Jeremy Corbyn has appointed a new campaign chief to replace former Ken Livingstone aide Simon Fletcher. Niall Sookoo who previously worked in Corbyn’s press team returns for another bite of the cherry. He takes on a tough task in the shadow of Labour’s disastrous loss in Copeland.
In Sookoo’s favour he inherits a blank piece of paper. Jon Trickett did so little as the shadow cabinet campaign coordinator that even Corbyn thought his performance was lacklustre. He then sacked him in the middle of two byelections – and nobody noticed. However, poor Sookoo now has two shadow cabinet bosses – and they could not be more different. Andrew Gwynne won the Oldham byeelection for Corbyn last year and ensured a top notch ground game in Copeland. Ian Lavery has never been involved in any kind of byelection, let alone general election, type operation and labours under the bizarre notion that Corbyn is ‘one of the most popular politicians in the country’.
Since Corbyn has put Labour on a ‘war footing’ he has shown a tendency to misfire. Rather than shooting at the government he seems to only be successful at finding his own foot.
Whether Theresa May calls an election in 2017 or not, helping our MPs defy the odds of a Copeland-style result cannot wait. If Corbyn were to show leadership – rather than shrilly demand followership – and make some attempt to prove he wants to win an election, he would set Sooko to do the following.
First, end any discussion on deselections or mandatory reselection – it’s more divisive than anything else. It must stop.
Second, get organised in to the 10 seats gained from the Tories – with full-time employed organisers – and the next 25 that are vulnerable. These can be moved to offensive targets if the polls change.
Equally, full-time organisers should be given now to the 10 where the majority was reduced in 2015, and some form of capacity put into the 68 that were targets against the Tories last time. We are told the party has huge amounts of money because of the new members. Use it to get members, longstanding and new, to work in marginal seats.
Third, use the absence of elections in London and metropolitan areas without mayors in May this year to get bodies on the ground in county seats in parliamentary marginals where Labour is up against the Tories.
Fourth, set up a Teach First for Labour organisers providing a clear progression path for new organisers to run high quality bespoke campaigns by the time general election polling comes.
Finally, stop attending Stop the War Coalition fundraisers and give every shadow cabinet member a target for CLP fundraisers covering county and marginal target seats. Gordon Brown and Robin Cook had some friendly competition in the run up to 1997 to see who could raise the most. This should be encouraged once more.
Corbyn’s project might be fatally wounded by Copeland’s dire results. But the fate of Labour MPs is not sealed. If Corbyn is not to be responsible for bringing down the whole party when he finally leaves, he should ask Sookoo to do all he can to give our MPs a chance to buck the trend.