Why keep talking about Corbyn?

Labour Leadership ExplainedThe Labour leadership voting opens on Friday 14th August and will close midnight Thursday 10th September: we’ll know the results on Saturday 12 September. Registration closes at noon today.

So, right now, no one can even cast a vote: all the polls predicting a Corbyn victory are based on people saying how they think they’ll vote when they can.

And in that race, Jeremy Corbyn seems to be a long way ahead in the polls, to the absolute despair of people who have tied their boats firmly to the belief that left-wing leaders don’t get elected.

But huge amounts of wordage from Labour party top brass and Labour-supporting pundits have been expended in telling people not to vote for Jeremy Corbyn.

In this contest, for the first time in Labour’s history, while the candidates for leadership were selected from the Labour MPs by the Labour MPs, the winner will be chosen by democratic vote from members, affiliates, and supporters. Each Labour MP will have a vote, but their votes won’t be allowed to outweigh everyone else’s.

The presumption appears to be: the Overton window has moved irretrievably to the right: the mainstream media view of poverty is a personal flaw. British voters do not want to vote for policies that would make most people better off and everybody safer: they want to vote for policies that will make a few people richer and put everyone else at risk of utter destitution when things go wrong. So, to get elected, Labour has to sound as much like the Conservative party as possible.

More seriously, the three key elements in opposition to Corbyn:

  • The belief that the majority of voters want to see people on benefits suffer. That it’s no good voting for policies that make benefits a proper safety net, available at point of need, because what British voters want to see is a government that’s tough on people claiming benefits. Especially, British voters want to see the children of large families – defined as three or more children – penalised and made to depend on food banks. That’s what polls say British voters want, and that’s what Burnham, Cooper, and Kendall intend to serve them.
  • The belief that austerity is real economics. That a nation’s economy is run like a household budget, and that the revenue brought in by taxation is like monthly wages. That infrastructure and essential services are luxuries that the nation can do without to save money. All of this is complete nonsense: but it has become entrenched as an accepted truth in British politics.
  • The belief that if a left-wing leader is elected, the Labour Party will split as it did in 1981 after Michael Foot was elected leader (10 November 1980): that the next few years will see elections where Tories waltz in as opposition vote is split between Labour, the Splitters, and the LibDems.

(Everyone knows that the Liberal Party became the LibDems after the SDP joined them in March 1988? The Social Democratic Party, founded by two right-wing Labour MPs David Owen and Bill Rodgers, and two Labour leading lights who weren’t at the time MPs, Roy Jenkins and Shirley Williams, helped to ensure Tory victory in general elections in 1983 and 1987. The SDP (26 March 1981 – 3 March 1988), while winning few elections – they began with 28 Labour MPs and one Conservative MP, and the total number of SDP MPs ever was 33 – was a gamechanging event in British politics that primarily, from start to finish, benefited the Conservative Party.)

This last fear is a real one. If Jeremy Corbyn wins, he will take leadership of the Labour Party in the House of Commons where the majority of MPs nominated and voted for another candidate.

If a majority of Labour MPs decide they can’t tolerate being told to support left-wing policies and split from the party, there could be a fourth party in the House of Commons by this time next year.

The next general election in Scotland is 2016. Kezia Dugdale is likely to be Labour leader and has come out against Corbyn. The 2016 Holyrood elections are predicted to go badly for Labour. Former Labour voters in Scotland have been deserting the party in large numbers, but Jeremy Corbyn is a sell-out success.

For Labour to do better than expected in the Scottish Parliament elections 2016, and to win the Westminster general election in 2020, the Labour party must get large numbers of people out to vote for Labour who stayed home in 2010 and 2015. (Tony Blair presided over a steady loss of votes and MPs in 2001 and 2005, beginning with a majority of 179 MPs in 1997, dropping to 167 in 2001, dropping again to 66 in 2005: the electorate who turned out to vote also dropped, from 71.4% in 1997 to 59.4% in 2001 to 61.4% in 2005. And class analysis of voting patterns shows that Labour held on to the middle-class vote but lost working-class voters.)

