Moving in the folk circles as I do, it probably doesn’t come as a great surprise that my facebook news feed has been dominated lately by enthusiastic support for Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign to become leader of the Labour party. Many herald his position as a return to ‘old labour’ values and socialism and a proper left wing alternative to what they see as the current Tory-lite Labour ethos. It would appear though that it is not just the folk world that is backing Jeremy Corbyn. He has emerged as an unlikely favourite in the race with union and grassroots backing and many have been drawn to his straight talking, question answering (rare indeed) and honest approach to politics.
Predictably, this has rather torn the Labour party apart of late. Seemingly the outsider, Corbyn has become the frontrunner in the race and the other three candidates and many other MPs are horrified at the prospect of a genuine left-winger leading the party ostensibly because they are worried about the party’s electoral prospects but rather more likely worried about the job falling to someone outside of the Blairite/Brownite circle. It has to be said as well that their surprise at his success does perhaps rather hint at the complete failure of a majority of politicians (on all sides) to realise just how bored the populace at large is of the robotic and script-heavy MP. Much of Corbyn’s success is actually down to the fact that everyone is well aware of what he himself stands for and what he would want to do to achieve it. The same cannot be said of any of the other three candidates or in fact a great many Labour MPs who have mishandled opposition politics absolutely appallingly since 2010.
The toxicity of the Blair brand after the Iraq war led the Miliband-era Labour party to be so determined to distance themselves from that era that they ultimately didn’t defend anything they did nor did they refute the allegation that they caused the financial meltdown. Blair, it must be remembered, did win elections post-Iraq and even in 2010 with the far less popular and charismatic Brown Labour were far from thrashed and a Tory majority was not achieved. Yet Prime Minister’s Questions was littered every week with Cameron’s jibes about Labour’s mishandling of the economy and not once did a Labour MP point out that it was in fact a global banking crash that would have happened whoever was in charge…The result of this was that Labour’s message was abundantly unclear as they were too wary of arguing against Tory claims but also woeful at creating a new narrative for fear of being seen as too left wing. Added to which their apparent refusal to promise reversing any of the Coalition’s policies which they claimed to so disagree with did them no credit whatsoever. Harriet Harman’s recent acceptance of child benefit cuts was proof if it were needed that Labour have learned no lessons from this, hence the appeal of Corbyn.
So there is little doubt that Corbyn’s honesty and apparent integrity is a big advantage but the big question that tends to hang over his candidacy is whether he is electable. There is no question that the electorate are drawn to a leader with charisma; who looks impressive on camera and when interviewed and who carries an air of authority in speech. The two most successful, electorally speaking, politicians in Britain in recent times were Blair and Thatcher and whatever one’s views on them there is little doubt that they fitted the charisma bill. It is also indisputable that Ed Miliband’s apparent awkwardness and so called ‘weirdness’ counted against him. You can think this unfair and sad, but ultimately many vote for charisma. It is difficult to argue that Corbyn has what Blair had, though he did perform extremely well in a recent interview with Andrew Marr, a setting where many have struggled. He is also seen by many as too left-wing to be electable and again history would tell us that is a very reasonable argument. It is easy for me to forget with my facebook feed dominated by socialists that that does not apply to most of the country! While the fiery Dennis Skinner remains highly popular, it is difficult to imagine him ever getting the national vote had he chosen to stand – most in England (and to a lesser extent in Scotland) are cautious of left wing politics as a serious model for government yet admire many of its principles, hence the popularity of the Conservatives through the decades.
It’s difficult to argue that Corbyn is especially electable in the UK so does that mean Labour supporters should be wary of voting him in as leader? Under normal circumstances, if I was a staunch Labour voter I would say yes. Like him or not, Tony Blair’s 1997 campaign was outstandingly put together. It’s a very simplistic argument to say that Labour ‘would have got in whoever was in charge’ that year. Yes, the Tories were far less popular under Major but 2005 and 2010 are proof that a decrease in popularity for a government does not automatically mean they will be ousted. Many also argue that the Blair/Brown years were too right wing for a Labour party – that may be so, but to argue it was the same as a Tory government is manifestly not true. You could argue that you would prefer a Labour party that was more left wing but ultimately if what you want is a left-leaning centre government rather than a right-leaning centre government (and you’re not going to get anything else in the UK) what you want is Labour in and the Tories out. I don’t believe that Labour would get elected with Jeremy Corbyn in charge – that’s the cold hard fact.
However, and this blog does not exactly hold much promise for the future of Labour as an electoral force, I am possibly even more convinced that Burnham, Cooper and Kendall have absolutely no chance of being elected either. All three are so utterly nondescript in media interviews and speeches and have such a lack of a cohesive personal policy message that I don’t believe any of them stand the remotest chance of winning an election and would simply go the same way as Miliband. So I would argue that if you are Labour-affiliated your best bet is to vote on principle for Corbyn. He has a message, he has honesty and integrity and he may just steer the Labour debate in a direction it badly needs to go. He won’t get Labour elected I’m afraid, but at least if you vote for him you’ll get a different kind of failure to the last five years.