Image Description: Jeremy Corbyn
By almost any metric, Corbyn has brought failure to the Labour Party. Failure to win an election. Failure to command the respect of the British public. Failure to represent the working classes. Despite these facts, Jeremy Corbyn’s devoted supporters lament his departure. But Corbyn, the most unpopular party leader for almost half a century, reassures them that he “won the argument” after all. There couldn’t be a clearer demonstration of the eternal delusion of the Corbyn project – a navel-gazing movement more concerned with itself than with power.
In 2015, Mr Corbyn inherited a party which had suffered its largest defeat since 1983. Four years and two general elections later, he leaves it in an even weaker position, following the worst result since 1935. In the habit of record-breaking, Corbyn’s net-satisfaction rating reached a low of -60% in September of last year. This shocking statistic makes him even more unpopular than Michael Foot. Perhaps even more embarrassingly, just 33% of C2DE voters now back Labour at the ballot box. Compare that with the 48% who’d rather place their trust in an Old Etonian instead.
Jeremy Corbyn, the most unpopular party leader for almost half a century, reassures them that he “won the argument” after all. There couldn’t be a clearer demonstration of the eternal delusion of the Corbyn project – a navel-gazing movement more concerned with itself than with power.”
Not only has Labour decimated its working-class base in attempting to reverse Brexit, but it has also been damaged by serious accusations of institutional racism. Under his tenure, Labour became the second political party, after the BNP, to be investigated by the EHRC. 84% of British Jews polled believed him to be “a threat specifically to British Jews”. Even if charges of antisemitism were sometimes used cynically against Mr Corbyn, it is an ugly stain on his leadership that he never could win back the trust of the Jewish community. Indeed, much of the nastiness that has infected Labour’s ranks since his ascension has contrasted rather ironically with the ‘kindler, gentler politics’ he set out to promote.
How did it go so wrong?
Admittedly, many of Labour’s electoral problems predate Corbyn. An increasingly bourgeois party has haemorrhaged votes in its old heartlands ever since Blair’s New Labour. However, under Corbyn, the party has been exceptional in its lack of self-awareness and its commitment to ideological purity above electoral prudence. The opinions of party members almost entirely determine party policy, leaving voters out of consideration. Any kind of triangulation is distinctly frowned upon.
An increasingly bourgeois party has haemorrhaged votes in its old heartlands ever since Blair’s New Labour.”
The fringe issues of woke student politics dominate discussion within the party. Its policy on Brexit demonstrated a clear allegiance to middle-class liberals, concentrated in safe urban constituencies, over and above, its traditional industrial seats which had gradually become marginal.
Corbyn’s allies find a convenient scapegoat in Brexit. It is well-known that pressure for a U-turn on respecting the referendum came from the likes of Starmer, Thornberry, Abbott and Watson. However, Corbyn, as leader of the party, must be held responsible for sanctioning a policy which denied losers’ consent. Under his stewardship Labour sought an Erdogan-style referendum rerun, neglecting their leave-voting northern heartlands. This flagrant disrespect for the democratic rights of the working class was not forgiven, and nor will it be forgotten. They can’t say that they were not warned either. Caroline Flint, Ian Lavery, Jon Cruddas and the Blue Labour contingency all foresaw what was to come.
Corbyn, as leader of the party, must be held responsible for sanctioning a policy which denied losers’ consent.”
Is there any positive legacy?
Undoubtedly, Jeremy Corbyn helped to create the largest mass membership party in Europe, tripling the number of members to almost 600,000 as of January this year. His use of real people’s experiences at PMQs added a personal touch to a typically aloof chamber. Corbynomics has shifted the Overton Window to the left on issues such as nationalisation of the railways and utilities – a break from the Tory-lite policies of Blair and Miliband some might say.
But let’s be clear, Corbyn did not “win the argument” on austerity, a claim reiterated following the government’s coronavirus response. The austerity agenda has been shifting independently of Labour’s arguments, and the move away from Osborne-era cuts ultimately stems from changes in Tory leadership and external political trends. For example, the appetite for fiscal discipline inevitably wanes over time, demonstrated by the May administration’s gradual relaxation of deficit targets.
Corbyn helped to create the largest mass membership party in Europe, tripling the number of members to almost 600,000 as of January this year.”
Even under the most centrist of Labour leaders, a continuation of this scale of fiscal conservatism was not viable, and we must remember that Corbyn’s Labour maintained the language of balanced budgets in both manifestos, albeit restricted to day-to-day spending.
One crucial factor in changing the austerity agenda has been the disruption of political allegiances caused by Brexit, which has created a unique opportunity for a One-nation conservatism that moves left on economics to hoover up disaffected Red Wall Leave voters. The defining political debate of our time created a unique opportunity.
Even under the most centrist of Labour leaders, a continuation of this scale of fiscal conservatism was not viable.”
Recent evidence from the British Election Study found that the majority of both traditional and Red Wall Tory voters thought cuts to public services had ‘gone too far or ‘much too far’. Plus, a quarter perceived the budget deficit reduction programme as unnecessary. It is difficult to believe that the articulations of Jeremy Corbyn against austerity swayed the traditional Tory voters. And it is even more incredible to see the scale emergency interventionism to fight the impact of coronavirus. Corbyn, customarily jibed that the current socialist-style emergency spending vindicates his left-wing policies. Desperate to salvage any sort of legacy, he will attempt to shoehorn any narrative of victory, no matter how implausible.
A Tragic Farewell
Both Boris and Jacob Rees-Mogg have given tributes to the parliamentarian who has served Islington North for an eye-watering 36 years. No doubt the Conservative Party will greatly miss him. They have survived 10 years of austerity, and 3 years of political chaos, completely unscathed by the Opposition.
It is difficult to believe that the articulations of Jeremy Corbyn against austerity swayed the traditional Tory voters. And it is even more incredible to see the scale emergency interventionism to fight the impact of coronavirus.”
Both Corbyn and his followers must reflect on the impact their failure will have on the most vulnerable in society. Not only do the Conservatives have a huge majority in Parliament until the next election. But also, they have secured a winning coalition of voters which could well last the tumultuous years ahead. Two decades of Tory government is not an unlikely scenario. Therefore, Labour can no longer avoid laying the finger of blame on itself.
But who will suffer the most from their failings? You can bet that it won’t be the middle-class liberals, nor the toy-town revolutionaries, who can continue to bask in self-righteous indignation. The marginalised communities, whom Labour was created to represent, will suffer the most.
Image Credits: Chatham House @ Wikimedia Commons