Watson has already made comments about the need for a Labour leader to be strong on security and foreign affairs.
What now determines the fate of the Labour Party is which way those in the third group go: more towards Owen Smith, and Corbyn may have to face pushing out his loyal MPs from his Shadow Cabinet to accommodate moderates – would he really do that? Or more towards the Chris Leslie angle which would see, really, very little change within the PLP and a leadership challenge at the first opportunity. But would an anti-Corbyn candidate really win in this current Labour environment with such Corbynmania?
Perhaps inaction may speak louder than action for the time being as pressure builds on Corbyn to deliver .
Corbyn is expected to make them wait, delaying a reshuffle and next steps in order to focus piling pressure on the Conservative Party (and their ‘friends’ in the DUP) in the immediate future.
Labour’s optimism and cheerfulness will have to come to an end as they face a few hard truths. Yes it won Kensington, but seats were lost in the middle England, Brexit-heartlands such as Mansfield, North East Derbyshire, and Walsall North, with the centre of the UK is still looking very blue. Labour had a comeback of sorts in Scotland, though the Conservatives are now the second largest party, gaining their most seats since 1983. Once a sure-bet region for Labour, it is now a constant battle and a challenge that has yet to be totally remedied.
For Corbyn supporters, who are hailing this the greatest victory since the Blair landslides, they may want to dial it down a notch, and remember there is a long way to go if the current Labour Party wants to replicate the wins of 1997 and 2001. Vote share is all very well and good, so long as you get it in the seats that matter. And Labour doesn’t have the seats; it is still 55 behind the Tories.
What is important for now is that Labour has to keep up the fight against the Tories. Weaker and less stable than May would have ever dreamt, now is the chance for Labour to portray itself as a real government in waiting irrespective of who is on either side of the despatch box. Unity will be key; the question is, can they keep it up?
H+K Public Affairs – London