Sub Editor of Naked Politics
The dust settles on the Labour leadership elections and – to nobody’s surprise – Corbyn emerges the victor; all eyes now turn to the next chapter in this comic tragedy.
Corbynistas across the internet are pleased by the victory, imagining that he has a hope in hell of winning a general election. Those who point out Corbyn’s lack of appeal to the broader electorate outside of the enthusiastic following that he has in a narrow sub-section of society are accused of, among other things: being ‘closet Tories’; ‘obsessed with winning’ (as though the point of any political party is to do anything but); not having principles and merely spouting the media’s rhetoric.
Has Corbyn been an effective leader?
I have never been an ardent supporter of Corbyn, but from the beginning I have wanted Labour to get behind him. I hoped that he could successfully wed left to centre to create a viable alternative to the Tories. But in the last year he has not demonstrated effective leadership. He has made consistent media gaffes, he has shown that he cannot control his MPs, his vassals have spent more time attacking other Labour MPs than the Conservatives and – fatally – he has utterly failed to make clear what Labour’s stance is, not just on the EU, but on most issues.
It is this absence of leadership that has meant that the SNP have become the UK’s de-facto Official Opposition, with Nicola Sturgeon scrutinising Conservatives a lot harder and more effectively than Corbyn has ever done, on issues ranging from the EU, cuts to public services and Trident.
The ‘wins’ that Corbyn has claimed have arguably been despite of, rather than because of him. Sadiq Khan became the Mayor of London, but Corbyn had very little impact on his campaign. Indeed, like every other aspect of his leadership over the past year, he was MIA. Cameron championed Goldsmith’s racist campaign at every step of the way but the same simply cannot be said for Corbyn and his mayoral nominee.
The government U-turns over tax cuts came down to Labour and Liberal Democrat peers in the House of Lords, people who would have defied the government regardless of who was leading Labour in the Commons. A similar back-down over cuts to disabled benefits was ultimately because of Tory infighting.
In recent local elections, Corbyn declared that Labour ‘hung on’. Such a mediocre statement, issued as though it were a victory, is utterly depressing. ‘Hanging on’ is not winning – not by a long shot.
Is it wrong to want to win elections?
How is it unprincipled to want to win elections? Corbynistas deride the Blair government, but at the end of the day Labour under Blair brought in the minimum wage, the Human Rights Act, tax credits, the Good Friday agreement, it raised investment in the NHS by more than 25% in real terms, reduced the amount of pensioners living in poverty by a million, oversaw the longest period of uninterrupted growth in the history of the UK and much more.
Of course Blair introduced tuition fees and took us into the Iraq War, but that does not undo other good things that his government did. None of this would have been achieved by standing heckling from the side-lines on the basis of principles, like Corbyn and his adherents seem to be determined to do.
I would also say that it’s not traitorous to point out the fact that the Tories have an 11 point lead over Labour. When asked who would make a better Prime Minister, 50% of respondents to YouGov’s poll say Ms. May. More people (31%) say that they don’t know than say Corbyn (19%). At this stage in the last election cycle, Ed Miliband had a 6 point lead and he still went on to lose the next general election. The last Labour leader who had approval ratings as bad as Corbyn currently has was Michael Foot, who oversaw Labour losing 3 million voters & 52 seats at the 1983 general election.
Corbyn’s supporters are as deluded about the polls as Trump’s supporters in America. And we call Trump’s supporters crazy, so go figure.
Is listening to the electorate a good idea?
Listening to the electorate does not, and should not, mean abandoning principles and shouting what you think people will like the sound of. But Corbyn and his followers need to realise that the majority of the electorate in the UK inclines towards the centre, and that’s why they swing between voting Labour and voting Tory. A hard left agenda is simply not palatable and a credible government needs to be able to appeal to people on both sides of the political spectrum.
Listening to the electorate does not mean forsaking Labour’s roots and switching to a hard-right agenda. Certain Labour MP’s pandering to the Murdoch media’s anti-immigrant and xenophobic rhetoric is not the right course, as listening to the electorate should not also mean lying to them. One Bank of England study found that the link between EU migration and wage suppression to be statistically insignificant, and the House of Lords Committee on Economic Affairs, the Government Migration Advisory committee, a Labour market expert Danny Blanchflower’s 2009 study, a LSE 2009 economics studyand a study by the University of Oxford’s Migration Observatory all concur that immigration has no effect on wage suppression, finding a more credible correlation between wages and the recession. Even our own government in 2008 said that research “continues to find no significant evidence of negative employment effects from immigration”.
But it does mean compromising on certain things. Michael Foot went into the election of 1983 campaigning on a basis of leaving the European Economic Community, getting rid of the House of Lords and, in the midst of the Cold War, cancelling Trident and removing cruise missiles. It was political suicide and whilst it was principled, it simply handed Thatcher a second term and let her wreak even more damage on the poor and the North.
So to Corbynistas who say that others in Labour are obsessed with winning, I would say yes. Yes we are. To stop the Tories from doing more damage, we have to get into office, and to get into office, we need to listen to the electorate and try to deliver on what they want. The party is teetering on the edge of annihilation, and closing our eyes and pretending that it’s the 1970s again is not the answer.