Rob Marris was elected as Labour’s Member of Parliament for Wolverhampton South West in the 2015 General Election and was appointed as a Shadow Treasury Minister 2015 – 2016. He is a well-known local figure, who has lived in Penn Fields for the last 30 years. Born and raised and educated in Wolverhampton South West, he is a solicitor and was MP there 2001 to 2010.
Dear Members and Supporters,
Many members and supporters worked incredibly hard to win back Wolverhampton South West for Labour at the last General Election, for which I am extremely grateful.
As your Labour MP, I have observed with dismay the declining state of the Labour Party since the missed opportunity of May 2015. Firstly there was the precipitate resignation of Ed Miliband. Next there was the lacklustre 2015 leadership campaign, in which I nominated no candidate. That led to the election of Jeremy Corbyn, which initially inspired so many in and around the Party.
Alas since then the Party has manifestly gone backwards with the wider electorate. I was never a “Blairite” and, as a committed socialist, I know full well that Labour’s problems certainly did not start with Jeremy Corbyn. However, not only has he failed to halt the slide, but under his leadership things have got much worse and show no signs of improving.
As I write, the polls show Labour between 12% and 16% behind the Conservatives. This is at mid-term in the electoral cycle, when we should be well ahead if we are to win – but we are significantly further away from regaining office than we were when Jeremy Corbyn was elected. A “social movement” is not enough. We are not a debating society. Labour is a political party because it is only by winning elections that we can get on with trying to improve people’s lives – particularly those of the most disadvantaged. Even the Guardian journalist Owen Jones has pretty much given up on Jeremy Corbyn, as set out in painful and devastating detail in his 31 July article “Questions all Jeremy Corbyn supporters need to answer.”
With Owen Smith as leader we stand a chance of winning the next General Election. He is of the left, and is also a unifier capable of holding all parts of the Labour Party together. He comes across well in the mass media and can appeal to the general public. Conversely, if Jeremy Corbyn remains as leader it seems certain that the Conservatives will win the next General Election with an increased majority. His personal ratings are dragging Labour down – opinion polls now show that only 18% of the electorate would choose Jeremy Corbyn over Theresa May as Prime Minister. If he continues as leader, there is a very real risk of a future Conservative government with a majority of well over one hundred seats.
I loyally supported Jeremy Corbyn as a shadow minister for 10 months. However, after the PLP ballot (in which on principle I did not participate) showed that 80% of the PLP had lost confidence in his leadership, I then told him that I regarded his position as untenable.
Enclosed with this letter is a document setting out in detail my reasons for being unable to continue to support the current leader; and a copy of Owen Smith’s manifesto.
Leadership: purity versus winning elections
I believe that Mr Corbyn should resign.
In a nutshell, it’s not principally about policies. I was not part of any “Blairite coup” or orchestrated plan to damage Jeremy’s leadership. My decision was my own. I loyally gave Mr Corbyn the benefit of the doubt for 10 months, but his performance has been pretty dire, and I now believe that he should resign. I can no longer stand the incompetence, the hypocrisy, the company he has kept and now keeps, the electoral failures thus far, and the high likelihood of electoral failures if he continues.
Here are the reasons in brief (more detail below).
- The party has lost the support of Labour voters in the country in the nine months since he became leader.
- Mass Labour support in the country shows no sign of increasing markedly in the coming months.
- His office is incompetent.
- He has lost the support of over 80% of MPs.
- His office undermined the Labour-Remain campaign.
- He lectures hypocritically on loyalty, even though for decades he was himself grossly disloyal to Labour on literally hundreds of occasions.
- He has a history of working with/apologising for some nasty people.
- It is not clear that he supports the Parliamentary road to socialism.
1. Bad election results
Since Mr Corbyn became leader, the support for Labour has been patchy. The standing of the Labour Party in the country has fallen in the last 9 months and, under his leadership, is most unlikely to rise. The May 2016 results in England were quite a bit worse than they should have been, given six years of an unpopular Conservative government and George Osborne’s failed medicine of extreme austerity. Just how unpopular has been dramatically shown in the referendum. However much he wants to spin and deny it, Mr Corbyn is the first opposition leader since 1985 to lose council seats in a non-General Election year. In the Wales Assembly elections in May 2016 we lost one seat net (lost The Rhondda, for goodness’ sake) and nearly lost control. In the Scottish Parliament elections in May 2016 we were hammered into third place (behind the Conservatives for goodness’ sake) for the first time in decades. All of this happened before Jeremy Corbyn fired Hilary Benn which precipitated the wave of resignations.
After the Brexit vote, the pro-Corbyn journalist Mr Owen Jones summed it up quite well on 27 June: “Yes, Jeremy Corbyn has a passionate layer of support in the Labour membership. We can argue about the reasons why (many reading will blame the undeniable hysterical opposition of the media), but his polling in wider society is bad: on some measures, very bad. The Labour leadership has never achieved the poll lead Ed Miliband (who went on to lose) had at this stage in the cycle, and that can only be partly explained by the loss of Scotland. The Tories – and the country – are in crisis and their prime minister a lame duck, but today a poll gave them a 4 point lead. Yesterday a poll put Labour neck-and-neck with the Tories, but read the small print: 53% of people who voted Labour in 2015 want Jeremy Corbyn to resign. … Yes, Labour won mayoral elections in London and Bristol, and I expect it would do relatively well in a general election in major urban centres, particularly among the minority of younger people who can currently be mobilised to vote, not least in diverse communities. Elsewhere looks to be different. In smaller working-class towns, the danger of a re-energised UKIP ‘doing an SNP’ and storming Labour heartlands is a very obviously clear danger. The prospects of winning support in Scotland in a few months are nil.” [https://medium.com/@OwenJones84/my-thoughts-on-the-plight-of-labour-38413229f88#.ap9xga6en ]
One month later, even Owen Jones has pretty much given up on Jeremy Corbyn, as set out in painful and devastating detail in his 31 July article “Questions all Jeremy Corbyn supporters need to answer”.
2. Poor electoral prospects
I gave Mr Corbyn the benefit of the doubt for 10 months, but his performance has been pretty dire. The Conservatives are in a mess, and he has been unable to capitalise on that: one example is that when Mr Ian Duncan Smith resigned and launched a stinging attack on his own government, Mr Corbyn did not say boo to a goose and did not comment.
One big difficulty for the Labour Party is that arguably it is now hollowed out in its Northern English heartlands, and might just collapse there as it did so quickly in Scotland. That hollowing out certainly did not start under Mr Corbyn’s leadership; but it has continued apace, and the referendum result leads me to fear that we may be reaching the tipping point in England.
Over the last two months, Labour’s standing in opinion polling has gone from bad to worse. The July ICM opinion poll saw the Conservative lead stretch to 16%, and we are seeing regular double-digit Conservative polling leads in polls generally. 42% of those who voted Labour in May 2015 will no longer commit to voting Labour again at a general election (YouGov).
Net public satisfaction with the way Mr Corbyn is doing his job as Leader of the Opposition has fallen from minus 10% in September 2015 to minus 38% in July 2016 (IPSOS-Mori). No Leader of the Opposition of any political party has seen worse ratings than these within a year of taking up their position.
The YouGov poll in July 2016 was deeply worrying. When asked to choose who would make the better prime minister, 52% of voters chose Theresa May and 18% chose Jeremy Corbyn. This means that nearly 3 million people who voted Labour in 2015 with Mr Miliband now prefer Mrs May as Prime Minister over Mr Corbyn. Amongst pensioners (who tend actually to vote … ) support was 7%. Amongst working class voters (“C2DE” social group) his support was 16% – worse than amongst ABC1s at 19%; i.e. he appeals even less to working class electors than to middle class ones. Even amongst those who did vote Labour in 2015, Jeremy Corbyn has only a bare 10% lead over Theresa May.
The public has already made up their mind about him and, having decided, they are very unlikely to give him a second chance.
The disorganisation includes for example lateness for meetings; inability to organise events smoothly; inability to put out timely briefings; lack of replies to communications, even from Labour MPs whom he purports to lead. It shows no signs of ending. Yet this is the well-funded office of a person who aspires to run the country.
Here’s the verdict of Richard Murphy, the campaigner against tax avoidance widely described as Mr Corbyn’s “economic guru” until he became one of many of economic advisers to resign in protest at this incompetence and much more: “I had the opportunity to see what was happening inside the PLP. The leadership wasn’t confusing as much as just silent. There was no policy direction, no messaging, no direction, no co-ordination, no nothing. Shadow ministers appeared to have been left with no direction as to what to do. It was shambolic. The leadership usually couldn’t even get a press release out on time to meet print media deadlines and then complained they got no coverage.” (See: http://www.taxresearch.org.uk/Blog/2016/07/17/the-rise-and-fall-of-corbyns-economics/)
4. Untenable position
The 2014 Collins Review Into Labour Party Reform stated that “in recognition of the fact that the leader of the Labour Party has a special duty to head the Parliamentary Labour Party in Westminster, MPs will retain the responsibility of deciding the final shortlist of candidates that will be put to the ballot…… To ensure that all candidates who are put to the ballot command a substantial body of support in the PLP, the threshold for nominations to secure a position on the shortlist should be raised from 12.5 per cent to 15 per cent of House of Commons members of the PLP.”
