John Harris

Journalist & Author

Can Labour win an election under Corbyn? Readers debate

Catch up on our discussion looking at whether Labour can win under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership

2.05pm BST

We’re going to close comments shortly – thanks for taking part in the debate today. We’ll have another one next Thursday lunchtime.

1.57pm BST

The Labour Party will not win the next general election, but that isn’t the right way of looking at the problem. Labour is in the midst of the same crisis as its sister social-democratic parties across Europe, with one twist: as evidenced by all those new members, it is also home to the kind of new, insurgent politics we’ve seen with Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, the Bernie Sanders campaign in the US etc. Time spent this week at Momentum’s A World Transformed event in Liverpool reminded me that a great deal of Labour and the left’s future lies with some of the people involved (I’ve written a column about this, out later today), but a watershed moment is probably going to be a long time coming.

As things stand, most of what we know takes the form of negatives: that the politics of New Labour are dead, that Labour is dangerously estranged from its old working class base, that the party is pretty much finished in Scotland. What happens next is unclear: my own belief is that it will have involve Labour embracing changing the voting system, creating a politics beyond work and the worker, and understanding that amassing a critical mass of support will involve other forces and parties. All this will take time.

1.57pm BST

Can Labour win without electoral reform? Certain prominent Labour MPs have been convinced of the merits of proportional representation, and Chris, a reader from Exeter, thinks Labour needs to be thinking in terms of a progressive alliance.

The future of British politics is coalitions and he can lead a combination of Labour / Lib Dem and Greens with support from SNP. He can reach out to those who are outside the current voting patterns and disenfranchised – which is a far greater number is the vote for 16 year olds can be passed.

What really needs to change is our voting system so it takes account of proportional representation. A system where a government is formed out of 40% choice is not representative and also unfair to smaller parties

1.52pm BST

Thanks everyone, we now have 10 minutes left to discuss. Please get any final points in while you can.

1.41pm BST

Looking at the Labour party in its current state – confused, conflict-ridden and in desperate need of coherent strategy – it would be easy to assume that electoral success is off the cards for the foreseeable future. Certainly, current polling suggests the party is on track to lose dozens of seats unless something changes.

It’s fairly widely accepted that Labour is in need of some new ideas for the 21st century. Encouragingly, these issues do seem to be being discussed. The Momentum conference fringe event was buzzing with energy and many speakers were tackling difficult topics such as automation and the possibility of a citizens income. Many politicians are also keen to explore similar themes, Jonathan Reynolds MP immediately springs to mind.

1.40pm BST

How will the triggering of article 50 affect Labour’s chances? If Labour are to benefit from Conservative turmoil over Europe, what line should the party take on negotiations? Jamie, 37, from Sheffield, sees opportunities:

Corbyn undoubtedly needs to reach out to the political centre. But we should not underestimate the trouble brewing for the Tories. This is Theresa May’s honeymoon period but already the cracks are beginning to show. Brexit, specifically the failure to trigger article 50, is a time bomb waiting to go off for the Conservative party. With a slim majority, a Eurosceptic rebellion could see off this government at any moment.
A Labour majority is difficult to imagine. But a coalition with Labour as the largest party? Entirely achievable.

1.31pm BST

A more optimistic view from a commenter, who believes the terms of the debate – particularly on austerity – have shifted to the extent that Labour’s only viable future is one where it tacks to the left.

Before Corbyn, Labour is going the way of PASOK in Greece – a pro-austerity embarrassment of a Party surviving on the remembered fumes of the Trade Union movement. Since Corbyn became Labour the membership has doubled and the Party has shifted the debate inexorably to the Left. Austerity, as a proclaimed intent, is finished. Not even the Tories can promote themselves as the Party of inequality and free enterprise. Of course, it’ll take time for the ideas which have reclaimed the Labour Party to percolate outwards, and it won’t be a smooth transition as the Right doing everything in their power to stop Labour, but it’s a start of something better.

1.20pm BST

Readers responding to our form have been making the point that until Labour moves public opinion on key narratives, it’s going to be very difficult for them to make electoral headway. How can the party develop a reputation for economic competence when many voters still blame them for the 2008 economic crash?

Here’s the view of Martin, a registered Labour supporter in Sheffield:

The SNP have shown that the country is ready to elect an anti-austerity government. A government that actually provides excellent public services will find a public willing to bear the cost up to point.

There is a lot that needs to go their way – but I still feel that the main challenge is to change the narrative on the economy. Until we can change the narrative that investment can be positive for the economy, or that cuts aren’t effective in dealing with debt it will be difficult to get anywhere with undecided voters.

1.04pm BST

This is an interesting comment – making points about the fact that Jeremy Corbyn spent his career on backbenches. What do you think? Is he not very good at preaching to the non-converted? Or is he a man of the people?

No one would think of appointing a CEO of a major company who had no experience at a relatively senior management level, yet this is what the Labour Party has done with Jeremy Corbyn – and Leader of the Opposition is at least as demanding a role as leading a global corporation in terms of the organisational and negotiating skills, strategic vision, stamina, drive, pragmatism and media savviness required.

Corbyn looks like what he is – someone who has spent his entire career on the backbenches, free to follow his own principles and unaccustomed with the burden of having to make compromises and prioritise. And who is now out of his depth.

