On the Labour leadership election hustings – Corbyn on the road to the new socialist utopia while Kendall considers taking poison.
It’s been a while, but given the views I’ve posted here, the victory of Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest surely merits some further abuse masquerading as informed comment. And so here I enthusiastically if belatedly jump on the bandwagon.
There are two diameterically-opposed ways of viewing Corbyn’s victory. Firstly, there’s the perspective that Corbyn’s win represents a vindication for ideas of inclusive social justice and rejection of bland and morally-bankrupt Blairism. Secondly, there’s the view that Corbyn’s victory is a victory for the cranks and fanatics desribed by Denis Healey, and confirms that the Labour party remains unable to come to terms with Blairism and the central tenet of Blairism – winning elections by capturing the centre-ground. No prizes for guessing what my views are.
It is worth observing that Corbyn’s victory might just represent the sea-change in politics that many of his supporters have convinced themselves has taken place in post-austerity British politics. It’s certainly true that Corbyn’s victory was an overwhelming success, giving him a popular mandate absent from previous Labour leadership elections, and it’s also possible that Corbyn could build a broader coalition shadow cabinet than his previously narrow far-left position might indicate. It may also be true that his election reflects a broader rejection of the dominant post-Thatcherite consensus in British politics represented by Blair; all those inspired by the enthusiasm and ‘inclusive engagement’ apparent in the pro-independence campaign in last year’s Scottish referendum just might be correct when they assume that the old certainties have changed, and their hour is at hand.
Unfortunately for them, we have two contemporary examples which demonstrate the ephemoral nature of such ideas and which. First up we have Tim Farron, new leader of the Liberal Democrats. Elected from a left-wing base in side the party which explicitly rejected the Lib Dem involvement in the 2010-15 coalition government which lead to catastrophic electoral results, Farron used his first party conference as leader to immediately occupy the centre-ground vacated by Corbyn and the Labour party. Secondly, we don’t have to look far for examples of the kind of internal self-indulgence political parties like to engage in when they are more serious about settling internecine internal power struggles than they are about winning power in elections.
Allow me to introduce the American Corbyn – Donald Trump.
Mr Trump demonstrates his kung-fu prowess while a cat sleeps on his head.
It’s true that Trump and Corbyn seem completely opposed on all matters of policy, and even the most basic first political principles. Trump is a caricature of an ignorant, reactionary right-wing businessman, while Corbyn is a caricature of a Thatcher-era looney leftie psuedo-Trotskyite ideologue. But consider for a minute that the platform both were engaged upon was that of winning power in an internal party election. In those terms, the Corbyn and Trump campaigns both have some strong similarities. Both have relentlessly exploited an ideological agenda rooted deeply in their respective party consciousness; both represent a rejection of ‘business as normal’ (most ironically in Trump’s case, I admit); both have demonstrated substantive appeal inside their parties. But both are still recognised as unlikely winners of national elections. What works internally may be irrelevant or counter-productive externally, as the Bennite experience in the Labour party should have indicated.
This offers us an interesting view of the two political parties and the conflict that exists between their ideas of what is necessary to win internal elections by representing the core values of their party on the one hand, and to win external elections with their national electorates on the other. If the qualities necessary for the first naturally translated into the second, there would be no problem. Recognising that they don’t is the first problem at hand for both Republican and Labour parties.
For Labour, it must be said that the inevitable defeat of Liz Kendall, the only openly Blairite candidate in their leadership election, with 5% of the vote indicates how far the party really are from understanding what the legacy of Blairism really was. The reality is that Blair was deposed in 2007, and the succeeding Brown and Miliband regimes have been viscerally anti-Blairite, led as they were by the tribal chieftain of anti-Blairism and one of his chief henchmen. The recent leadership election simply confirmed that enduring legacy. Even ignoring the comically-low share of the vote for Kendall, the only openly Blairite in the competition, the profiles and behaviour of the other candidates reveal it – Burnham was an ex-Blairite now reconstructed pro-Corbynite, a reed bending according to the prevailing wind of political favour; Cooper was always a Brownite and married to Ed Balls, the chief thug of the Brownite mafia which spent most of the period New Labour were in government sabotaging and intimidating in the service of the thwarted personal ambition of their leader; and the venerable Corbyn offered the party a leadership figure untained by involvement in the New Labour experiment who could return them to the old socialist principles of yore.
Such as losing another general election. There may well be the possibility that an anti-Blairite Labour party can capture a growing tide of public support tired of the post-Thatcherite consensus typified by New Labour. Unfortunately, as of yet, there is no evidence of that while the experience of the result of general elections since 1983 should indicate that it might just be possible that Blairism might have something to offer if the party ever does want to win power in the UK again.
And for any Americans reading this, don’t worry too much about Trump. His capacity for alienating voters should comfortably outstrip his appeal to the Republican base when the chips are down. There have been a horde of pioneers on his particular trail, my favourite being the Wallace – Le May ticket in ’68. Now, there’s a Presidential-Vice Presidential team to conjure with – a leading southern segregationist and a fire-breathing nuclear Cold Warrior straight out of ‘Dr Strangelove’.
Perhaps sadly, the US electorate disagreed.
Slim Pickens takes us to the logical conclusion of Trump/Corbyn leadership campaigns. Yee-hah!