Ayesha Hazarika: Oi, Corbyn trolls '“ give it a rest

The Labour party has had a rough week. Despite a bullish national campaign launch yesterday, the party ­suffered a depressing set of local election results, including losing ­Glasgow City Council, failing to win the ­mayoral races in the West Midlands and Tyne Tees and the latest polls give the Conservatives a 22 point lead. I know there will be people yelling about not trusting the polls, but you have to admit, this doesn't exactly look rosy for Labour.
Jeremey Corbyn promised a kinder, gentler politics - Ayesha Hazarika asks where it is. Picture: Getty ImagesJeremey Corbyn promised a kinder, gentler politics - Ayesha Hazarika asks where it is. Picture: Getty Images
Jeremey Corbyn promised a kinder, gentler politics - Ayesha Hazarika asks where it is. Picture: Getty Images

It must be said that the LibDems also failed to make a much-hyped revival with their anti-Brexit stance. The SNP remained ahead of the pack in local elections but the Tories made some significant breakthroughs and Labour, which once dominated local councils across Scotland, were even further behind.

You know things are in a bad place when John McDonnell and Iain Duncan Smith both use the same media script. “This is not a foregone conclusion… *coughs*… This is a REALLY tight race and there’s everything to play for… *splutters*”

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The Tories need to guard against complacency: people not bothering to turn out to vote as they think it’s in the bag or they think a vote for ­Corbyn won’t matter; and Labour need to beg for every vote in the land, particularly as we learn of a new strategy from the Labour ­leadership designed to help prop up Corbyn in the event of a heavy loss.

Instead of focusing on winning parliamentary seats, which is the raison d’etre of a political party, team Corbyn will use share of the national vote as the benchmark by which to judge the leader’s performance. This is so Corbyn can hang on. But we knew that. His team are briefing that if he matches or ­betters Ed Miliband’s figure of 30.6 per cent he should stay – even if the party ­loses a significant number of seats.

They also cite Neil ­Kinnock as a precedent for clinging on, ­saying Corbyn needs more time to “transform” the party. But, as George Eaton of the New Statesman points out, when Kinnock stayed on after the 1987 election, he had gained 20 seats and 3.2 per cent of the vote.

Watching the national election campaign launch reminded me of the launch of Corbyn’s last winning contest – when he beat Owen Smith in the ill-advised coup last summer. It is interesting also that Corbyn is visiting safe Labour seats – it almost feels like he’s mobilising his base of supporters as an insurance policy for any post-election challenge, especially as a recent YouGov poll has 68 per cent of Labour ­members saying Corbyn should quit if his ­party loses the election.

But that joy is for after 8 June. There is of course still deep ­division in the Labour party between those who support Corbyn and those who don’t, aka Blairites or Red Tory Scum. Now it’s one thing to have that ding-dong with each other, but when that row spills over to the ­public I think we have an even ­deeper problem.

After the local election results, there were some who were trying to somehow celebrate the ­losses, saying that these former voters were not ‘proper’ Labour and that they weren’t wanted anyway. They weren’t pure, so good riddance. Funnily enough, if you tell people enough times to “**** off and join the Tories” guess what – they do!

This is an insane strategy for Labour to be pursuing in these crucial final 30 days. Fighting the voters is not the ideal way to win friends and influence people, ­especially when there is still something really important to play for. Despite high personal ratings, Theresa May is one of the most lacklustre ­performers in recent political ­history, which is why she avoids the public and press as much as ­possible.

Her team know that the Conservative brand still has a ­nasty whiff about it while the Labour brand is still ­pretty resilient, despite Corbyn’s personal lack of appeal.

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Labour should be honest with voters and say that Theresa May is likely to be Prime Minister on 9 June but what kind of parliament do you want? A one party state in Westminster or as strong (and stable) an opposition as possible? They should talk about some of the good policy ideas they have put forward like ending hospital parking fees (in England) or freezing tax for 95 per cent of people – although, for the love of God, please make sure spokespeople are fully prepped before doing interviews. And Labour should draw on its wider team – especially some of its popular women like Angela Rayner.

But Corbyn supporters must stop slagging off potential voters. Many people don’t feel they have a political home right now because they feel no affection for any of the leaders on offer. That is not their fault. Labour should be appealing to them on ­values and decency. Not yelling at and abusing them.

Commentator Jane Merrick tweeted that her father, who had been a long-time Labour voter, was not planning to vote and she (and her dad) were then subjected to vicious abuse from ­Corbyn supporters. No attempt to make the case or ­persuade or charm. Just abuse. And it is standard. It is killing whatever small chance Labour has. People just may still be prepared to give a decent open Labour party a chance. They absolutely will not if they see it as the home of vicious, hostile trolls.

It’s quite a thing to say that the party has the wrong kind of MP, it’s absolutely batshit to say Labour has the wrong type of ­voters. It’s not exactly the kinder, gentler politics Mr Corbyn promised us.