Thursday, January 07, 2016

How to deal with a problem like Jeremy...

Jeremy Corbyn is a problem. A problem, that is, if you are more concerned with his sometimes murky past than was he says and does in his current position as Leader of the Opposition. Yes Corbyn mixed at times with a ragbag collection of terrorists and anti-Semites. He, of course, was neither and a case can be made that his motives in what he did were sincere - though he was surely foolish in some of these associations. But this was the Corbyn who never stopped bring an activist and a protestor. The ever-present on a march and the go-to man of the Left for any organiser of a Left wing protest. He occupied a position on the political spectrum in Parliament (though not in the country) on the extreme Left rather as (for example) Conservatve Peter Bone does on the extreme Right.  But Corbyn was no more a Marxist than Bone is a Fascist. He was a good parliamentarian and a democrat, a good constituency MP and a Labour loyalist. "Loyalist" you cry, "a man who was a serial voter against the Blair/Brown Governments" ? I would say so yes because loyalty is about more than being lobby fodder - it is, or ought to be, about being loyal to your socialist principles - especially when you see that your Party in government appears to have abandoned theirs - if they ever had them.

Jeremy Corbyn never sought preferment or office - he was content in his role, as he no doubt saw it, of being a conscience of the Labour Party. But cometh the hour cometh the man. That hour was the 2015 General Election debacle. Corbyn believed that this defeat was because Labour was reverting to its "New Labour" posture and that the voters turned away from this "grey men of the centre" positioning. There is some evidence of this - especially in Scotland where the SNP was elected on the grounds that it was more socialist than Labour. Although some in the media and the Conservatives spread the "Red Ed" jibe constantly it was never true. Ed Miliband was a classic product of the modern political career politician Oxbridge machine. A bit redder than David Cameron for sure, but hardly the mad man of the Left he was portrayed as.  Corbyn, on the other hand, is as "Red" as they come. The Labour Party has a socialist as leader, shock horror!

Those in the Labour Party opposed to Corbyn constantly shout "Boo" - or worse - from the sidelines. The Tories have no need to do anything, just let Labour carry on tearing itself apart and an election win in 2020 is certain. Let's be clear on this. Corbyn's position is likely to be increasingly untenable not because the Conservatives beat him but because those in his own Party who don't like him destroy him - which they are determined to do. This group is often referred to as "Blairite" and certainly their anger is because the New Labour positioning has been overturned by the more authentic Labour positions favoured by the new leadership. But virtually all of their criticism is about the Jeremy Corbyn of the past - the man who opposed not just Blair's wars but much of what Blair and Gordon Brown did over their thirteen years in power. Understandably if you could stomach the barely even Social Democratic positioning of New Labour - a positioning which made the Liberal Democrats the more left of centre Party on many issues - you won't support a Labour leader who is a genuine socialist!

Since becoming leader Corbyn has made some mistakes - especially if you judge him by the establishment norms of a Blair or a Brown. The former was ideology Lite - throughout his career pragmatism ruled and it worked, at least for him. Brown was more principled and did have a sounder connection with Labour values than his middle-class and more privileged Public School educated rival. But neither of them had the value set of the Labour left. But it is that value set which led Labour members overwhelmingly to choose Jeremy Corbyn last year. They were saying that at last there was a way to get traditional Labour policies onto the agenda under a leader whose track record was consistently over his entire political life rooted in democratic socialism. This had never happened before. At least not in the post war era after Attlee. A few policy nuances aside Labour leaders from Gaitskell through Wilson and Kinnock to Smith and Blair have been pragmatic pursuers of power and as a consequence centrist in their politics. Michael Foot was the only exception to this - though actually Foot was a more establishment figure than many think and certainly more of one than Corbyn. 

So in short Corbyn actually reflects the views of those who elected him and therefore of the overwhelming majority of Labour members as well, I suspect, of hard core (not floating) Labour voters. The problem is that you can't win elections from this postion. Wilson and Blair won elections by marshalling votes from those who were not automatically Labour voters. Floating voters. Including many who had previously voted Conservative. It is inconceivable that Corbyn can do this. And when it comes to the crunch that is the problem with Jeremy. Not his murky past. Not his rather ham-fisted attempts to marginalise those who don't share his ideology. Not his anti-establishment past and present. No. The problem with Jeremy is that he cannot appeal to sufficient numbers of the electorate to win an election. 


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