Lord Mandelson Speaks
by Bryan Gould
Mon 28th Sep 2015
We have the benefit – courtesy of today’s Guardian – of the advice offered by one of the Labour Party’s grandees as to the response that should be made to the calamity that has apparently now befallen the Party.
That calamity is of course the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader. Lord Mandelson, we are told, has advised that the new leader, elected just three weeks ago, should not be immediately “forced out” but that the deposition should be delayed just a little while more people realise what a disastrous mistake has been made.
We are fortunate to have this advice, since it tells us so much about what has gone wrong with the Party. Here is the authentic voice of those who have been in charge of its fortunes for so long.
The decision as to whether, and – even more importantly, when - the new leader should be deposed apparently rests in the hands of those who have just been roundly rejected by the Party. Lord Mandelson seems confident that the natural order will soon be restored, not least one assumes, because the energies of the defeated Blairites will now turn to undermining the new leader.
Indeed, it could be argued that, in Lord Mandelson’s unusual view of the world, his willingness to wait a full three weeks before mapping the course that will, he believes, negate the Party’s democratic decision means that his is really the voice of moderation.
That confidence appears to rest on the sustained and focused assault delivered on the new leader by the Tory press – an assault echoed not so sotto voce by Lord Mandelson and his colleagues. We expect nothing different from the Daily Mail – and, sadly, not much better from Labour’s erstwhile leaders either.
The most damaging aspect of Lord Mandelson’s initiative, however, is not what is said, but what is not said. Where is there, in his message to Party members, any recognition of the support commanded by Jeremy Corbyn for what he did and said during his leadership campaign? Where is the understanding of why so many responded so positively to the prospect of renouncing the craven “me-tooism” that has dominated Labour for so long?
Most of all, where is the acknowledgment of the task that now lies before the Party? So quick are Corbyn’s defeated opponents to rubbish him that they simply do not recognise the opportunity that is now presented by Corbyn’s victory. That opportunity can be turned to advantage only if the Party unites to advance an analysis and a political platform that reflects those aspects of Corbyn’s campaign that resonated with so many.
That does not mean that the Party must endorse everything that Corbyn has done and said over his long career on the backbenches. Like most 32 year-long veterans, there will be aspects of his past - comments and links, attitudes and causes - that were defensible at the time, but that may not seem so appropriate for a potential Prime Minister in 2015.
That will be particularly true of those personal preferences and beliefs – his republicanism and his support for a united Ireland, for example – that were no doubt his own business as a
backbencher, but that may place him at odds with a large number of actual and potential Labour voters.
These will be matters that he has not had to consider before. He will have to reach his own way of resolving them, now that it is the Party’s interest and not merely his own that must be considered. But what matters is that neither he nor the party should lose sight of those issues where he expressed, and committed to, ideas that were fresh and uplifting, that gave new hope to millions of people. These were not matters of personal interest or preference, but statements of universal significance and appeal – the re-assertion of enduring values, the need for fairnesss and sharing, the rejection of inequality and the denunciation of growing poverty.
More importantly, they were not merely repetitions of familiar mantras, but were backed up by hard, specific and credible policy ideas – anathema no doubt to so many who bought the lie that there is no alternative to austerity and the supposedly infallible market – but backed up by growing numbers, including many informed experts and specialists who understand that the time has come for a new start.
Jeremy Corbyn himself, in other words, has a major task ahead of him. He has to work out which of his wide range of commitments, accumulated over 32 years, he is now ready to forego, for the sake of focusing on the vitally important and central ideas that will enthuse millions of potential voters and offer a better future to all. He needs all the help he can get to help him make those judgments.
That is where Lord Mandelson should be looking for challenge and inspiration. The Party’s prime responsibility surely now is to unite in engaging those millions who want change and hope, not trying to focus on throttling that prospect at birth.