For five years, Labour failed to be an Opposition and failed to do anything with the grassroots opposition to Tory policies making people on benefits massively worse off: Ed Miliband’s Labour party felt it important that rather than work with grassroots opposition to Tories, Labour should make clear that they too thought grassroots opposition to Tories should be trodden underfoot.

Labour did this because they wanted to win in 2015. Principled opposition to Tory policies, Labour top brass instructed, might play well with the disaffected poor, but real people want to hear that the disaffected poor are going to be crushed.

But Labour lost. This policy of going along with Tory policies in order to win elections, turned out to prove a loser.

So, why not try principled opposition?

As a friend asked:

“Corbyn fans: if he becomes leader, is there any result at the next election that would make you say “I was mistaken”?”

I think there’s three possibilities, plus a fourth just for Scotland.

  • The election goes badly because Corbyn turns out to have been talking like a left-winger to get voters: once leading the Opposition, he turns into a right-wing clone. Corbyn fans were wrong.
  • The election goes badly because anti-Corbyn MPs, anti-Corbyn pundits, and right-wing Labour supporters deliberately screw things up, telling people they think Corbyn’s wrong and they don’t agree with Corbyn’s policies and letting the tabloids make hay of Labour splittage. (I would hope that Labour MPs, however anti-Corbyn, wouldn’t be stupid enough to think that SDP2, or refusing to serve in the Shadow Cabinet so they can still vote with the Tories, would be a solution to their difficulties.) While on an individual level that would be their fault – they’d have deliberately lost the election for Labour because they wanted to show up Corbyn – it would show that Jeremy Corbyn was unable to apply party discipline and get party loyalty from MPs. That would make him not a good party leader. Corbyn fans were wrong.
  • The election goes badly because voters still fail to turn out and Corbyn policies prove unpopular at the polls. Corbyn fans were right to support Corbyn, but wrong to think that UK voters would support policies that made them better off in the face of media onslaught saying that those policies are bad, mad, and dangerous.
  • The 2016 elections could go better for Labour than expected, which could be attributed to Corbyn, and then English media could turn to and claim that Jeremy Corbyn is objectively pro-Scottish and unsafe to have as Prime Minister. Corbyn fans would be right to support Corbyn, but (as above) wrong to suppose he could overcome the anti-Scottish anti-left media onslaught.

I counted myself a Labour supporter until the end of July. I quit to join the Scottish Greens because Jeremy Corbyn hadn’t yet flung his hat into the ring and I couldn’t see myself supporting Burnham, Cooper, or Kendall, or supporting a Labour party they led.

Oliver Cooper, Conservative Councillor for Hampstead, former chair of the Conservative Party’s youth wing, explains why everyone who isn’t a cheap-work conservative should hope Jeremy Corbyn is leader of the Oppositon in September:

“A government led by Jeremy Corbyn would be unthinkably bad for [right-wing policy]. “A-ha, but he could never get into government!” I hear #ToriesForCorbyn say. But an official opposition led by him would hardly be good. No matter how [left-wing], Corbyn would still have six questions at PMQs. His frontbench would still have a representative on Question Time and Newsnight. His party’s policy announcements and press releases would get just as much news coverage as a [right-wing] opposition.

“In short, Labour being Labour, they’ll still have the same platform, no matter how [left-wing] their leader’s views. The only difference is Corbyn’s views will be more left-wing, so will shift the entire political debate to the left. Long-term, so long as Labour and the Conservatives remain the two major parties in the UK, the only way to make progress is to persuade Labour to accept our position. Our ideas don’t win just when our party does, but when the other party advocates our ideas, too.

“Instead, a Corbyn victory would lend credibility to the far-left’s rejection of [cheap-work conservatism]: giving a megaphone to their already [over-loud] politics of [anti-austerity]. Inevitably, this would skew the discourse, letting Corbyn’s ideas become the default alternative to the Conservatives. Corbyn’s brand of socialism would [affect] the groundwater of British politics for a generation: influencing people, particularly young people, across the political spectrum.

How terrible for the Conservatives that would be.

1 Comment

Filed under Politics, Poverty

One response to “Why keep talking about Corbyn?

  1. Really a nice described post. Thank you for the painstaking.

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