If the Corbyn challenge is not met, Labour will be out of power for close to a generation, more than enough time for a political party to die.

I’ll tell you what happens with impossible promises.
– Neil Kinnock, 11 October 1985.

I

‘We cannot waste this defeat’, said Harriet Harman, interim Labour leader, after her party’s bitter loss in Britain’s May 2015 general election. ‘We will dare to look over the precipice at what happened.’

Looking over the precipice, Labour saw the smouldering wreckage of an election campaign. The post-mortem has been traumatic, not least because, as late as election night on 7 May, pollsters and analysts still believed that the party could lead the next government. And it was not obvious whether Labour lost because it was too left-wing, or not left-wing enough. It had been beaten both from the left, in Scotland, by the Scottish National Party (SNP), and from the right, in England, by the Conservatives and the UK Independence Party (UKIP). It was not unreasonable to think that a decisive move in either direction would be the way to avoid being outflanked again – although one post-election review pointed clearly rightwards, identifying a widespread perception that Labour was not capable of fiscal responsibility.

On 8 May, within hours of defeat, party leader Ed Miliband resigned, Harman took interim control, and the process of finding a new leader began.

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Matthew Harries is Managing Editor of Survival, and a Research Fellow at the IISS.

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Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

October-November 2015

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