Corbyn: The Best of A Bad Bunch, Who Won't Do Enough to Win an Election

It is with a gut-wrenching sense of unease that this magazine welcomes the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Leader of the Labour Party. That unease stems from the very basic and often-asked question:  can this man win an election?

From where we stand today - and in the full knowledge that events can change things very quickly - the answer is a very probable “No.” Too many voters will be scared by who he is and what he stands for. That, put simply, is all it will take for the country to ease into a second decade of Conservative rule.

But it won’t entirely be Corbyn’s fault. Corbyn or no Corbyn, Labour would have always struggled to win the next election, whoever had won this leadership race. His three adversaries had all the appeal of a bowl of dirty dishwater, tepid and too laden with debris from the past. None of them has the electoral magic to cure Labour of its electoral woes.

Corbyn’s victory has energised many in the party and brought optimism to the hundreds of thousands who backed him. Corbyn will help Labour rediscover what it should and shouldn’t stand for. He will test the outer-boundaries of British politics in a way none of his leadership opponents would have. He may even shift the centre-ground of politics to the left, putting debates on the table that haven’t been had for decades.

The swift resignations from the Shadow Cabinet presage trouble ahead

Labour needs a new discourse, one that chimes with the hopes and anxieties of a world that has yet to properly recover from the last financial crisis and is ill-prepared to deal with the next one. It needs answers to big questions like what the government’s role should be in the face of growing economic insecurity, and it needs to put an end to the myth that a slightly pro-cyclical fiscal stance in 2007 was the reason for the biggest banking crash in history.

Unfortunately for Corbyn and for Labour, this exercise is unlikely to take place in the calm and measured way his supporters might hope for because there is no ‘time out' in politics. The swift resignations from the Shadow Cabinet presage trouble ahead and have the feel of a tactical retreat from a faction of the party that is regrouping ahead of a civil war.

And if that is too pessimistic a scenario, David Cameron and George Osborne will be waiting in the wings, ready to pounce and make political capital out of any sign of weakness or mistake. Furthermore, they will be all too sensitive to their own past to make the mistake of moving right: Osborne seems intent on hugging the centre, even if it is an illusion. That’s before Corbyn has even started battling the predominantly conservative outlook of most of the British media as perhaps exemplified by the recent BBC Panorama programme, let alone The Sun, The Times or The Daily Mail. This has always been true for Labour leaders but the conversation is about to get louder, nastier and more polarised.

Corbyn will dispense with the careful triangulation that characterised his predecessors but also there are simply too many areas where Corbyn will get outflanked. This is a man with baggage who will be made to look not only like someone that is a bit shaky on monetary policy but who is prepared to take risks with the country’s security and its place in the world. He may win some arguments but, as football pundits say, make any mistakes “at this level” and you get punished. 

Ultimately, Corbyn won’t take Labour into government because he is too divisive - in tune perhaps with the general disaffection with post-2007 anti-politics - but too prickly and dogmatic to strike the right chord with the majority of the British people. Democracy needs a degree of consensus in order to function. It’s not clear that Corbyn can achieve it with his party, let alone with the country.

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Disclaimer is a group of writers, journalists, and artists who have been brought together by their desire to tackle serious issues with a light and humorous touch. A mixture of idealists and pragmatists, Disclaimer is socially very liberal, economically less so. The editorial stance is formed collectively, based on the shared values of the magazine. Gonzalo Viña founded Disclaimer with the help of Phil Thornton who oversees the economics coverage. Graham Kirby is the editor.

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