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What Happens If Corbyn Isn’t a Disaster?

Will the Corbyn-ister have more appeal than we think?

James Katz

Naked Politics Blogger

The common view of the Labour Party since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader is that he will fail. He’s too left wing, he’s too anti-establishment or that he hasn’t got the media savvy are just a sample of the accusations that are thrown at him. I think only the latter of these claims actually holds up when you look closely at the first few months of his leadership but that does not stop people repeating what has become a political catchphrase: Jeremy Corbyn is unelectable.

Why are those who recycle this catchphrase so frequently absolutely certain of their claim?

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Some point to the disastrous decade that Labour had in the 1980’s when a series of left-wing leaders and sections of the Party almost drove Labour into the political wilderness. But this surely does not stack up as a case-closed argument. Times have changed enormously in the 40 years since Margaret Thatcher was at the peak of her power. Shifts in voting patterns, the media and society itself are clear, rendering this argument poor at best.

Some people point to polling numbers to back up their claims of unelectability. It is true that Labour are down on the Tories in pretty much every poll since Corbyn was elected but the polls gave no alternative but a hung parliament in the General Election and how well did that turn out? Indeed we have only had one election since Corbyn became leader, the Oldham West and Royton by-election, and it was a resounding success for Labour. Many, including myself, put this predominantly down to the local popularity of the candidate, Jim McMahon but if the anti-Corbyn feeling was as strong as we are often led to believe then surely Labour would not have increased their share of the vote as they did.

Personally I think Corbyn might grow fed-up of the intrusive scrutiny he is under and pack it in before 2020, when he will be 70 years old. The only thing that might make him push on is if he thinks he can win. The only thing that will give him confidence he can win is if he is already winning elections.

The first big litmus test of his leadership comes in May when we have the Scottish, Welsh, London, and local elections. If all of these go badly (and to clarify that means winning less then 30 seats in Scotland, losing control of the Welsh Assembly, Sadiq Khan losing the Mayoral election and losing control of a significant number of councils) then Corbyn is in huge trouble. All the claims that have been flung out by heavy-handed Daily Mail and Sun writers will begin to stick and restless Labour MPs may become frantic – fearing for their own seats come 2020.

I think it is unlikely this electoral oblivion will happen but you do not have to use much imagination to see it happening.

But what happens if Labour does well in May?

What happens if Labour pick up a few Scottish seats, increase their majority in Wales, Sadiq Khan becomes London mayor and councils are held, or even a couple picked up?

Not many have counted on that happening but what happens if it does?

For Corbyn it will be full-steam ahead. That is the easy part. We will undoubtedly see Labour have an official anti-Trident position, rail and probably energy market nationalisation will become key policies and the anti-austerity message will be driven forward.

These are ideas that Corbyn will be desperate to push on with but, I think, has been holding back on so far. Syria and tax credits have swallowed up much of the policy conversation in the Labour Party whilst press attention has been focused almost entirely on organisational mismanagement and public gaffes from the Corbyn camp, rather than policy.

The people that will have to rethink should May go well, are the Labour moderates and those senior MPs who have been less than discreet in their disdain of Corbyn. They will have nowhere to go. They will not be able to credibly maintain the line that Corbyn is an electoral disaster and they will be welcomed back less readily by the Corbyn team than smallpox.

Chuka Umunna, Tristram Hunt, Yvette Cooper and Emma Reynolds to name but a few took a risk when they refused to serve in a Corbyn Shadow Cabinet. The risk might well come off if things go south and they rise to power but if nothing goes wrong then it is they that may be left in the cold. Defections are incredibly unlikely – apart from anything where would they defect to with the Lib Dems as weak as they are? – whilst the Corbyn bandwagon would have passed them well by should it pick up pace. We will be left with a large number of MPs sitting on their hands for four years and staring down the barrel of resignation or deselection in 2020

We do not know what will happen in May. That makes it an exciting time to be a spectator but an incredibly nervy time if you happen to be Jeremy Corbyn or a moderate Labour MP.

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