It’s now been over two weeks since Jeremy Corbyn was announced as leader of the Labour Party, and it’s not been the easiest fortnight for arguably the most unlikely leader in political history. From refusing to sing the national anthem to a bizarre (though not disastrous) debut appearance at PMQs; he has lurched from front page story to front page story – though he’s not addressed these stories as he refuses to talk to the media.
Quite frankly, what did anyone expect? Corbyn is a political outsider – who prides himself on it -and he made it quite clear in his victory speech that he finds the media deplorable. He doesn’t care what anyone else thinks of him because he’s so devoted to his cause.
This is partially a positive. Corbyn is principled to his core, which should be applauded. But one cannot win an election on principle alone. His supporters during the leadership contest denigrated anyone who dared challenge their princeling as a ‘Tory’, refusing to accept any criticism of Corbyn and instead denouncing critics for trying to ‘smear’ him. Their idealism borders on naivety; they brand any criticism of Corbyn as a ‘smear’ and refuse to accept that their ideals aren’t actually going to get Labour into power.
Yes, it has been shown that people support policies such as rail nationalisation, scrapping tuition fees and higher taxes on the rich. But when Corbyn tries to present these policies together as a manifesto he will be torn to shreds by opponents in the Conservative Party for relying on the ‘magic money tree’. If David Cameron was capable of completely stripping Ed Miliband of any economic credibility, what exactly do Corbynites think he’s going to do to their man?
It’s not as if the criticisms of Corbyn end at his flawed economics. Labour now has a leader who has called Hamas and Hezbollah “friends”, who appeared on the state media channels of both Russia and Iran and gave money to a Holocaust denier. His supporters defend these associations as him wanting to include everyone in a wide debate, but debate only works when you have two sides, and Corbyn seems to associate himself with those who many would consider ‘extreme’. Nick Cohen pointed out in The Spectator that if Corbyn had really been wanting to engage in debate he’d have attacked Russia’s and Iran’s policies on gay rights, rather than go on their state channels to peddle his ideas that the UK and USA are evil imperialist war states, which are trying to destroy the world with their capitalist ideology.
This leads nicely on to the greatest fallacy of all; Jeremy Corbyn is a progressive politician. His supporters argue that he’s the only politician offering real change, but his policies can’t offer real progress for Britain in the 21st century. Rail nationalisation, scrapping academies and attacking private education all all ideas trapped in the 1970s. Corbyn has failed to realise that Labour isn’t fighting Thatcher anymore, and that he will have to challenge a Conservative Party that can boast to have taken the lowest earners out of tax and increased the minimum wage. While Yvette Cooper was advocating investing in jobs in the science and technology sector, Corbyn was espousing hiking up business taxes and forcing the Bank of England to print more money. His ideas aren’t going to create a modern Britain, they will hold Britain back.
Similarly, he demonstrated with his shadow cabinet that he’s hardly a social progressive. All the big three appointments – Treasury, Home Office and Foreign Office – went to heterosexual, white men (John McDonnell, Andy Burnham and Hilary Benn respectively), with his attempt at appeasement being the appointment of Angela Eagle as Shadow First Secretary.
Corbynists argue that this doesn’t matter as half the shadow cabinet are female, but if you’re going to engage in the politics of gender quotas then why not also just give a woman one of the top three jobs? Eagle is more qualified to be Chancellor than McDonnell; and Emily Thornberry, the former Shadow Attorney General could likely do as good a job as Burnham in the Home Office. There are enough talented women in the Labour Party to fill the top jobs, even with the bigger names like Cooper, Liz Kendall and Rachel Reeves refusing to serve under Corbyn. For the last five years the line has been that David Cameron had a ‘woman problem’, but Corbyn appears to have an even worse problem in that regard, and we can expect the Conservatives to take full advantage of this.
Of course, when discussing Corbyn’s shadow cabinet appointments it is difficult to ignore the appointment of McDonnell to the Shadow Chancellor role. Corbyn has managed to find one of the few people even further to the left of the party to be his closest political ally. McDonnell has previously said that he would like to end the entire capitalist system, along with remarks that he would happily go back in time to assassinate Margaret Thatcher, as well as previously praising the IRA. I don’t know quite how Corbyn could have appointed anyone more politically toxic to be his chief economist (without exhuming the body of Hugo Chavez), but appointing McDonnell shows that he is keen to push through a hard left economic agenda, even if he does cede some ground to party moderates on other issues.
For the Labour party these developments are not to be taken lightly. For those in the party and supporters who believe that Labour needs to be a credible alternative to the Conservatives, this is the worst possible scenario. Corbyn’s utopian socialist vision certainly has great appeal, but it is a false hope. The people who need a Labour government; single mothers hit by tax credit cuts, public sector workers who’ve seen their wages stagnate and students who will see their loan debt pile higher as bursaries are scrapped in favour of loans, don’t have a saviour in Jeremy Corbyn. He is Labour’s paper tiger, he seems to offer the solutions to all of the problems faced by people, but has no credible plan to solve them. He doesn’t appeal to the median voter and Labour will lose seats in any election they contest with him as leader. When Ed Miliband took over as Labour leader, YouGov polling put his net approval rating at 12%, whilst Jeremy Corbyn is currently at -8%. The general public don’t trust him, and this is unlikely to change within the next five years.
The Labour party must question why it should unite behind Corbyn. Why should they back a leader who is destined to lose them an election? It’s not as if Corbyn can point to his own sparkling record of unity with the party leader, having defied the Labour whip over 500 times since 2001, so if the party rebels against him he has nowhere to hide. Talk of a coup is likely exaggeration at this point, given that the rank-and-file members of the Labour Party wouldn’t be pleased to see their chosen one kicked out so soon. However, Corbyn will need a decent performance in the local elections next year, or the pressure on him could begin to mount.
For Labour the next five years is crucial. If Corbyn and his radical – but ultimately flawed – policy are allowed to dictate the agenda for too long then Labour dooms itself to a humiliating defeat in 2020, and dooms the country to 5 more years of Tory cuts; rather than the possibility of a progressive Labour government, which works for the worst off in society whilst also growing the UK economy. Corbyn’s lack of regard for the media presumably means he will stagger on blindly, regardless of how bad the polls get. Therefore it will be up to the Labour Party to assure that in 2020 they are able to present a credible, reasoned, alternative to the Conservatives, or it will be the country that suffers in the name of the Labour left’s great vanity project.