Ditching Corbyn Does Not Mean Ditching Corbynism

Let me be brutally honest: I do not think the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn will win the next general election.

If the opinion polls are anything to go by, that is.

With Labour polling as low as 25%, 17 points behind the Conservatives, the margin of error doesn’t signal the chance of an upset Labour victory in the style of Donald Trump or Brexit. A majority of voters think Corbyn should stand down as Labour leader.

A politician’s clichéd retort to bad polling is that the polls which really matter are elections. So let’s look at the ballots that have just been counted in the by-elections in Stoke and Copeland.

In Stoke, Labour held off UKIP, a party left in disarray by the calamitous Paul Nuttall and the cause of Brexit being taken on by Theresa May’s Tories.

While UKIP’s prejudiced rhetoric did not win the day, Labour only won in Stoke on a turnout of just 37% and a reduced vote share, with the Tories coming third closely behind UKIP.

But the biggest news of the day was the Tory victory in Copeland, in a seat that was held by Labour for over eight decades, on a 51% turnout unusually high for a by-election.

Corbyn’s allies can play the blame game: an unpopular Tony Blair’s intervention on Brexit, the conflict in the Parliamentary Labour Party, or Corbyn’s voting record against nuclear energy, which is a bread and butter issue in Copeland.

But the historical significance of the loss leaves Labour in dire straits, reflecting the trend of the collapsing Labour vote and the avalanche Tory vote being further fortified by the irrelevancy of UKIP.

the Tories and Theresa May are, by far, more trusted than Labour and Corbyn to govern Britain

I supported Corbyn’s bid for the Labour leadership in 2015 and I wasn’t surprised he won. Bear in mind that Corbyn - unequivocally condemning the Tory Party’s austerity agenda - won a landslide vote from pre-2015 Labour members.

Corbyn’s viewpoints on many issues are also broadly popular with the public. Most voters are getting sick of austerity. They believe in a public NHS and would prefer the railways and other utilities were taken into public ownership.

They would like tuition fees reduced and more money to be spent on social care. They object to disability benefit cuts and other cruel welfare policies like the bedroom tax, and would support the government borrowing more to invest in housing. They dislike arms sales fuelling human rights abuses by regimes like Saudi Arabia.

Corbyn’s long-time opposition to NATO and Trident nuclear submarines are unpopular, and he has had to moderate his stance on both in respect of his party’s positions.

But ultimately the Tories and Theresa May are, by far, more trusted than Labour and Corbyn to govern Britain. Not only on the economy - despite declining living standards and uncertainty about post-Brexit trade deals - but remarkably even on the NHS, the virtual collapse of which is a bedrock Labour campaigning point. While Corbyn is the most unpopular of all party leaders, May is the most liked politician in the country.

Corbyn’s defenders protest that making an issue of the Labour leadership is a “distraction” or “divisive”, but this is nonsensical. The electoral credibility of a leader is one of the most basic necessities for a successful party.

For the record I am not a “Blairite”, an “MSM shill” or a Tory-sympathiser, as the hardcore Corbynites might tweet. I am glad that Labour has, via Corbyn, cultivated a grassroots that is opposed to austerity and passionate about social justice.

The mass expansion of the Labour membership could stand as Corbyn’s legacy. Or he could be remembered for condemning Britain to a stretch of Tory rule longer than Margaret Thatcher’s. Or even Robert Walpole’s.

Labour is most likely destined to suffer its most crushing electoral defeat since Michael Foot’s in 1983

Don’t be mistaken, I would love to be wrong. I would definitely be elated if Corbyn could lead Labour to victory at the next general election, even if he were to form a minority or coalition government.

Perhaps May will mishandle Brexit negotiations badly enough for Labour to seem like the preferable party of government. However Corbyn, who is not trusted on the economy or Brexit, will struggle to outline a vision for the country that adequately reverses his unpopularity. It is not impossible but it is improbable.

As it stands Labour is most likely destined to suffer its most crushing electoral defeat since Michael Foot’s in 1983. I strongly admire Foot, who was one of the finest English journalists of the 20th century, but he was an ineffective Labour leader.

In the same vein I have respect for Corbyn for his lifetime of human rights campaigning, for rallying against the Iraq War and the abuses of the War on Terror, for attending anti-fascist protests, and for standing up for feminism and LGBT rights in parliament long before it was fashionable.

On Corbyn’s future as Labour leader, the idealist in my heart calls me a pessimist. But my head calls me a realist. I want the essence of Corbynism to be put into practice in government, but I lack faith that the man himself can achieve that.

It’s not personal, Jeremy - just political.

More about the author

About the author

Jacob Richardson began his career with Disclaimer and writes on culture, politics and society. Politically he is a democratic socialist and Labour Party supporter. His other interests include cinema, psychoanalysis and professional wrestling.

Follow Jacob on Twitter.

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