As the Labour leadership contest rumbles on, there is a strong possibility that veteran left-wing MP Jeremy Corbyn will be elected as the party’s next leader, prompting claims from those to Corbyn’s right that this will lead to an unelectable Labour Party. But just how accurate are these claims?
After May’s election it was clear that Labour had got ‘it’ catastrophically wrong. The problem being, despite recognising that change is needed, no one has been able to accurately explain the ‘it’. Was it poor policies, lack of clarity, or having a leader who the public saw as weird? Most likely it was a combination of the above, and more, but there has been too much emphasis on Ed Miliband’s policies and not on the man himself. To be blunt, he was the wrong man for the job.
Politics has changed; the leader, rightly or wrongly, is now more important than the policies they try to persuade the public to back, certainly during an election campaign. For too many, ‘mainstream’ politicians are seen as out of touch, just look at the rise in popularity of Nigel Farage. This shouldn’t be news to me, this shouldn’t be news to you, and this certainly shouldn’t be news to the political elite.
Which is why it is baffling to see Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham and Liz Kendall repeatedly ignore this fact and continue to avoid answering questions, such as the issue of whether Ed Miliband would have a place in their shadow cabinets, and to confuse the public with their decisions, such as Andy Burnham’s abstention in the vote on welfare cuts despite reiterating he was against them.
This is where Jeremy Corbyn is different. He is a conviction politician of old, assertive and a man of principles. Before May, there were a number of variations to the story about Ed Miliband and Vladimir Putin walking into a room and only Vladimir Putin walking out. Put Jeremy Corbyn in a room with Putin and who knows what will happen.
He won’t produce useless, patronising and quite frankly ridiculous videos to try and sway voters, à la Kendall and Burnham. An MP for thirty years, he knows the people, he cares for the people. Jeremy Corbyn isn’t just representing the little man on the big stage; he is the little man on the big stage.
The momentum Corbyn and his campaign have gathered over the past few weeks has been incredible. People are fed up with career politicians, and take a moment to remember that even in May only two thirds of the electorate turned out to vote. There were fifteen million people who didn’t vote, just imagine what can happen if Corbyn can tap into the minds of even a few fractions of that number.
But why, after all, would people vote for an outspoken socialist? A recent YouGov poll in fact suggests that the majority of people support both ’radical’ left and ‘radical’ right views, including the nationalisation of the railways. Of course there will be disagreements on issues such as Trident, but perhaps people are inspired by someone who wants change, and whether it’s new change or ‘old’ change, the Labour Party need to go somewhere different, away from the ‘floating somewhere mid-left’ position Ed Miliband took them.
There remains the issue of UKIP and Scotland, and, presuming Scotland remain and the result of the EU referendum is ‘no’, these problems will not go away. Corbyn has the leftist politics to appeal to Scotland and the honesty and reality to appeal to disgruntled Labour voters who voted UKIP in May. What can Cooper, Kendall and Burnham offer?
The first priority for Corbyn, if elected next month, will be keeping the Labour Party together. But if he can succeed in that, and if the momentum from this campaign can continue, he will have years, and not weeks, to put his case to the country against a wafer-thin Conservative government. It won’t be easy, but I wouldn’t be writing off Jeremy Corbyn just yet.