So, Mr Corbyn, What’s the Excuse This Time?
There is no point finding adjectives to describe the results of the local elections. If the crocodile masks of Tory spokespeople declaring that this victory does not correspond to a stonking general election win is not enough, the results speak for themselves.
Across the country a governing party that has been in office for seven years has just gained 563 seats, while its opposition has lost 382 seats. The Conservatives are in charge of eleven more councils than they were yesterday, while Labour lost seven. In Wales - the heartland of Nye Bevan and Neil Kinnock - Labour lost over one hundred seats. In Scotland, the birthplace of Keir Hardie, the SNP now controls 18 out of 32 councils; in a country where Toryism was (and not so long ago) akin to devil worship, the Labour party is a poor third.
Andy Burnham won handsomely in Manchester; Steve Rotheram won in Liverpool. But the West of England and Cambridge and Peterborough regions have Conservative mayors. Tees Valley, where Labour, in 2015, won 43% of the vote against the Conservatives’ 30%, now has a Tory mayor. In the West Midlands, 21 of whose 28 MPs are Labour MPs, Sion Simons lost to Tory Andy Street.
The BBC’s Projected National Share showed Labour on 27%, eleven point points behind the Conservatives. May is doing better than Mrs Thatcher’s equivalent in 1983. It is the worst recorded result by an opposition since the projection started. John Curtice - him again - has cautiously warned that Labour is facing a bigger drubbing than at its 1983 nadir.
Choose whatever adjective you like. Take your thesaurus down from the bookshelf and pick a dozen. Five weeks out from an election that will define Britain’s future for a generation or more and Labour lost. Badly.
And, of course, none of it is Jeremy Corbyn’s fault. So, what’s the excuse this time?
Don’t the electorate understand he has two massive mandates from Labour members?
Perhaps Corbyn voters, blinded by the glorious May sunshine, failed to make it to the polling booths. Perhaps, having been leader for a mere eighteen months, they have not had a chance to hear his message; it is very difficult for a leader to get media coverage when he leads the second largest party and has its vast resources at his disposal. Perhaps this is the fault of the PLP. Obviously they undermined him because he was doing too fantastic a job. They feared their party getting into government so decided to wreck it.
Or is Mephistopheles himself to blame?
Focus groups show how unwilling people were to vote for the present leader of the Labour party because of things done by the previous leader but two. Psephologists have told of happy Corbyn voters skipping to polling stations across the land when they suddenly remembered a speech that Tony Blair gave mildly criticising Jeremy Corbyn. Clearly they couldn’t vote for him after that.
We must not forget the unique circumstances of Brexit. It is, naturally, too much to expect a leader to formulate coherent policies in response to changed circumstances then sell them to the electorate. Especially against such a political genius like Theresa May. How could any Labour leader make political capital out of Brexit, an NHS crisis or a humiliating budget u-turn? After all, he has jam to make on his days off.
The defeat is difficult to understand because never has so principled and honest a man stood for public office. Clearly supporters have not sent around enough Twitter memes proving how Jeremy Corbyn was on the right side of history on every issue since the invention of the Gutenberg printing press. Get tweeting. Five weeks to go!
Don’t the electorate understand he has two massive mandates from Labour members? There is something undemocratic about these voters democratically voting against the democratically-elected Labour leader.
on every score he has made the situation worse
Hercule Poirot said that the most obvious suspect was usually the murderer. So here Corbynistas are playing Agatha Christie in presenting alternative, distracting suspects. The difference is Christie did it to fool the readers, they’re doing it to fool themselves.
Looking for suspects in conspiracies or logical contortions excuses their complicity. So let’s chose the obvious suspect: Jeremy Corbyn killed the Labour party.
Yes, Labour was faring badly when he got his bludgeon out. Thirteen years of government had faded its idealistic edges. But to say that Corbyn offers the party its only hope is like saying the best cure for a tummy upset is strychnine. In two years, he battered the body, stabbed it, shot it through the head then turned off the life support. His fingerprints are everywhere but it's easier to blame Rupert Murdoch.
He was meant to revive Labour north of the border. Failed. He was meant to enthuse non-voters and working-class support. Failed. This avowed left-winger was meant to tilt politics to the left. Failed. Failed. Failed. His inheritance was not serendipitous but on every score he has made the situation worse.
Even now it is not too late for him to do the decent thing and resign. It is more likely that Hell will freeze over and Mr Whippy open an ice-cream factory there.
Yes, social democratic parties are not in the ascendant. But Hillary won the popular vote in November. And if that is not demonstration enough: Emmanuel Macron is showing how mainstream leftism can defeat right-wing populism.
Instead Labour clings to Corbynism like a drowning man clings to a sack of cement. The inevitability of Corbyn’s failure stems from the fact he saw Labour’s modernisation as a move to the right rather than a response to global influences. As such, his inability to change his mind on anything is not a virtue but intellectual cowardice.
Guinea pigs spend their lives furiously running nowhere on exercise wheels. Put a red rosette on one and does it remind you of anything?
So on June 9th, when this rotten government has been re-elected, let’s dispose of the messenger. Then, after we’ve buried the political body, let’s dispose of the message too and find a modern progressive message.
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.
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