Head of Major Projects Michael Vivona and Account Manager Freddie Palmer reflect on where the Labour Party goes next as Jeremy Corbyn prepares to depart.
Yesterday marked the final Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) of Jeremy Corbyn’s time as Leader of the Opposition, as he prepares to step down next week to make way for a new Labour Leader.
Having broken quarantine to attend his final session of PMQs, Corbyn was on usual form when following Boris’ tribute to him, he indicted with some degree of annoyance that his voice ‘will not be stilled’; and he’ll keep campaigning and ‘demanding justice for the people of this country’.
These are not the words or tone of a politician planning to step down next week. Now, I’m not suggesting that Corbyn is planning a Putinesque move to stay on as Leader, but it would indicate that unlike his predecessors, he is unwilling to take a back seat when his replacement is announced on 4 April.
It also poses the broader question of whether the ideology of Corbynism is here to stay. As well as what sort of impact this will have on policy making in issues such as housing and infrastructure.
The defeat of Ed Miliband in the 2015 General Election saw the Conservatives secure an unlikely majority. Labour was faced with a choice of whether to tack back to the centre ground of politics with candidates such as Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper, or pursue a more radical alternative with Corbyn.
Despite a significant lack of support from Labour MPs, Corbyn was able to secure a big mandate for his policies in that leadership election, with just under 60% of the vote from the membership. He was even able to increase his mandate the following year when over 170 Labour MPs expressed no confidence in his leadership and triggered another leadership content – even the turbulent Brexit years under Theresa May only saw 117 Tory MPs express a similar lack of support for her personally!
Since then the Corbynites solidified their position, taking control of the apparatus of the Party and moving to ensure that the next wave of Labour MPs would follow their thinking – see Laura Pidcock amongst others.
It is for those reasons amongst others that despite electoral defeats in 2017 and 2019, the Labour Party has been unwilling to jettison this ideology and thinking. The Conservatives are generally far more ruthless at getting rid of leaders, with Iain Duncan Smith not even getting a chance to face the electorate before being ousted.
Ironically, whilst Labour endured some flak after the 2019 election for claiming to have ‘won the argument’ despite its historic loss, it cannot be denied that we currently have the most left-wing policies of any British government during the COVID-19 crisis. Inevitably these policies will be rescinded after the crisis has passed, although I would not be surprised if there is a bit of a shift leftwards in the general public given the current period of solidarity that the current crisis is fostering.
This is all important to bear in mind when we look at the policies of the next Labour Leader and their room to manoeuvre following Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure. As things stand, Keir Starmer remains the front runner, but how the party votes makes predictions difficult and rivals Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey cannot be ruled out.
Disappointingly housing and infrastructure have barely featured in the long and tedious campaign. Points of difference relevant to our industry have barely been exposed.
What we do know is all three are against HS2 and Heathrow expansion. All three would end Right to Buy and commit to building 100,000 homes for social rent funded by a £75bn infrastructure fund – as per the 2019 manifesto.
We can expect continuity of what we have heard from Jeremy Corbyn with Momentum backed Long Bailey. Whereas Starmer or Nandy would attempt to shift back to the centre and with it a greater willingness to work with the private sector.
A big fan of buses and of investment outside of the South East, Nandy has spoken of two housing crises where “the market is overheating in some areas” whilst a lack of jobs in others has led to a surplus. For her, the housing crisis is solved by balancing economic activity across the country.
Starmer’s campaign has been even more nuanced with vague ambitions rather than anything of detail in a letter to Labour’s Housing Group. His campaign has sought to pivot to the left leaning membership, and he can be expected to try and tack back to the centre if he is victorious.
The campaign has obviously gone quiet in past weeks and no one really knows how objectives for housing and infrastructure will change on the other side of this. Regardless, with the next general election scheduled for 2024, the role of Labour Leader will be one of scrutiny with any influence limited. Their immediate challenge will be working with the Government to tackle the situation we find ourselves in.
How the new Leader will help or hinder the development of homes and infrastructure we all know the country needs will only really be known once the dust settles to reveal the true economic and social impact of Coronavirus.
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