Any calculation made by a political pollster should be viewed with considerable scepticism in the wake of their profession’s collective failure in May. That said, the scale of Jeremy Corbyn’s projected victory in this increasingly chaotic Labour leadership contest should cause great concern to any party member who wishes for a potential prime minister rather than the leader of a large but insignificant protest movement. Corbyn has the backing of Unite and Unison, two of Britain’s largest trade unions, not to mention the most nominations of any candidate from constituency branches. It is conceivable that the candidate who only received the required number of nominations from his parliamentary colleagues in order to broaden the debate might end up winning the whole leadership election.
Corbyn deserves slightly more recognition and respect for his long years of service as MP for Islington North than he has received from his opponents in recent weeks. Agree with him or not, Corbyn has a way of expressing himself that is refreshingly honest and to the point, something that distinguishes him in an age where politicians talk endlessly without saying a great deal. Furthermore, his campaigning on behalf of the marginalised and the oppressed around the world, most notably in apartheid South Africa whilst the British government of the day did little to challenge it, is something from which many of his contemporaries could learn.
Admirable though this is, it does not make Corbyn suitable to lead the Labour Party. He advocates an astronomical top rate of tax, a boycott of Israeli goods and the eventual abolition of private schools, positions that are utterly incompatible with the majority of the electorate as well as huge swathes of his own party. No Labour prime minister has included Corbyn in their cabinet, nor has he ever been elected to the shadow cabinet, because he hails from a socialist tradition that has long been discredited in this country. Corbyn has shown no realistic ambition to lead the party to victory in 2020, responding to an election defeat that can, in part, be attributed to Labour’s drift away from the centre by pledging to move it to the far left of the political spectrum. The only thing more farcical than Corbyn’s assessment of where the party went wrong is that there appear to be a large number of people involved in the process of electing Labour’s next leader who agree with him. If the electorate shared Corbyn’s vision for a country with nationalised industry, nuclear disarmament and free university education, it would not have elected a majority Conservative government.
Corbyn has tapped into the left-wing complex that there is some sort of glory found in perpetual defeat. There is not. For all that he and his supporters are right to distance themselves from the Labour government’s disastrous interventionist foreign policy legacy, there is no need to write off the whole New Labour project on that basis. Many constituencies were transformed as a result of its landslide election victory in 1997 because of a long overdue investment in public services and the establishment of a compulsory minimum wage. Yet Corbyn considers Labour’s thirteen years in power as having been wasted simply because the government did not directly address income inequality. Doing so, as Ed Miliband acknowledged with his advocacy of ‘pre-distribution’, is no longer viable in this post-Thatcherite neo-liberal consensus. Corbyn’s regressive campaign ignores the fact that the world has changed. Change comes about under politicians who understand where the centre ground is and make it their own.
The situation is doubly perilous because Corbyn has the potential to scupper the party’s electoral prospects whether or not he becomes the next leader. Say that Andy Burnham manages to win by presenting himself as the acceptable, electable face of the left. Rather than changing the party in any particular ideological direction, the new leader pursues much the same strategy as Miliband by keeping various factions satisfied with a vague, unambitious vision for the party and country. Predictably, Labour falls to the same fate in 2020 as it did in 2015. Or imagine that Yvette Cooper scrapes over the line. Having benefitted from a preferential voting system that favours the least offensive candidate, she carries forward this strategy of standing for everything and nothing into the leadership and struggles to win over support from middle England. In both scenarios, the emerging left-wing Corbynites will be as disaffected as ever, diagnosing the surrender of socialism as the reason for defeat.
Whereas David Miliband’s supporters largely disappeared after their candidate lost the leadership election in 2010 (indeed, he himself departed for New York mid-parliament), deciding that the party had changed so much as to be an altogether different political entity from that which had dominated politics for the previous decade and a half, Corbyn and his followers will remain vocal whatever the outcome. That is why a Corbyn victory might end up being the most favourable outcome for Labour’s future. There is no question that the situation would unravel under his leadership well before 2020, meaning that the party would be forced to find another, more moderate, leader as the antidote to a failed experiment of taking the party to the left under Corbyn.
Blair ought to have taken on the far left of the party when he was strong and it was weak. In the meantime, Corbyn and his acolytes have become convinced that the only path to a better society is through the pursuit of socialism. Now is the time to test their theory to destruction.