July 19, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
As MPs set off into the sun for their well deserved six week holiday, the Westminster world was set aflame by the release of a private poll that put Jeremy Corbyn ahead in the race for Labour leader. Corbyn, only in the race because some of his opponents generously gave him some of their own MP nominations, has presented himself as the change candidate, apparently taking David Cameron’s advice gleaned from when he won the 2005 Conservative party leader race. The problem, according to some in the Labour Party, and most in the right wing press, is that Corbyn represents a change in direction for the Labour Party in the wrong direction. As an unashamedly left wing candidate standing against all privatisation whilst being anti-austerity, for higher tax for the rich and also very much supportive of talks with the likes of Hamas and Hezbollah, he would, apparently, lead them towards electoral oblivion and political irrelevance.
This is based upon the last time Labour ran a campaign based upon an unashamedly left wing platform. Their 1983 manifesto was labelled, by one of their own MPs, “the longest suicide note in history.” It included such commitments as that to nationalise as much of British industry as possible, unilateral nuclear disarmament, pulling out of the EU, and a massive hike in taxes, particularly for high earners. Corbyn will remember it well, as it was in the 1983 election where he won his seat in Islington, a seat he has held ever since. He was one of the few who won seats then, as Labour’s vote share was cut back to 1920s levels. To this day, Tony Benn is mocked for saying that this result was a success, as “eight million voters chose a proper socialist platform.” Yet I wonder if some people are misreading history, and misreading today’s electorate.
In 1983, the Labour Party were having to respond to Margaret Thatcher’ ideological revolution, which included privatisation, lower taxes and the right-to-buy council houses amongst other policies just a few years after the UK had gone cap-in-hand to the IMF and the country had ground to a halt during the Winter of Discontent, which featured union strikes so bad that rubbish was piling up in Leicester Square and there was serious consideration gun to shipping the dead out of sea in the absence of grave diggers prepared to work. The country was ready for what Thatcher had to offer in a way it hadn’t been before and hadn’t been since. The response of Labour was to tear itself apart, with those on the centre-left splitting off to form the SDP, who then formed the Alliance with the Liberals. That Alliance won 25% of the vote in the 1983 election, whilst Labour got 26%. Add those together and you have what the left love to call a “progressive majority”. Furthermore, the Falklands War had been won and the country was still feeling rather jingoistic about itself, so perhaps the 1983 defeat needs to be put into historical context.
There is a way that Jeremy Corbyn could, as leader, become Prime Minister. I admit this may seem all rather far fetched, and the right wing press are happily scoffing at the possibility. But here we go:
Labour definitely has at least 25% of the electorate who will vote for them whatever happens. Much as we talk of their election meltdown in May, they did still get 31% of the vote so one could argue they actually have 30% who will vote for them whatever happens. Corbyn is not going to win over any Conservative voters, but he may win some of the Green Party’s million voters and he may also won some of the soggier left wing Lib Dems, although Tim Farron’s leadership may put a stop to that. The big prize is the 33% of the electorate who didn’t vote. Many of them didn’t vote as none of the parties had anything to offer them. Corbyn’s platform does.
Then there’s Scotland. I am going to assume that some of the people who moved towards the SNP to Labour were conned by the former’s convenient, opportunistic, (not backed up by any evidence from decisions they have made in power in Scotland), left wing bias. Those voters could surely be won back by a Corbyn leadership. Given the SNP have started to make noises about not including a commitment to a second Scottish referendum in their 2016 National Assembly election manifesto, it may be that some Scottish voters may feel that they have given their message to London and now they will vote for a proper left wing candidate from Labour for a chance for them to have a Government most well disposed to throwing money at them.
So, if you put together those voters who went to the Greens, those who might come from the Lib Dems, those who might come back to a proper left-wing platform in Scotland, and those who didn’t vote in May, there are a LOT of voters who wouldn’t move to a Cooper/Burnham or Kendall led Labour Party but could move to a Corbyn led one. When you consider that the deficit should have been cleared by the 2020 election, the Tory campaign about finishing that job won’t be as successful, and a Corbyn campaign about sharing out the proceeds of growth might actually win.
Beneath the current mocking in the right wing press, I feel, is some fear. They are starting to throw a lot of things at Corbyn that they never threw at Dianne Abbott, who was the left wing candidate in the 2010 Labour election. They are completely misrepresenting his use of the word “friends” to describe Hamas and Hezbollah, when he has been very clear he abhors their behaviour. They are writing excited articles about how the Party would split apart if he won, and they are giggling about the #ToriesforCorbyn campaign which is seeing people sign up for Labour Party associate membership at £3 to vote him in. As he starts to near the leadership, the tone is becoming more shrill, and the undertone a bit more wary.
Jeremy Corbyn is lucky that he is up against such unimpressive candidates as Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper, who seem terrified of saying anything inspiring in case it doesn’t focus group well, and Liz Kendall, whose Blairite rhetoric isn’t cutting through. Up against David and Ed Miliband, and Ed Balls, he wouldn’t have had a chance. Against this lot, he does, and perhaps him winning would not be the disaster for Labour others think it would be. Perhaps.