UK Politics

Corbyn must connect with public to survive says Kinnock

Lord Kinnock Image copyright PA
Image caption Neil Kinnock lost two elections as Labour leader

Former Labour leader Neil Kinnock has questioned whether Jeremy Corbyn can win power and said he could face calls to stand down if he does not "make advances" with the public.

Lord Kinnock said Mr Corbyn's task was to "win power for the party" rather than to "secure power in the party".

While Mr Corbyn should have "space" to lead, he said he must pass clear tests.

And he suggested that if Mr Corbyn failed to connect with the electorate, "he may come to his own conclusions".

In an article for the New Statesman, Lord Kinnock - who led the party between 1983 and 1992 and lost two general elections - appealed for the party to pull together, saying any split in Labour's ranks similar to that which led to the creation of the SDP in the 1980s would be very damaging.

He said Mr Corbyn must be judged on his performance but suggested it was hard for the Labour leader and his close allies to "uphold unity" given Mr Corbyn's record of rebelling against former leaders, including himself.

Assessing Labour's and Mr Corbyn's long-term prospects, he wrote: "It's difficult to see that [Jeremy Corbyn is electable].

"Many of the people who voted for Jeremy are outstanding party members who said that they were frustrated - indeed, infuriated - by the failure of Labour to connect with the electorate.

"I know exactly what they mean, but that's the test. If Jeremy is seen to be failing to connect to the electorate after a reasonable space of time then he may come to his own conclusions."

'Connection test'

Lord Kinnock, who supported Andy Burnham for leader in last year's contest, added: "There's a fundamental question here and it is whether people want to secure power in the party or to win power for the party.

"Those people who want to win power, whether they're left, right or centre, will be watching the evidence and will make their decision on the basis of that evidence. Not because of some spasm of emotion, or the fact that their candidate didn't get elected:

"They'll want to know they have a party that is being led in its advance with the electorate. If that isn't the case then conclusions must be drawn."

Mr Corbyn, who had never served on the frontbench in his long political career before being elected in a landslide victory in September, has insisted that he is making progress as opposition leader and has forced the government onto the back foot on a range of issues.

He has acknowledged that elections in May for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Assembly and English councils, as well as the election of a new London Mayor, will be an important test of his leadership and standing with the public.

The Conservatives are seeking to turn the mayoral contest into a referendum on Mr Corbyn's leadership, describing Labour candidate Sadiq Khan as "Mr Corbyn's man in City Hall".

Labour's official report into its 2015 defeat published last week concluded it would be a "huge challenge" for Labour to win power in 2020, whoever was leader.

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