July 26, 2015 by Paul Goldsmith
The most interesting reaction to the ascent of Jeremy Corbyn towards the leadership of the Labour Party has been that of the right wing press. The coverage of his lead in the polls in the Telegraph and the Times has been based on the threat that a Corbyn leadership would mean for Labour’s electability and for party unity. They have both focused on the almost immediate coups that might happen should Corbyn win and are presenting their coverage as being about genuine concern for the Labour Party’s future.
I am going to suggest a different motivation. Fear, pure and simple fear of what would happen to those that whose interests are protected by the Conservative Party if one of the two major political parties were led by someone so left-wing. I suggest that the concern about Labour electability and unity, and worries about the relevance of the party, are merely a Trojan horse for the real problem the right-wing press has. The way that elitism would be challenged.
Look at Corbyn’s platform: Higher spending, funded by higher taxes. A greater role for the state in controlling the means of production. Rent controls. Withdrawal from all military activity, including an attempt to involve Hezbollah and Hamas in the Middle East peace process (in the same way as Corbyn felt that peace couldn’t happen in Northern Ireland without involving the IRA, for which he was ridiculed in the 1980s, just before the Government started negotiating with Gerry Adams). It’s a proper left-wing socialist programme and at the moment we are nearer to seeing it put into place at the head of the Labour Party than we have been for 30 years.
Which is where the comparisons with Labour’s failures at the ballot box in 1983 come in. That is the comparison everyone is using. But our political culture is different now. Then, the memory of the three day week and the Winter of Discontent meant that the public were just not prepared to go back to a left-wing programme. Then, Margaret Thatcher was blazing an ideological trail, so Labour’s policy prescriptions were like water of a duck’s back. Now, we have a Conservative Party who is far more prepared to listen, learn, and take the most popular policies of their opponents and make them law.
You could argue that Ed Miliband was a failure as Labour leader of you want, based upon the election result in May. But consider this: Miliband offered a consistent message for his five years at the helm. It basically revolved around a wish to end the “zero tax for the rich, zero hours for the poor” basis on which our economic order had been established. He lost, yes. But on July 8th George Osborne rose to deliver a budget that stole quite a bit of Labour’s manifesto. The living wage, change in tax reliefs for buy-to-let landlords, the banking supertax, the apprentice levy and changes to non-dom tax status, as well as again delaying the erasing of the budget deficit, were all inspired by Ed Miliband’s programme. So let’s not pretend that he was irrelevant.
Do you seriously think that George Osborne and the Conservatives would have delivered a budget like that had someone more centrist been Labour leader from 2010? Do you think that the business and banking community that funds the Tories and reads (and owns) the Times and Telegraph were happy about these policies?
So, if Jeremy Corbyn were to be elected leader, and especially if Tom Watson is his Deputy, we will see a fascinating battle at the top of politics. He would get guaranteed media coverage to spread his message in a way he couldn’t when just a back-bencher. Conservatives will find it considerably harder to govern as Corbyn will not operate in a concilliatory manner on anything.
They will also find, as Corbyn’s deeply unimpressive opponents in this leadership race have found, that they are facing someone who just says what he believes in, rather than what has been carefully focus-grouped and crafted by spin doctors. He will lead with a populist set of policies that tends to win easy cheers amongst the more radical end of the populace even though it might not win votes from those people who actually bother to turnout for elections (if the former group becomes the latter things could be very electorally different, as I have pointed out previously here).
It may be that Osborne is then forced to take some of THOSE policies in order to continue the Conservatives’ rather pragmatic take up of policies that are popular or which they cannot justify holding off from. This is what I think the right-wing press, and those they represent, would fear most.