Euan McColm: Look no further than Dan Jarvis for the right kind of anti-Boris

The result of Thursday's EU referendum has already cost one party leader his job. Within days, it should bring down a second.
Dan Jarvis could take a lesson from Nicola Sturgeon if he was put in charge of Labour. Photograph: Laura Lean/PADan Jarvis could take a lesson from Nicola Sturgeon if he was put in charge of Labour. Photograph: Laura Lean/PA
Dan Jarvis could take a lesson from Nicola Sturgeon if he was put in charge of Labour. Photograph: Laura Lean/PA

On Friday morning, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that, having failed to persuade the country to remain a member of the European club, he was stepping down. This was right and decent. Cameron called a referendum that he shouldn’t have and then lost. Of course he had to resign.

But the Conservative leader is not the only senior politician to have failed the Remain campaign. In recent weeks, Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn has displayed the most profound inability to perform even the basic aspects of leadership.

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Having grudgingly accepted the wishes of his parliamentary colleagues that Labour should make the case for EU membership, Corbyn proceeded to do nothing to help. He was absent from major debates and when he did speak, we found that he has a tin ear when it comes to the concerns of the millions of traditional Labour voters who helped the Leave campaign to its decisive victory. It may have been morally right to focus on the free movement of workers, but in a campaign where immigration played such a major part, it was politically idiotic. Corbyn is to political strategy what Nigel Farage is to rhythmic gymnastics.

Surly, arrogant and completely lacking in self-awareness, Corbyn yesterday insisted that he would resist any challenge to his leadership. He was, he said, here to stay.

Already, two of his parliamentary colleagues have lodged a motion of no confidence in Corbyn’s leadership. Others have rallied behind this call and yet more should do so now.

In the idealised world of the Labour leader – or fantasy, depending on your tolerance for some of the nonsense Corbyn’s “grassroots” supporters 
would have you believe – being morally correct is always more important than being pragmatic. There can be no compromise with the real world or those who inhabit it.

Doubtless this is hugely comforting to the ragbag of ageing Trotskyists, snarling Stalinists and daisies-in-their-hair student activists who rushed to buy three quid memberships of the Labour Party in order to put Corbyn in charge, but those in the English regions who voted to Leave will not be won over by a campaign of virtue signalling by a man who looks like a morose woodwork teacher.

These voters – most voters, in fact – want leadership. They want leaders who look like leaders and sound like leaders. Sadly, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and their fellow travellers on the immigrant-demonising right manage to meet these minimum standards.

The UK – already cracking under pressure from Scottish nationalists and wild-eyed Ukippers – is not crying out for Corbyn.

Oh, his supporters complain, but the media won’t give him a chance, the establishment is out to get him. Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? It’s so much easier than to address the reality that they are led by a man whose political thinking was arrested in a polytechnic common room when he still had the excuse of being too young to know any better.

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It’s easier to blame dark external forces than to ask whether having a shadow chancellor, in John McDonnell, whose past succour for the IRA might not be, you know, that easy a sell on the doorsteps.

Boris Johnson is favourite now to become the UK’s next Prime Minister. This shameless charlatan for whom Brexit was a divorce of convenience is likely to be in Downing Street by autumn.

And Corbyn will not be able to lay a glove on him.

Johnson, if he is sensible, will call an election at the earliest opportunity. And when he does, he will be able to rely on the support not only of those who voted to leave the EU but of others who will hold their noses and back him because the Corbyn alternative is so deeply unappealing.

What Labour needs is an anti-Boris. In many ways, Corbyn is just that. But he’s the wrong kind of anti-Boris. Labour requires one who not only stands in contrast to the former London mayor but who looks and sounds like a leader.

Dan Jarvis, the 43-year-old MP for Barnsley Central, fits that bill, and members of the Parliamentary Labour Party who would like to avoid electoral annihilation should be doing all they can to persuade him that it is now his time.

Jarvis, a former para who lost his first wife to cancer, is a relative unknown outside political circles (and this can be a huge advantage: look at how that status worked for both Tony Blair and David Cameron), but those who know him speak of an understanding of the communities where Labour has to start winning back support. Colleagues speak, too, of his potential appeal to the middle-class voters who are most comfortable in the centre. Those voters switched their allegiance from Blair’s Labour to Cameron’s Tories because they were reassured they were choosing competent leaders.

Should Jarvis decide to make a pitch for the Labour leadership, he would be wise to remember the rhetoric employed by SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon during last year’s general election.

Then, Sturgeon spoke of the need for a progressive alliance. Jarvis as Labour leader – and it remains far from certain that he’ll challenge, never mind win – would do well to begin by talking of the need for that progressive alliance after the EU referendum result split the country. It would be sensible to include the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, Plaid Cymru and, yes, even the SNP in this. The message should be that progressives must stick together at a time when the right is on the rise.

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Constitutional battles would be for another day. The priority would be to show the UK that there is a credible alternative to the vision of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage.

The UK needs an effective opposition, which means Labour needs a leader who understands the concerns of voters. There is no time to spare. Cometh the hour, cometh the Dan?