1.03pm BST

We’re trying out a new poll tool. Let us know what you think in the comments – and don’t forget to vote!

12.43pm BST

A commenter below the line makes the reasonable point that it’s all far too early to tell. Given the upheavals seen in domestic and international politics over the past few years, predicting the 2020 election is very difficult – particularly with the full effects of Brexit still to come.

The next election is most likely three and a half years away during which time we will experience the unprecedented upheaval of leaving the EU. There is also issues around boundary changes, scottish independence, the relevance of UKIP, whether labour can resolve their internal issues and divisions within the tory government. So on that basis nobody can say that Labour are not going to win the next election.
In the run up to the 2010 election the tories managed to paint the 2008 crash as caused by Labour and argued they were not economically responsible, yet could not win outright power. And against Gordon Brown of all people.
During the 2015 election campaign the tories maintained the argument, cast Ed Miliband as the son of Britain hater, glorified their own work on the economy since 2010, scapegoated the Lib Dems and saw the SNP all but obliterate Labour in Scotland, yet only managed a 17 seat majority.
Who wins the next election is pure guesswork, mine is that nobody wins outright.

12.40pm BST

Possible path to victory.
1. An electoral pact. The right win because they always vote together as one big monolith. Our turn. The scare of a small handful of Tories going over to UKIP was enough to panic Cameron into a Brexit referendum. I’m in a supposed Tory safe seat but the truth is that if you counted the Lib Dem and Labour vote together, we would comfortably win. That’s repeated up and down the country. An electoral pact means not standing candidates against the most likely to win. It also means people can vote strategically yet maintain allegiance with the party of their conscience.
2. Stand a Labour candidate in Northern Ireland to recover ground lost in Scotland
3. Try and win over the 40% of non-voters.
4. As far as immigration is concerned, it really isn’t rocket science. Saying Labour will build 60k new council homes a year is great but it is also arbitrary. Labour should go a bit further and say “we will institute whatever policy is necessary and build however many homes are required to make sure that house and rent prices don’t outstrip wages, and if we can’t achieve that, we’ll look to reduce immigration”

12.33pm BST

One repeated criticism of Corbyn’s electoral strategy is that he doesn’t do enough to reach out to the centre: the kind of voters with no fixed political allegiance, the kind of voted for Blair in 1997 but were more convinced by David Cameron in 2015.

One ready, a 46 year old Labour member from Brighton, got in touch to say there’s another way of winning: by reaching out to those who don’t currently vote.

At the moment more that 35% of the eligible voters in the UK don’t vote. This is equal to or more than the number of eligible voters that voted Tories to win the last election. Most of these people are mostly not taken into account by pollsters. In my view, Corbyn is connecting with this group of eligible voters. If he can bring them into play in a large number, together with the traditional labour voters that remain loyal to the party, he has a credible path to victory.

12.27pm BST

An interesting comment from a reader below the line who suggests Corbyn does something to surprise voters.

For Corbyn to win he will need to do something big to convince enough Tories, Liberals and swing voters to vote for him – that’s just the mathematical reality. It will be painful for him and his loyal membership perhaps, but he’ll need to have at least one or two proposals that make this voting group sit up and say ‘wow, I wouldn’t have expected him to say that!’, it’s called cognitive dissonance and is used in advertising to cut through a crowded market place and change brand perceptions.

New Labour understood this; the end of Clause 4, being relaxed about the filthy rich, keeping to Tory spending plans for two years, and making the BoE independent all raised hell in the party, but were highly effective in changing damaging perceptions very quickly and forced the wider electorate to reconsider the brand. There is a downside of course; he will get slated by many on his own side and that hurts, but he has their votes already, he needs to hold his nose and put forward policies that appeal directly to the voters of his opposition.

12.07pm BST

In a year when Donald Trump’s campaign for the White House has moved from ugly fantasy to likely outcome it would take a very rash old political hack to say without reservation: “Labour cannot win a general election with Jeremy Corbyn as its leader.”

That’s what I think, of course. I do so on the basis of 40 years watching mainstream British politics from a ringside seat inside what my Twitter detractors routinely call the “Westminster bubble” – as if Momentum activists or Ukip Brexiteers don’t live in a tiny confirmation biased bubble of their own.

12.01pm BST

Comments are now open. For those without a commenting account, there’s also a form you can fill in at the start of the live blog.

11.46am BST

We’ve been hearing from Labour members on whether they think the party can turn around its electoral fortunes – keep the views coming, though we’re happy to hear from non-Labour members too. What would it take for you to vote for the party under Corbyn, and what put you off voting for them in 2015?

On opinion, we hear from a Labour member who vows to be more engaged in communicating the party message.

Our engagement isn’t just about reassuring the Labour faithful. The polls are a stark reminder of just how much work there is to do. We must turn the party into a movement that can be radical, and can win. As Corbyn said in his speech at conference, this wave of new members is in fact a “vast democratic resource” – not, as some people see it, a threat.

Related: New Labour members like me need to do more – it’s time to get involved

10.53am BST

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn gave his keynote speech to conference on Wednesday, relaunching his stewardship of the party by outlining his agenda for the country under a Labour government.

Responding to critics who accuse Corbyn of being more interested in campaigning than the more complicated and compromise-strewn business of winning general elections, Corbyn said:

Related: Jeremy Corbyn’s critics must decide: unity or terminal decline | Owen Jones

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