Who Is Electable?
August 10, 2015 § 1 Comment
I know a lot of people who plan to vote for Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership election. I also know a much smaller number who recognise Corbyn’s principles and strengths, and agree with his politics, yet are inclined towards either Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper. This contradiction comes down to a belief that Corbyn is unelectable as Prime Minister because of public perceptions that he’s too left-wing, indeed that he is an extremist, and that media wars against him will only grow in their virulence, ultimately thwarting his chances.
It wouldn’t surprise me if some poll or other (probably already underway) came up with wider findings of this nature: that many would really like to see Corbyn at number 10, but some of these will base their leadership vote on a pragmatic choice: the only way to get the Tories out in 2020 is to settle for someone safer. In my view this is seriously mistaken.
Corbyn has become the focus of a whole new surge for change which has sundry component parts, in the protest movements of recent years and within the grassroots of the Labour Party itself. His candidacy has unlocked a mass of disaffections and the bedrock of his support is among the young, who have until now found no truly public forum that represents them, no champion for their numerous justly held grievances. What’s more, he is winning back traditional Labour voters lost in the last election (the very first television hustings, held in Nuneaton, intimated that Labour’s lack of distinctness from the Tories had played a part in its working-class swing to the Tories).
Twenty years of Blairism have weakened organised labour and led to a sense of working-class disempowerment. It is no wonder that so many are disillusioned with a party that has proved itself to be an inadequate opposition. Even in power, with Blair and Brown at the helm, it only tinkered at the edges of the neoliberalism, for with both it had remade itself in the image of Thatcherism.
There is a genuine hope that with Corbyn the Labour Party will rediscover its heart and soul. With him, the party may also rediscover its courage. As someone not driven by personal ambition, he speaks freely and boldly to the press; he stands up for himself and for his politics and he has shown that one way of handling a hostile media is not to be afraid of it or be crushed by it. It’s important to remember that he’s no lone politician, but a figure now at the centre of a genuinely democratic movement that will give his campaign buoyancy and resilience. Current Labour Party donors may well turn their backs, but money will be raised from other sources. If Corbyn wins, things are bound to be tough inside and outside Parliament, but so will any attempt to loosen the Blairite stranglehold.
What of doubts about his economic policies? The fallacy of his ‘extremism’ in the matter of Keynesianism has been amply demonstrated by distinguished economists such as Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz. He himself has pointed to Germany as an example of public investment in industry. The failure of ‘austerity’ is a topic of debate all over Europe. This ground is shifting.
Is he unelectable? Those who say so while in sympathy with his arguments are overlooking something else. Who is electable? Burnham or Cooper?
Neither will deviate fundamentally from neoliberal business as usual. Their agenda won’t go beyond the tinkerings of Blair and Brown. Will that convince all those who voted Tory this year because Labour seemed no more than a clone of David Cameron’s party? Will that move the young to become engaged in winning the next election? Will that bring back the UKIP voters, not all of whom are right-wing and racist?
Right now, Corbyn looks on track to win the leadership election. But it can’t be a foregone conclusion. Every vote counts.
If Jeremy Corbyn isn’t electable in 2020, then who is? I think that’s the real question.