Thursday, August 27, 2015

Jeremy Corbyn has never in 30 years shown an appetite for power nor an aptitude for it

A British friend who has lived abroad for years Emailed me with a good question. "I'd never heard of Jeremy Corbyn" he said "if he was a credible candidate to lead Labour now wouldn't he have played some part in its leadership for the past 25 years rather than being a continual sniper from the sidelines?"

My friend makes a good point. Leaders can come out of "left field" (though usually in the Conservatives rather than Labour - IDS anyone?). But in the main they have been close to the current Leader as a Minister or Shadow Minister. For good reason. Backbenchers are different animals from the insiders at the top. Many choose to forgo any chance of office by being either troublemakers (Denis Skinner) or single issue street fighters (Douglas Carswell, Peter Bone). A few add to the gaiety of Westminster with a colourful eccentricity (Michael Fabricant, Jacob Rees-Mogg). Many, when they realise that Office has passed them by and will continue to do so, plough there own furrow - often very honourably with committee work  and as supporters of good causes. 

Corbyn has always been a symbol of the breadth of Labour's church. As New Labour was created and took charge (and won three General Elections) Corbyn stubbornly refused to move with the Party to the centre. He has never been, in his thirty years in Parliament, a part of the Party apparatus at all in any way. Stubborn he may be seen to have been, but you could also say "principled" - where he came from when he entered politics is broadly where he is now. The trouble with that, though, is that the world has changed beyond recognition over this time. The rationale for electing an overtly Socialist party into power in Britain was finally seen to be a chimera in 1983 (the year Corbyn entered Parliament) partly by the re-election of Margaret Thatcher but mainly by the success of the centre-Left. The SDP/Liberal Alliance got 25.4% of the vote in that election from nowhere with Labour (Michael Foot) only just ahead on 27.6%. The electoral system denied the Alliance the seats they deserved and rescued Labour. But Kinnock and John Smith and Blair could do the math. 25.4 plus 27.6 = 53. 

New Labour's premise was that they could rely on the Hardish Left vote (Corbyn et al) but to gain power they had also to secure the Soft Left voters who had deserted them when Michael Foot led Labour. Remember many of these voters probably wavered between the SDP and the Tories but chose the former because they didn't like Thatcher's brand of Conservstism. This capturing of the Centre Ground was crucial to Blair's success. New Labour was in effect the SDP with a bit of symbolic red flag waving.

Britain cannot be led from the extremes. Clement Attlee and Margaret Thatcher can be seen to have been ideologically driven and there is a bit of truth in that charge in both cases. But in fact both were pragmatists and tempered their Socialism and neo-Liberalism (respectively) with pragmatism. Jeremy Corbyn has never done that - his principled positions have garnered him loyal support on the Left but little else. I doubt that any Labour leader since 1983 has even considered offering Corbyn a job let alone appointing him to anything. (He probably wouldn't have accepted if they had).

As I have written elsewhere there is a case for Corbyn if you want the Conservative government to be held to account. Maybe Corbyn, from the hard Left could do this better than someone from the traditional ruling elite - Burnham, Cooper, Kendall are all children of New Labour and they no doubt admired Tony Blair as much as David Cameron once said he did. Shaking up Btitish politics as Corbyn threatens to do has its appeal but the cold hard truth is that within weeks he would be taken apart. By the Tories but even more dangerously from his own back benches. It would be hard, in those circumstances, for the serial rebel Corbyn to call for loyalty and unity ! 


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home