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Europe: The Final Countdown

Here's Who Should Take Over the UK Labour Party

This and only this candidate should replace Jeremy Corbyn.
June 29, 2016, 2:55pm

Labour's embattled leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks to his supporters. Photo by Oscar Webb

What's the Labour party meant to do about Jeremy Corbyn? They've tried everything—quitting the front bench en masse, holding a devastating vote of no confidence, shyly suggesting alternatives—but he still won't resign, and unless he resigns they'll have to face the fact that 50 to 60 percent of the membership still backs him, and he's almost certain to win any new leadership vote.

This coup has grabbed the headlines, but it's been a shambles from start to finish; in fact, they've done it in completely the wrong order. A rebellious party has been so blinded by its automatic disdain for Corbyn that they've forgotten to have a figurehead before they launch the revolution, that you need to choose a new leader first and replace the old one afterwards. Reports on the resignations in the shadow cabinet and the subsequent vote have mostly been quantitative, focusing on the sheer number of people involved, because nobody outside politics really knows who any of these people are. Is your average party member supposed to care if the Shadow Minister for Cutlery has quit his post? Should they listen to their political convictions, or Bertrand Pantoffles, who once wrote Labour policy on Peas, Beans, and Minor Pulses? Maybe they even agree that Corbyn is not doing a particularly good job—but do they really want him replaced by Mildred Plamp, the onetime Shadow Secretary of Grumbling?


What Labour needs is a unity candidate, someone who can replace Corbyn without alienating his supporters or inflaming the right wing. But the Parliamentary Labour Party is a deeply unimpressive lot; only in a very small and stagnant pond would profound mediocrities like Hilary Benn or Angela Eagle be the biggest fish. It's too late now, everything's been set into motion, and now they're desperately seeking out someone, anyone, who could possibly carry them to victory. And there is a perfect candidate, someone who really could win, someone who could finally put an end to Labour's long crisis.

Who is this perfect candidate? To begin with, she's a woman. She didn't vote for the Iraq War, she's not tainted by any ministerial involvement in the Blair or Brown governments, and neither was she part of the electoral failure that was Miliband's shadow cabinet, or close enough to Corbyn to have been given any poisoned portfolio—but at the same time, she's not part of the too-junior 2015 intake, and despite lurking for so long on the back benches she still has a high profile and a strong name-recognition with voters. But this isn't the important stuff.

Any challenger to Corbyn needs to be able to unite the party, and fast—and she might be the only one who can do it. She's in the left of Labour, or thereabouts; she has any number of interesting, progressive policies that could genuinely improve the country but which the right-wing press would have some trouble branding as "loony." She won't demonize migrants, or people who receive benefits, she's ready and willing to fight their corner. She has values, not limp buzzwords like Decency and Respect but real, deep convictions. At the same time she doesn't disdain a bit of Blairite spin, she's friendly with journalists and respected by her colleagues. She's charismatic, she speaks without stilt, or jargon, or meaningless aspirational blather. She has nice hair. She has good teeth. She has a Northern accent. She has good posture, a straight back and level shoulders. She looks, if you dare to say it, Prime Ministerial.


She can connect with voters. Not in the usual way that's meant by dead-eyed party functionaries when they say things like "connect with voters," the ugly euphemistic sense of the term which means nothing more than "have a big condescending whinge about immigration that's perfectly calculated to only ever be covertly racist." She really can connect. She's been through the same struggles, she's faced the same situations, she understands. When voters come to her with their problems—how difficult it is to find decent government housing, how difficult it is to find work, how difficult it is just to be alive in 21st century Britain—she doesn't see this as some far-off social trouble, but something keenly felt, because she lived it herself. When people talk to her they don't feel like they're talking to some politician, but to a friend.

And not just on a personal level. To take down Corbyn in a leadership election, she needs to make the membership excited. She can't just brusquely insist on herself as the inevitable leader: as the last leadership race showed, that simply doesn't work. She needs to turn herself into a kind of empty signifier, distill everything that voters are hopeful for and everything they're dissatisfied with until it becomes synonymous with her own name. And she needs to keep that going, to beat not just Corbyn and his devoted supporters, but very possibly Boris Johnson, whose oafishness is somehow interpreted as charisma. She's up to the task. She stands for something, or is at least widely believed to stand for something, something voters like, something they want to identify themselves with. She can win.

I'd support her. Even the most diehard Corbynites would at least consider it. Clearly Labour is broken, clearly something needs to be done to fix the crisis. This candidate might be the one person who can replace Jeremy Corbyn and still save Labour from irrelevance. But she doesn't exist.

The philosopher Immanuel Kant touched on a similar point in his critique of the ontological argument for God (which states, broadly, that God is the greatest thing that could possibly be conceived of, and that since existence is greater than non-existence, for the concept to cohere God must necessarily exist). Existence, Kant pointed out, is not a property like other properties; to state that a notional object has material existence doesn't in any way impact its essence. As Norman Malcolm put it, "a king might desire that his next chancellor should have knowledge, wit, and resolution; but it is absurd to add that the king's desire is to have a chancellor who exists." This is the problem with philosophy: it tends to assume that if something is absurd, it won't happen. Right now, the Labour party is trying to reject a leader that exists for one that doesn't, as if her non-existence is only a predicate, just one drawback to weigh against all her positives. It isn't. Corbyn might have made his mistakes, but at least he exists; the person who can not only beat him but do a better job without abandoning all principles simply doesn't.

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