Back in 2015 before the General Election, Labour supporters were quietly optimistic about their chances of seeing another red coronation at Downing Street. This wasn’t due to a compelling display in opposition from Ed Miliband, though, but more due to the actions of the Coalition Government. 14 months after the disappointment of May, the Labour party’s existence seems to be in the balance and many fingers have been pointed at various different people, but should they be pointed at Miliband himself?
Jeremy Corbyn’s unexpected election as leader of the Labour party was built largely on discontent at those seen as ‘establishment politicians’ seeking to support the status quo as long as they stand to benefit. This certainly is a justified reason to be irritated at politics for, but this idealised view of politics is a selfish indulgence and failed to use pragmatism, thus ignoring those in desperate need of an end to Tory austerity. Many felt Corbyn could win back support in Scotland and prevent UKIP becoming the representative of the working class in the North of England. Labour lost 13 Scottish Parliament seats whilst the Tories gained 16 and although Labour didn’t lose a single council in the Local Council elections, it lost 18 seats when UKIP won 25.
The deduction one can make from is that Corbyn’s support isn’t coming from traditional Labour heartland so the claims that Corbyn will return Labour to its ‘roots’ (despite Labour always being a broad Left-to-Centre-Left party) are unfounded. But how is this all Miliband’s fault, you rightly ask? Think back to 2014 when Labour announced widespread reforms to its membership in an attempt to reduce the perceived influence of Trade Unions over the party - a constant weapon used by other parties - which is regarded as the centrepiece of Miliband’s legacy as leader. Yes, a one member one vote policy sounds like the a great idea to bring more democracy to the party. But the fatal blow seemed so insignificant at the time.
The desire to build a mass movement to counteract the Conservatives is a no bad thing. But when becoming part of this movement costs just £3 and allows a member to automatically vote in any leadership elections or decisions on policy positions, the party put itself in danger. I will be honest and admit that following May’s events I joined the Labour party (it only cost me £1 as a student) so I could have my say in the leadership election. I didn’t think I deserved to just join up and have a say, but the option was there for me so I took it, like many others. Did I warrant having an equal say in such a crucial vote as someone who had been a member for decades and active in their local party? No, not at all; so why was I allowed this vote? It spits in the face of party loyalty and those who have been committed to Labour’s cause through the misery of the 80s, the disappointment of the early 90s and the roller coaster of the 00s, to then have their voice relegated to be on par with an 18 year old who voted Labour and tweeted a few anti-Tory things during the General Election. As a result, tens of thousands of people joined to vote in Corbyn and the majority have stayed, leaving Labour split with one half being the more dominant, and that half happens to effectively be a personality cult around Corbyn, seeing no wrong in him in spite of his various shortcomings.
Surely common sense would have dictated that in order to vote in a leadership election, someone must have been a member for at least two years? It is a simple way of rewarding those who didn’t just join at the exciting times such as a leadership election but joined because they wanted to help Labour get elected. Instead, Labour’s membership has bloated to over half a million when it was just 190,000 in 2014. This surge of new members has arguably changed the face (literal and metaphorical) of Labour in the space of just over a year and have left the members who have worked diligently over the years powerless as they watch their party’s foundations be ripped away and not replaced with anything new. Such an act of disloyalty from the party leadership was disgraceful, and for that reason, Labour supporters should not be pining for Ed Miliband to return, but directing some of the blame at him for such a shortsighted decision.