Labour Has a Problem And It Is Not Jeremy Corbyn

“If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you?”

Every parent, plunging to new depths of predictability, has said this adage (or something similar) when their spawn has cited popular opinion for a - generally ill-considered - action. It may be slightly trite but it captures part of Labour’s malaise.

Because the Labour party does have a problem.

No matter how much supporters delude themselves, any objective analysis indicates that Labour is on course to lose the next election. At the moment the most likely outcome of the 2020 election is a re-elected Conservative government. And when that election result comes in, people will blame Labour's leader. And to be fair, he deserves a lot of the responsibility: he stood for a senior position without any requisite skills; he has seemingly deliberately gone out of his way to snub parts of the press, so essential to any party serious about converting voters to its cause; his parliamentary performances, whether it be debating the Queen’s Speech or his weekly questions to the prime minister, have all the vigour of a sodden sock.

But Jeremy Corbyn is not the real culprit. He is merely a symptom. So who is the Mephistophilis here?

As opinion polls show very little but gloom for Jeremy Corbyn, his supporters cry out that he would be doing so much better were his party to rally behind him. There is an element - but only just - of truth in this. Unity is obviously desirable for any party. However, absolute loyalty is never possible. Even before the 1997 election, Tony Blair led a party which pricked against his leadership. The member for Islington North was among them. Blair still won a landslide victory.

No. As wicked as they are portrayed they are not the true villains of the piece. To anyone who is currently laying the blame elsewhere, I say "gnothi seauton". The real offenders in Labour’s shabby Faust are Labour members themselves.

Cue howls of Twitter outrage. Of course, abuse and bluster are merely knee-jerk and revealing substitutes for argument. And the fact is that I say none of this with any pleasure. The prospect of a modernising Labour government is one for which I crave. But history, our only real guide to future behaviour, says it is not going to happen with Jeremy Corbyn.

Corbyn is not cutting it and those who support him are guilty of letting this feeble government get away with it

According to Ipsos Mori only 19% of the public believe him to be ready to be prime minister, even less than the 32% who thought Ed Miliband ready at the same stage in the last parliament; 22% believe that Labour is ready to form a government, again down from 2011. Labour recently “won” the local elections with a derisory estimated national vote share (NEVS) of 31%. Labour actually lost seats and suddenly “hanging on” is a mantra which will lead the party to government. In Scotland, where confessing Tory support stands just below admitting to slaughtering the new-born, Labour lost its position as the principle opposition party to the Conservatives. Even Wales offered little comfort for the party.

Despite this, his support among Labour members has grown. How else can one view increased popularity for a failing leader as anything but a demonstration of the 21st century politics’ vainglorious, self-indulgent and self-centred nature?

The recent row over anti-Semitism further highlights the problem. Labour purports to be a progressive party. Anti-racism has been at the heart of its recent history. Yet nearly 49% of Labour members believe that reports of Labour racism were “created” by the press. Let’s be clear, if racism is unacceptable then it must be unacceptable whether it is on the left or the right. It is a logical absurdity to criticise Zac Goldsmith’s Islamophobic campaign then excuse outbursts against “the Jews” from senior members of the Labour party. And that is exactly what a plurality of Labour members have done.

We are all hypocrites. We all selectively pick facts which suit our argument, and ignore the inconvenient. But there are no arguments, beyond conceit, which can justify supporters’ continued approval. And in truth, voters aren’t interested in the views of the self-selecting and unrepresentative minority that is 2016’s Labour Party. If you support Jeremy Corbyn, you support one of the most unpopular opposition leaders since polling began. Only Michael Foot was more unpopular. You support a leader whose party languishes in the polls. Even Neil Kinnock was able to rack up impressive leads in the 1980s and 1990s. You support a leader who has let this government off the hook time and again, whether it is on Europe or the NHS. Even William Hague was able occasionally to best Tony Blair during debates. Members may say (incorrectly) that the opinion polls got it wrong in 2015, but the only other way of measuring his performance is a popular vote and he has failed there too.

Corbyn is not cutting it and those who support him are guilty of letting this feeble government get away with it. The saddest fact is that it is those most in need of a government committed to greater equality who will suffer. From a detached standpoint, it is almost as sad that reasoned opposition to Jeremy Corbyn is near pointless. So entrenched is the tribal self that the more evidence thrown in their direction, the further Corbynistas seem to dig their feet in.

The frustrating thing about that parental dictum was that, of course, the answer to the question depended on why your friends were jumping off the bridge. In Labour’s case, members are following one another off the bridge to electoral oblivion. And they do not care or understand why no one else wants to jump with them.

More about the author

About the author

Educated at Durham University and UCL, Graham is Disclaimer's editor and a regular contributor. He has written for numerous publications including Tribune, Out Magazine and Vice. He has also contributed to two books of political counterfactuals for Biteback Media, Prime Minister Boris (2011) and Prime Minister Corbyn (2016).

A democratic republican lefty, he struggles daily with the conflict between his ingrained senses of idealism and pragmatism.

Follow Graham on Twitter.

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