Monday 20 July 2015

Can Jeremy Corbyn win? Ask Margaret Thatcher

Image result for margaret thatcher wins election 1979

Firstly, let me start by saying I'm not a Labour Party member, so I won't be voting in the forthcoming leadership election. That said, I do have an opinion on the outcome. Personally, I see the only twwo credible candidates as Liz Kendall and Jeremy Corbyn. Cooper and Burnham lost any shred of credibility by going along with collective "head in the sand" strategy to the clear fact that Ed Miliband was taking the bus off the edge of the cliff. Unlike Cooper and Burnham, Kendall at least appears to have some understanding of the fact that you don't win elections if the voters haven't got a clue what you stand for.

Of the four, she's perhaps the nearest thing to an electoral banker, as she's a Blairite and whatever you think of Blair, he clearly knew how to win elections. She isn't perfect, but I suspect that with five years of practicing and with all the heavyweight support from business and the luvvies a Blairite can come to expect, she'd win. It was clear that Cameron won because he was able to scare the hell out of floaters, who didn't trust Miliband and didn't really know what they'd get. This wouldn't work with Kendall. We all know what we get with a Blairite. It isn't really my idea of Labour politics, but it is a damn sight better than a Cameron/Osborne full frontal attack on the welfare state and the weakest people in the country.

But what about the fourth candidate, Jeremy Corbyn. Labours Blairite flunkies have been queueing up to denounce him. They've been saying he'd make the party unelectable and that voters would run a mile from Labour if ever he became Leader. They say he is an extremist and he'd keep Labour out of power for a generation. The problem, as they explain it is that Corbyn is not in the centre and he is a man of conviction. They say that to win an election in the UK, you have to be in the centre. Corbyn is lodged firmly on the left.

So are these siren voices right? Perhaps the only example we can look at, of a leader who was a conviction politician, far from the centre was Margaret Thatcher. when she took over the Tory party, many of the old Tory Grandees fell into a state of shock. A new term was coined for what we may now consider the likes of Cameron. They were "The Wets". Those who allowed the concept of appealing to the voters to get in the way of hard right ideology. Thatcher had little trck with these, although she had to accomodate them in her cabinet, to ensure that she had the support of the party. The likes of Ken Clark, are the last of the old guard of wets. So how did the populace respond to Thatcher? Well they all knew where she stood. In 1979, she won  a small but workable majority. She embarked on the most radicle program of reforms our society had ever seen. By 1981, the economy was in virtual meltdown and the Tories looked to be heading for the door, at the first go. Then she got lucky. In 1982 General Galtieri in Argentina decided to invade the Falklands, Thatcher rallied and by the following year, the myth of the Iron Lady was secure and she won a landslide. Thatcher won three election. The siren Blairite voices site the failure of Michael Foot as the proof that a lefty can't win. However they overlook several factors. The 1979 crop of Blairite equivalents defected and formed the SDP. This ensured that Foot couldn't win. In the aftermath of the Falklands, Foot was on a hiding to nothing anyway, but the fact that his own party was at war finished his chances off. Had the likes of Williams, Owen and Jenkins stayed and fought and not split the Left vote, who knows what the reslt may have been. The only thing we could be sure of is that Thatchers majority would not have been bigger if the SDP rump hadn't split.

What Thatcher proved was that the British can elect a conviction politician who is not from the centre ground. If the electorate gets fed up with centrist conformity and fudging, then sooner or later they want someone to bring in a fresh approach and to shake things up. Could Corbyn do this? Well his announcement that he'd abolish student loans and go back to the old system of grants is one policy which is a definate vote winner. I don't know of a single parent who likes the system of loans. I hate the concept of my children being burdened for decades with debt. I also wonder how Cameron would deal at the despatch box with someone who actually believes what he says and has spent decades forming his opinions and researching them. I suspect that Cameron would find it a totally different sort of experience, than the current situation, where both leaders are given a short briefing on current issues and affairs.

Corbyn would energise the parts of the Labour movement that work hard, such as the Trades Unions and the local activists. There are many things we can't be sure about, but it is a safe bet that the one potential Labour Leader the SNP fear is Corbyn, as he is the type of Labour Leader who could see their huge victory in Scotland turn into a one parliament aberration.