In other words, the very report that gave Labour members the final decision on the choice of Labour leader nonetheless recognised that that, under the new system, the leader still had to command a “substantial body” of support within the PLP.
Patently Mr Corbyn has not been able to command the political respect of those who have worked most closely with him and observed him close-up. In any other walk of life, if 80% of colleagues had lost confidence in a leader, that leader would do the decent and honourable thing, and resign. Not so Mr Corbyn. His decision not to resign when he is unable to command the support of even a “substantial body” of MPs, let alone a majority, flies in the face of the recognition of the need for such support when the new system for electing the party leader was drawn up.
Replacing the leader is not a silver bullet. I did not participate in the “Vote of No Confidence” held on Tuesday 28 June. It has no standing in our Party’s rules. I did not wish give it or any faction any legitimacy by voting. Moreover, I was the principal lead for Labour in the Committee stage of the Finance Bill in the Chamber of the House of Commons on Monday and Tuesday 27 and 28 June. It is a pretty technical Bill. It started in the Committee proper (i.e. in an upstairs committee room, with 24 or so MPs) on Thursday 30 June, for 3 weeks. To be loyal to the Party, I led for Labour on it that day.
That ballot showed that over 80% of Labour MPs had no confidence in Mr Corbyn as leader. For several years I was a full-time regional officer for the National Union of Teachers. If I were representing a head-teacher who had lost the confidence of 80% of the teachers, I would have said to the Head that their position was untenable, even if many of the parents and governors wanted that Head to stay in post, and I would have recommended to the Head that an exit package be negotiated.
Given the result of that ballot of MPs, on Wednesday morning 29 June I texted and e-mailed to Mr Corbyn saying that I believed his position was untenable. Rudely, he did not bother to respond. He continues stubbornly to cling to office. So on Thursday 30 June I resigned as a junior Shadow Treasury minister. The Shadow Chancellor Mr McDonnell did not make any attempt to engage with the issue, and has never spoken to me since. Instead he tried to smear me by suggesting that I had removed Labour Party material (not true) from a Labour Party computer (also not true). That’s not adult politics; it’s bullying.
Mr Corbyn’s supporters try to hoodwink people as to his mandate. In 2015 Mr Corbyn got 251,417 (= 59.5%) votes cast by Labour members and supporters. In 1994 Mr Blair got 507,950 (= 57.00%) of the votes cast by members and supporters – well over twice what Mr Corbyn achieved. Indeed, in 1994 the second place candidate Mr Prescott got 263,410 votes – which is more than Mr Corbyn himself got in 2015.
Some in Momentum seek deliberately to mislead members by characterising all PLP opponents of Mr Corbyn’s continued leadership as “Blairites”. In my own case they know this to be a lie. Inconveniently for some in Momentum (which is why they lie), the disaffection in the PLP is not primarily driven by differences over policy.
Rather it is the leader’s incompetence and the poor electoral showing which has persuaded over 80% of Mr Corbyn’s closest colleagues that he is not the right person to lead the Labour Party. A leader must command the respect and support of all three wings of the party: members, unions, and the PLP.
5. Hypocrisy and disloyalty
It saddens me to have to say that Mr Corbyn is a hypocrite as well. In 1988 he and the handful of his fellow MPs in the tiny Campaign Group voted out of the blue to launch Tony Benn’s challenge to the leader Neil Kinnock (see: https://t.co/lZVaLb4XL9). Here is Neil Kinnock’s recollection of the disloyal and futile destabilisation attempt by Mr Corbyn and his few fellow travellers in 1988: http://www.newstatesman.com/2016/07/neil-kinnock-when-corbyn-wanted-me-deposed-i-sought-nominations-mps
Jeremy Corbyn as MP voted against the Labour whip over 500 times – and now he lectures us on loyalty! Mr Blair had an almost equally strong mandate from the Party. In addition Mr Blair had the overwhelming support of Labour MPs. Furthermore he also won three General Elections. Yet Mr Corbyn spent over a decade working disloyally to undermine Mr Blair. Some of Mr Corbyn’s most fervent supporters describe anyone who opposes him as a Blairite, despite knowing full well that there are many of us who were never Blairites – but who, unlike Mr Corbyn, did not disloyally work to undermine Mr Blair.
