Naked Politics Blogger
It is often touted as a victory of Corbyn’s that he has ‘engaged the disengaged’ members of the electorate, particularly the young. Whilst the Labour Party has seen party membership increase by up to 170,000 members – many of those inspired by last year’s leadership election – this is only part of the story, when considering Labour’s position amongst the electorate. Similarly, it is indeed true that Momentum – Corbyn’s support network – does include new Party members and has pushed Democracy SOS, an electoral registration campaign to increase the numbers of the electorate. However caution must be exercised before declaring this a success for increasing politicisation among the public,` as there is a deeper truth to this seeming victory with the public.
Corbyn does appear to have engaged those who had previously abandoned or ignored mainstream politics, often disillusioned by New Labour and the Blairite legacy. But he has, in the same stroke as gaining these disenfranchised members, alienated those for whom loyalty to the Labour Party and political left-wing engagement has been long and constant.
Here lies the issue that is perhaps less talked about with the rise of Corbyn: the emergence of the “homeless voters”. By this I mean the section of the left-wing electorate that are the moderate, and by far the most substantial, element of the Labour Party. Although supporters of Labour in its previous form, they now feel alienated by the radical direction of the Corbyn administration and are unlikely to support him in the 2020 election. Yet this group also feels a repugnance toward the Conservative Party with its current fiscal measures and its supposed lack of socially progressive policies. Anyone to the political right of Corbyn – the Blairites, Brownites, Blue Labourites, centrists and swing voters – are now all left with a party to which they no longer hold political allegiance and which fails to represent the views of all but a small minority of socialists. In this sense, they are left politically ‘homeless’, with neither Labour nor Conservative particularly able to accommodate their views in their current forms. The ‘homeless’ voter has now been left without a natural affiliation to any of the mainstream parties by the regressive economic and security policies of the hard Left and the exhausting continuation of austerity by the Right.
ORB International compiled data which indicates that whilst 20% of past UKIP voters are now more likely to vote Labour; 42% cent are now more likely to vote Conservative. Indeed, the new membership to the Party has mostly consisted of the London metropolitan elite: middle-class, urban, liberal and BAME. It has not consisted of Labour’s old historic voting core of white working class voters, which are either defecting to UKIP or disengaging from politics altogether. Moreover, YouGov’s January 2016 report on Corbyn’s net approval leadership rating put him at -39, and 37% of Labour voters polled believe that he has changed the Party for the worst. Corbyn’s electoral redemption will only come from some of his own MPs, which may be able to retain votes from loyal Labour members and constituencies due to their own quality as left-wing politicians, rather than as votes for him.
Hence, the change in the electoral membership is only a victory for a certain kind of politics: one that is focused not on being a credible opposition party or winning elections, but one instead consumed by the task of changing the Labour Party. If there are no changes in the current state of the Labour leadership, then it will be these newly disenfranchised members of electorate, these “homeless voters”, which will in all likelihood lead the Conservative Party to victory in the 2020 general election.