A good night for Corbyn

It was a good night for Jeremy Corbyn. Those of us who had believed he was unelectable and would never become prime minister have been proved to be … well, right, as it happens. He hasn’t been elected as prime minister.

Nonetheless, it was still a good night for him. He may not have won the war in the country, but he won the battle inside the Labour Party; he proved that an Old Labour leadership was no more unpopular than the last knockings of New Labour under Gordon Brown.

For the Labour Party itself, though, it was a poor result. To have scored a third general election defeat in a row is not an impressive boast. Up against the worst government campaign in living memory, the party was still 58 seats behind the Conservatives. After the 2010 election, it was 48 seats behind.

The task, admittedly, was daunting. And Corbyn can claim to have done what Neil Kinnock did: he’s put Labour within striking distance of victory next time. The difference, of course, is that Kinnock’s achievement was to save the party from extinction; Corbyn’s is that he didn’t drive it to extinction himself. Even so, it’s in a fair position for the next election.

And along the way, he has refashioned Labour on traditional lines, and has inspired supporters – both the idealistic young and the despairing old – by restoring some of the socialist rhetoric of the past. Even if the main slogan (‘for the many, not the few’) was a prime piece of Blajorism.

Above all, he has shown himself to be a very able campaigner. This is what he’s specialized in for his entire political career, and he – and his immediate team – know how to organize a public rally.

But it’s worth repeating: he still hasn’t demonstrated that he’s electable as a prime minister. For him to do that, to go one step further than Kinnock, to be seen as an office-holder rather than just a campaigner – and if Labour is again to be a party of government – two things are required.

First, the lessons of the election need to be learned. Early indications on the vote suggest that, as expected, the young voted overwhelmingly for Labour and the old opted for the Tories. The real battleground was for the 35-54 year-olds, and they seem to have broken evenly between the two parties.

At the start of the campaign, Corbyn played badly with this age group, but he won over a significant number – we suspect – in two key areas: the abolition of tuition fees, and the protection of pensioners. For those worried about their children going to university and about their ageing parents, Labour’s pitch was attractive. These issues compensated for Corbyn’s less pleasing positions on defence and security.

In other words, the appeal to the middle-aged middle class was what made the difference and allowed for seats to be won in England.

The second thing that needs to change if Labour is to win the next election is that the parliamentary party needs to unite around its elected leader. The gains that were made yesterday were achieved with a virtually anonymous front-bench that is not notably stocked with talent. To get any further, and to avoid a fourth successive defeat, there needs to be more strength on display. If there were to be an election for the shadow cabinet and big figures such as Ed Miliband, Yvette Cooper, Chuka Umunna and Hilary Benn joined up, then the future could look positive.

That, however, would require Corbyn to promote those who tried to force him out of office last year and to demote those who stood by him in his hour of need. And that would go against the grain; the Left respects loyalty within its own ranks, while it’s seldom willing to relinquish its grudges. But the vote yesterday has given Corbyn sufficient authority that he could be the ringmaster in a bigger tent.

In short, his opponents need to apologize, and he needs to accept their apology gracefully.

And still there is the massive question of the succession. Corbyn has won the right to stay on as leader while there remains a strong possibility of another election in the near future. But he’s 68 years old and it’s time for future contenders for the leadership to establish a presence in the public mind.

Corbyn might yet make it to Downing Street. But right now his position is simply that he’s the eleventh Labour leader since the Second World War, and the eighth who’s failed to win a general election.




4 thoughts on “A good night for Corbyn

  1. Corbyn is quite capable of winning a general election if circumstances are favourable. He needs a recession preferably accompanied by a financial crisis. Given that the former at least is due after 8 years of economic growth, Corbyn is likely to become PM, if the Conservatives make the wrong selection for their next leader or – worse – go into another election with May. The bigger challenge for Corbyn would be to prevent his tenure becoming a one-term disaster. His Government will go to the ‘magic money tree’ called QE, oblivious to the impending collapse in sterling that might even force a rate rise which would be disastrous for an over-leveraged economy and lead to an ever-greater government borrowing requirement. Domestic terrorism and the rise in crime accompanying an economic downturn would also force Corbyn to make some difficult decisions. As PM, he would no longer be able to criticise the Government for cutting police numbers. Corbyn has yet to formulate an immigration policy that would satisfy the British working class. And that is all before the Establishment gangs up against him.

    Corbyn is also likely to overestimate his own achievement and underestimate the dangers that face him in the near-term. Essentially he got the Labour vote to turn out in a way that no Labour leader since Blair in 1997 has done. One of the key factors behind Corbyn’s success was the regret of many young people, who failed to vote to remain in the EU. They voted this time for a man, whom they believe is a secret Remainer and who will work to keep the UK in the EU. How will Corbyn keep them happy while also pleasing the working-class vote who returned from UKIP? Corbyn has yet to show any inclination to get out of his comfort zone. My suspicious is that he will stand aside and hope that by staying out of the BREXIT debate – as he largely did in 2016 – no one will ask him to take sides. It would be very interesting if David Davis kept his nerve and stated that negotiations carry on as before, on the grounds that almost all votes were for the two parties that back BREXIT and the parties opposed to BREXIT (the Lib Dems and the SNP) did not do well.

    As for the pros and cons of the election campaign …

    The main positive is the growing irrelevance of the press and the rise in the use of social media to express alternative views. The output may all be propaganda but at least there is a greater variety in the propaganda on offer. (For this reason we should remain alert to attempts to use terrorism to censor the internet).

    The main negative was that no party questioned how Britain earns its living and its dependence on the City, on rising house prices and on the continuing net immigration by young, single people from abroad. Paxman challenged Corbyn on why his ‘left-wing’ manifesto failed to include nationalising the banks. My suspicion is that Corbyn hopes that the City will remain a good earner for the UK and that there will be no financial crash that challenges his spending plans. That would mean continuing high house prices, which would be hardly likely to please his young, middle-class and aspiring voters. It would also turn his Labour Party into a ‘New’ New Labour – one which like Blair’s model uses financial chicanery to avoid making hard decisions on tax and spending. The alternative would possibly be that high inflation and bank failures are part of McDonnell’s plan to destroy capitalism. A collapse of confidence in sterling as a measure of value would hollow out the private sector and put the UK on the road to totalitarianism.


  2. With respect, the very last thing Corbyn needs to do is take on board Yvette, Chuka and the like.

    Corbyn’s appeal is that he is NOT part of “them”. Once he allies with them he is part of the “bubble”….and not at all appealing. As with Brexit, Trump….anti-“them” will get support.

    The “people” are fed up with austerity…it has not worked. Time for some Keynesian stimulus for the people…not justbthe banks.


  3. Pingback: A terrible night for May | Lion & Unicorn

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