Where now with Labour?

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Quite a lot of people have been asking me, directly and via social media, whether now Jeremy Corbyn has been re-elected I will bury the hatchet and work with him again.

The obvious answer to that question is yes, of course I will, if he or John McDonnell wish me to do so. I have not had a policy of not doing so. I have always made it clear that I will work with any non-racist politician who is wanting to undertake progressive tax reform and likewise am happy to discuss my economic thinking with all those who are interested. My track record proves that I have done so across much of the political spectrum. So, there is no issue, in a sense: if I was asked by Labour to help on, for example, policy for beating tax avoidance of course I would be happy to do so. I have never said otherwise.

But, I am aware that the question is looking for something more than that observation. The question is whether or not I will now endorse what John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn are now doing despite the fact that I chose to criticise him during the early stages of the Labour leadership campaign. It may be worth reminding readers of what my criticisms were. They were (based on an article in the Guardian that I wrote):

First, [Jeremy Corbyn] has not grown into the job in the way John McDonnell has into his: after nine months he still feels like the reluctant leader who cannot do up his tie when necessary, and I hate to say it, but such messages are important. People believe that this is a slap-dash approach that means he cannot lead as a result.

Second, he has not provided a vision of what his leadership will deliver. On economics, for example, we have so far heard almost nothing that really progresses the ideas outlined last summer.

And last, he has not shown the ability to accommodate those who think along other lines, which all leadership requires.

The result, coupled with the chaotic management of the leadership team by John and Jeremy, which I had witnessed, was that I felt that Jeremy may not have been the right choice for Labour leader. And do remember that Jeremy himself only take on challenge for the sake of putting a left winger on the ticket and not because he thought he could win or because he necessarily wanted to, and I really do think that showed at first.

It's worth noting what has changed since then. First, Jeremy has clearly shown he does now want to be leader, and has tidied his act as a result in very many way: he speech on Saturday now shows he has grown into the role.

Second, whilst I continue to like Owen Smith as a person, he did not prove to be a better candidate than Jeremy. I think that in itself is telling for Labour.

Third, Jeremy has been re-elected, and I see no benefit to anyone in thinking that it go through such an election again. The result is very clear and Labour is now a different party.

Fourth, in that case Jeremy will lead the Opposition and, presumably, Labour into the next election. Whether he can win or not is not worth speculating upon, not least because it is usually for governments to lose elections and this government has ample opportunity to do that over the next four years. The reality is, whatever happens, that this is the Opposition we have.

Fifth, when the alternative might be Chris Leslie MP - whose economic illiteracy seems to have almost no limits - then there are some reasons for thanking the Labour electorate for what we got.

Is that a ringing endorsement? No it isn't. I do think Jeremy Corbyn and his team still do need to listen better: they have no excuse not to do so now. I wait to see if they do.

And they do have to organise so much better: not doing so now would be inexcusable.

But most of all I still want the vision. We did not get it from John McDonnell yesterday. There was a lot of good stuff in his speech, but it was all sound bites. There is still nothing that lays out a philosophy and an explanation of how things will actually happen. The result lets people like Chris Leslie claim that McDonnell's plans would result in the doubling of all taxes. This is a blatantly stupid comment by Leslie ( who is assuming there would be no borrowing and that £500 billion would be raised and spent in a year and all be paid for by tax, and even then he overstates things) but without actually explaining issues in more depth John lays himself open to this. It's good to say that he is in favour of the Entrepreneurial State but he really does need to explain in some real depth how this all works now, and so far he hasn't. At that level my criticism still stands.

But does that mean I will not engage with Labour? No, it doesn't. I assured one member of the shadow Treasury team that I would do so last night, if that was their desire. It seemed it might be. I have sent similar messages to others. And in doing so I have made clear I am not looking for positions, credits, or anything else. Nor will I change my position and join Labour. I just want to help create a better economic and tax policy for the UK. One of the  ways  I can do that is to offer advice that Labour can take or leave as it wishes, and by being an appropriate critic when necessary. I intend to do both. It's up to Labour to decide if it wants to talk or not. And I may well not publicise it if we do.

But as a first sign James Meadway and I have been in discussion about a debate on the direction of economic policy. I still hope that happens.