On Saturday, the loud shouts of ‘Jez we did!’ resounded from Westminster’s Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre as the Islington insurgent, Jeremy Corbyn, sailed to victory with an astounding 60% of the vote. Within minutes, frontbench Labour MPs resigned from their ministerial capacities (Tristram Hunt, Emma Reynolds, Chris Leslie) and soon began the homecoming of backbench Socialist veterans emerging in the new Shadow Cabinet: John McDonnell to Shadow Chancellor, Diane Abbott to International Development, and Jon Trickett to the Communities post. The Blairite flame had, after a long eighteen years, been extinguished and the fires of Old Labour were reignited.
This year, the UK was salvaged from the possibility of a Labour government headed by Red Ed. The English and Welsh electorate emphatically deserted the left in favour of the centre-right, with over 49% of the electorate voting for right-wing parties. The reason was two-fold; the first, that Miliband was simply not a credible Prime Minister. Even though Cameron seems perhaps the most superficial leader of any UK party, he still had the preferred statesman-like demeanour. Miliband did not – his skirmish with a bacon sandwich or the gimmicks of the messianic ‘Ed stone’ did not help. For the second reason I will refer to the comments of Liz Kendall, Corbyn’s contender for the leadership:
“People didn’t trust us on the economy or with their taxes – which is the basic test for any party that wants to govern.”
In layman’s terms, under its most left-wing leader since Kinnock, Labour strayed leftwards from the path of fiscal responsibility, embraced a bloated welfare state and proposed tax hikes to an electorate who had run out of notches on their belts to tighten. Labour was not trusted on immigration, crime or Europe, and with a national consensus that seemed to be slanted rightwards on such issues, it was no surprise that Cameron swanned back into Number Ten. The increasingly daunting prospect of Labour propped up by the even more left-wing SNP panicked the electorate who ran screaming from the turmoil of tartan Trotskyites rightwards to the certainty of Cameron’s camp.
Surely, if an electorate abandons a party that is perceived as too left-wing, the last thing that it wants to do is lurch even further to the left. As one Labour MP observed, “to think that it would elect Corbyn and his turbo-charged Miliband policies is madness”. And yet somehow, this madness of the fundamentalist left has prevailed, and the mantra that ‘we lost the election because we weren’t left-wing enough’, or as many prefer to conveniently cloak it, ‘we didn’t inspire people enough’ has been heralded as an unquestionable truth.
When will the militant left pull their deluded heads out of the sand? In 2020, Labour must woo the hearts of former Lib Dem, UKIP, and even Tory voters. In 1983 and ‘87, both fought under the leftists Foot and Kinnock respectively. Labour was slaughtered for this precise failure. In 1966 and 1997, Wilson and Blair modernised the party, heaving it to the centre-ground – and Labour won, with remarkable landslides. Nevertheless, the hard-core left continue to delude themselves, unfoundedly declaring that their dogmatic agenda of unfettered government spending, unaffordable nationalisation, unnecessary quantitative easing, uncontrolled immigration, and abandonment of Trident will surely garnish support in Tory heartlands.
And even if the Tory shires are unconvinced, surely Labour can then enthuse Scotland and former non-voters? Here is another myth that needs busting. Even with the remaining members of the public who didn’t vote in 2015, it seems laughable that, firstly, these people will actually turn up to the ballot box in 2020 and, secondly, that they will all unanimously be darlings of the militant left. In Scotland, whilst a number of voters switched from Labour to the SNP on the claim that Labour had ‘lost its way’, the majority did so for one reason: the independence referendum. The rhythms of nationalism pulsed through the highlands and millions of Scots, from across the ideological spectrum, wanted an amplification of Scotland’s voice in parliament; the SNP is in Scotland to stay.
Therefore, when a party is so obviously incapable of procuring enough support it ceases to be a plausible alternative and Westminster is thrown into turmoil – government handed free reins without accountability and credible opposition.
We are regaled with the tired old argument from Corbynistas, that we are seeing a return to Labour’s ‘core values’, callously discarded under the “Blairite virus”, as McCluskey put it. Yet again, here is a fallacy that must be dispelled. Ideologies are contingent, ever-changing in the face of modernity. A party of government must propose something that is responsive to modern times. The fact is, Corbyn’s policies such as withdrawing from NATO or nationalising large parts of the economy are neither responsive to the demands of modern times nor to the agenda of the electorate.
The Tories are already mounting their attack and we’re not even four years away from the next general election yet! Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has described Corbyn’s Labour as “a serious risk to our nation’s security, our economy’s security and your family’s security” and, with the media’s constant reminders of his description of Hezbollah and Hamas as “friends”, the electorate will learn to fear Corbyn and the Socialist Utopia he envisions.
The New Labour project was the first time since the seventies that the left were an electable force. Such a successful policy, that in fact lifted millions of people out of poverty and enhanced our NHS and schools, cannot simply be abandoned to pursue some traditionalist Socialism designed primarily to make the far-left feel good about themselves. “The theory that the electorate are stupid”, as Blair acerbically put it, is now enshrined as the central Corbyn creed of Labour and will consign them to the wasteland of electoral oblivion for years to come.