After the Referendum, my Party failed me.

Opinions about the brexit

As a European citizen living and working in the UK in virtue of the EU regulations, I felt utterly distressed by the result of the referendum on the British membership of the European Union. In one night, I saw this country imploding, its political system disintegrating, its economy collapsing. In addition to the national catastrophe, I was overwhelmed by huge uncertainties about my personal future.

In the days after the referendum, I had several conversations with many people in the same the situation as mine: the Greek academic who doesn’t know whether her research grant would be confirmed; the Italian working in a bank whose headquarters may be moved to the continent; the Spanish mother terrified by the prospect that her two sons may lose their place at the local primary school; the British businessman unsure whether to confirm the investment in a new start-up.

Lazzaro Pietragnoli
Lazzaro Pietragnoli

With the Prime Minister resigning, the Leave Campaign leadership panicking, the Tory Party deeply divided, I was hoping that my party would be there, though in opposition, to ask the right questions, suggest a way forward and help the people of this country in one of the biggest challenges they may face. Instead, my party decided to commit suicide and started the most inward looking and damaging discussion about the leadership of the party.

Let me be absolutely clear: I did not vote for Jeremy Corbyn as leader last year. I thought that Corbyn didn’t have the personal abilities and the right priorities to be leader of the party and to lead Labour back in Government. I thought this nine months ago, and I still think this, corroborated by his appalling performance during the referendum campaign and by the terrible reaction he had after the result: his asking to trigger Article 50 (i.e. to start the formal process of leaving the EU) as soon as possible, only shows his lack of understanding of the situation and his inability to stand up for the people he wishes to represent.20657356219_2d55f13ff4_z

These are just the cherries on top of the cake. In the nine months when he has led the party, despite his proclaim to support a new kinder politics and to contrast austerity, Corbyn did show lack of ability in setting a clear strategy, an alternative vision and a clear message. It is not an easy task, and I cannot say that anyone of the other candidates last year would have been able to do it, but Corbyn in my opinion simply demonstrated he is not able to play in a team, let alone lead it: in a party which is deeply divided, a leader who does not have the support of the Parliamentary party should be able to listen and mediate, rather than to create more conflicts and divisions, using the support he has amongst the membership as a way to undermine the authority of elected members.

At the same time I think it was absolutely wrong for the Parliamentary Labour Party to start a campaign to change the leader immediately after the referendum, to organise the resignation of members of the Shadow Cabinet and a vote of no confidence in the Leader: the operation was ill-planned and badly delivered, with the result that Corbyn is still in place and the rebels don’t know how to break a most damaging stalemate. They acted like Brexiters: they created a political earthquake without a clue of how to deal with it — a week has gone and they haven’t managed to collect 50 signatures under a name and move a proper challenge to Corbyn!


What, in my opinion, they do not understand, is that the election of Jeremy Corbyn has not been an accident, and that removing Corbyn (if they ever manage to organise and deliver it) will not revert the situation back to “business as usual”.
Corbyn represents a shift in the political paradigm, the same shift that we see in Greece, where Syriza replaced the Pasok (socialist party) in government, and in Spain, where Podemos challenged the PSOE as the main party on the left. (There are similar experience in other European countries: Die Linke in Germany and Possibile/Sinistra Italiana in Italy but their electoral results do not make them a real challenge for the traditional centre-left main parties).
The main difference between Corbyn and the other “radical left” parties in Europe is that in the UK they managed to take control of the traditional party, rather than create an alternative organisation.

If we want create a credible, inclusive, progressive alternative to the Tory and bring Labour back in government, just removing Jeremy Corbyn is not the answer: we need to re-build a positive narrative able to attract new members, to engage with the electorate, to promote a new vision for a post-Brexit Britain which gives new opportunities and hopes to the people who feel the Labour party does not represent them any longer. This is the reason I didn’t sign any petitions (in defence or against Jeremy Corbyn) and I will not engage in a leadership election based on a “anyone-but-Jeremy” manifesto. This will only exacerbate the situation.

Jeremy Corbin: Photo: lewishamdreamer from Flickr
Jeremy Corbin: Photo: lewishamdreamer from Flickr

I think it would be very difficult for the Labour party to win the next general election (whether they are next October or in 2020, or anytime in between); I think it would be very difficult under Jeremy and it would be equally difficult under any other leader. Our internal division is so deep that we cannot just put a plaster on the scar and pretend it is not there any longer. It would be however impossible to win the next general election if we don’t stop discussing amongst ourselves (and very often arguing and simply insulting each other) and start an open conversation with the public.

Only at the end of that conversation, and as a result of that conversation, we should decide who is the best person to lead the Labour party. In the meanwhile the party should adopt a more open and inclusive attitude, remembering that a leader cannot lead the party and persuade the wider electorate if he/she is not able to command the confidence of the MPs who represent that wider electorate.

We need a ceasefire; we need to stop organisnig rallies and signing petitions. We need to re-establish a collective, unified leadership (under Corbyn, Tom Watson, Angela Eagle, Hilary Benn, Alan Johnson, Ivette Cooper…); we need to set up an emergency shadow cabinet; we need to leave the rooms of Westminster and go out and engage with our electorate.

After the shock of the referendum, the voters are willing to talk to the Labour party and help the Labour party to re-build a fairer, progressive, credible alternative to the Tory.
The Labour party is failing them.

*About the author:
Lazzaro Pietragnoli has a degree in ancient history in Italy and a master in European politics from Birkbeck College. He moved to London 12 years ago and has been living in Camden ever since. He currently lives in Primrose Hill and he was first elected as a Councillor in a by-election in May 2012: he served on the Development and Control Committee and the Resources and Corporate Performances Committee.
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