Party unity is a consequence, not a condition, of leadership
—Walking out of the hall after this year’s Labour party leadership result announcement, I was stopped by ITV Wales and asked for a reaction. I told them Jeremy Corbyn had made a conciliatory speech and I hoped that that would turn into conciliatory action. Leadership cannot just be about words: it must be about actions too. We have all had experience of leaders or bosses who listen, build consensus and take people with them, even people who were sceptical at the start. But we all know the other sort too: who undermine members of their team, refuse to listen to or engage with others’ ideas and suggestions and therefore fail to build on their initial success in being appointed or elected.
It is a truism that only political parties united in purpose win general elections. Yet Labour members and supporters have not only elected a leader they knew did not have the confidence of the parliamentary Labour party, but they re-elected him. Corbyn now needs to find a way to make it work. He has said he has made mistakes and has promised to learn from them.
But we have already seen Clive Lewis undermined, Rosie Winterton sacked and Jon Ashworth removed from the National Executive Committee. Instead of reaching out to win people over, it feels more like he is trying to alienate them. Corbyn promised olive branches to colleagues but, yet again, his actions do not match his words. Unity is a consequence, not a condition, of leadership. By kicking shadow cabinet elections into the long grass he has passed up the opportunity to build a team which could unite the parliamentary party – and reach out to the wider party and to potential voters – not on the basis of ideological purity but on the basis that ‘while we don’t agree on everything we do agree on these important points’.
Just after the 2015 general election defeat, with candidates still emerging, I set out my own challenges for what I was looking for from a leader:
Can communicate a broad vision for the future of our country that appeals to and offers something to those in our worst social housing, those who are comfortably off and everyone in between;
Can lead us through the European Union referendum with sufficient vision to keep that voting coalition intact;
Can take on whoever is Tory leader in 2020 and come across as a better potential prime minister;
Be a good manager of talent and a good strategist who knows where they are going and is not distracted by events.
The second point has already gone down in flames, although there is serious work to do around the Brexit process. But the others should remain the objective for any Labour leader who wants to be successful, whether of the left, centre, old or new.
A broad leadership, based not on followership but based on talent and willingness to work together on a broad agreed agenda, is our best hope of building for the future. I am still looking for an indication from Corbyn that he is interested, let alone up for this.
Mary Wimbury is a former candidate for parliament and for the Welsh assembly