Mr Corbyn also suggested during the leadership campaign in 2015 that a Labour leader should face re-election every year or two. Now that he is leader and his fellow MPs have transparently instigated such a process, such a challenge being described by his supporters as a “coup”.
6. Remain campaign
The problems Labour now faces certainly did not start under Jeremy Corbyn, but he was lukewarm about Remain, and so the Labour Remain campaign never really got out of second gear. He certainly bears some responsibility for that. For example, he and his office refused even to attend the planning meetings of the Labour Remain campaign, and pro-Remain passages were frequently simply deleted from speeches which the Campaign had prepared for him. The BBC’s Chief Political Correspondent, Laura Kuenssberg, used evidence from correspondence between the Leader’s office and the Labour Remain campaign to report last month how: “documents passed to the BBC suggest Jeremy Corbyn’s office sought to delay and water down the Labour Remain campaign”, verging on deliberate sabotage. See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-36633238
7. Bad company
He sounded as if he were comparing the government of Israel to Islamic State a when he spoke his own press conference on anti-Semitism on 1 July this year, reportedly in prepared remarks. He said: “Our Jewish friends are no more responsible for the actions of Israel or the Netanyahu government than our Muslim friends are for those of various self-styled Islamic states or organisations.” What a maladroit comparison. At that same press conference an anti-racist campaigning MP was abused by a member of the audience, yet Mr Corbyn said nothing; nothing … Afterwards Mr Corbyn calmly told the abuser that he had texted him (see https://youtu.be/pQr1wCnqx_c).
Mr Corbyn has made several appearances on Press TV, for which he was paid (and duly declared) several times. Press TV is part of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s tightly controlled broadcasting machinery. Its director is appointed by Iran’s Supreme Leader – the country’s chief religious and political authority – which means that its output is often biased in favour of strict establishment ideology. (See Parliament’s Register of Members’ Financial Interests in 2010, and in 2012)
For many years he has offered apologetics for dictatorship and anti-democracy. For example, he has championed/made excuses for the IRA, the Venezuelan autocrat Hugo Chavez, the undemocratic Fidel Castro, and of course Hamas and Hezbollah.
This article recounts a frightening example of the so-called “kinder, gentler politics” which has been accompanied by a marked rise in political violence and threats on social media from some supporters of Mr Corbyn. See http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/jeremy-corbyn-celebrates-his-victory-over-fing-useless-labour-mps-who-plotted-against-him_uk_578571e7e4b0daae46fa86af?edition=uk&utm_hp_ref=uk-news;
When faced with that level of vitriol, it is not surprising that some of us on the left of the party get very annoyed.
On 12 July the NEC met to discuss how to proceed with the leadership election. NEC member Johanna Baxter later said of that meeting: “The leader of the Labour party voted against the proposal that we conduct our vote in private in order to protect NEC members who were receiving threats, bullying and intimidation. He voted against it. He endorsed bullying, threats and intimidation, by the fact of that vote.” Voting for the secret ballot would have been “an active thing he could have done to demonstrate his support to colleagues taking a very difficult decision yesterday, and he wouldn’t do it.”
Here is an article which sets out evidence demonstrating some of the concerns about Mr Corbyn and his associates: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-3705171/DAN-HODGES-Reckon-s-nice-decent-bloke-let-dark-menacing-reality-Great-Corbyn-Myth.html;
8. Parliamentary democracy
Chapter 1, clause 1 of the Labour Party Rule Book states that:
“1. This organisation shall be known as ‘The Labour Party’.
“2. Its purpose is to organise and maintain in Parliament and in the country a political
“3. The party shall bring together members and supporters who share its values to develop policies, make communities stronger through collective action and support, and promote the election of Labour Party representatives at all levels of the democratic process.”
I am committed to the Parliamentary road to socialism. In light of his statements and actions over the last 40 years, it is not at all clear that Mr Corbyn shares that commitment. Many of his close supporters clearly do not. Tweeting on 10 July 2016, the founder and Chair of Momentum Mr Jon Lansman put it succinctly and honestly: “Democracy gives power to people, ‘Winning’ is the small bit that matters to political elites who want to keep power themselves.”
On Monday 27 June 2016 Mr Corbyn recently addressed a rally of his supporters outside Parliament, where several participants were wearing T-shirts emblazoned with “eradicate Blairite vermin”. Mr Corbyn did not upbraid let alone castigate them for doing so, even though this took place less than a fortnight after a Labour MP was murdered.
I wish to win elections and change lives, not sit powerlessly in a purist armchair. That requires MPs to make compromises. Mr Corbyn is not prepared to do that. Principles are one thing, stubbornness is another.