The right wing press is seemingly licking its lips at the prospect of Corbyn vs Cameron at the despatch box. I am not so sure that this will work out quite how they expect. We've had 25 years of people facing each other off, trying to say what they think voters want to hear. All of a sudden, we'll have someone saying what they believe - something which hasn't happened since Thatcher was in charge. How will this work out? I think two things will happen. Firstly Cameron will start to apper very shallow and weak. Secondly people will start to take an interest, in a way they haven't for a long time.

I am quite taken aback by some of the vitriol and some of the dishonesty poured on the Corbyn campaign. I can give a couple of examples. One comment was that Corbyn would have the same disasterous effect on the UK economy as Syriza has had on Greece. This is completely dishonest. The problems of Greece are nothing to do with Syriza which has been in power only for a matter of months. The country has been mismanaged by governments of the left and right for decades. Syriza is just a desparate outpouring of anger at the fact that billionaires pay no tax, whilst ordinary people are forced into poverty by austerity. I've yet to see anyone suggest anything which could actually help the people in Greece suffering from austerity, so why is everyone saying Syriza has been a disaster. Anything would have been a disaster for Greek voters. The only difference is that Syriza have attempted to share some of the pain with EU financiers.

Another highly dishonest charge made against Corbyn is that Labour will go into meltdown and collapse. This is a myth Tory bloggers at the Spectator are keen to circulate. We can only speculate as to why.  Corbyn as Leader would pose a huge challenge to the Blairite faction of the Labour Party, but there are two reasons they will not immediately jump ship. The first is that they will think a Corbyn Leadership is likely to implode and leave the floor clear for a Blairite. If Corbyn doesn't work out, they will surely have won the argument for years as to the future direction of the party. As soon as Corbyn takes the keys to the bus, they will be in the back seat plotting. Whilst many recognise that at the moment a Blairite manifesto is a bridge too far for man, a Corbyn disaster may open the gates in a matter of months or years for a full scale coup. The second is that if Corbyn doesn't collapse and does catch the public imagination, they may get the old ministerial limo's back if they play ball. They will also at least get some sort of opportunity to shape the manifesto of a party of government.

Living in the London Borough of Barnet, there is one issue that cannot be ignored. Corbyn stated that he views Hizbollah and Hamas as friend and this has caused uproar in the local Jewish community. There is a feeling that a Corbyn leadership would destroy Labour locally. My view is that unless they elect a full on Blairite, this damage is already done. I personally find such statements to be ridiculous. I would have thought  that appeasement of such extremists would have long ago been discredited as a strategy for dealing with such organisations. Whatever you may think of Israel, I cannot see how fundamental Islam can be viewed as a positive force in finding a apeace settlement. Hamas and Hizbollah are commited by constitution to the complete annihiliation of Israel and its Jewish residents. I can't see how such a stance can be anything other than destructive.

However The London Borough of Barnet is not the UK and whilst such statements play badly with the local electors, in 99% of seats it will have no effect at all. Had Labour had Corbyn as Leader, I am certain Labour would have more seats than it has now, even if only because they would not have faced Scottish wipeout. I cannot see any circumstances Labour will win a majority in 2020 without a radical rethinl of what they are, who they appeal to and how they conduct their campaigns. In the election in May, most people saw them as irrelevant. They failed to connect with even their core voters. No one knew what Miliband really stood for and he made no case for any policies. At least Corbyn with his policy of abolition of Student loans has shown that he understands that you can't all sing from the same song sheet. It seems we only get a leader who is unafraid to break with a failing consensus once in a blue moon. Will Corbyn be the next Thatcher, a conviction politician, loved and loathed in equal part? I have no idea, but I for one think that any Tories who celebrate should Corbyn win, will live to bitterly regret it, just as all of the Labour Mp's who saw the election of Thatcher as Tory leader in the 70's saw here as "Keith Josephs puppet" and an abberation bitterly lived to regret the fact that they didn't realise people actually trust people who speak their mind and stand up for what they believe.

No comments: