Nobody was too surprised to see Jeremy Corbyn re-elected as Labour Party leader except perhaps those who had vehemently opposed him. Their vigour in doing so failed to achieve anything except both reinforce and strengthen Corbyn’s hold on the post which he seems likely to keep until the next election at least. His opponents’ strategy appeared to be to treat both the incumbent and the Momentum movement as some kind of invading enemy. “They” have infiltrated our party, it was declared and made it unelectable. The inconvenient truth that they failed to grasp- or perhaps did not even recognise- is that Corbyn is the most traditional Labour leader in over thirty years. His and Momentum’s ideals are much, much closer to Labour than anything Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband had to offer. If you flip it over it is Blair and co who were the invaders, changing Labour beyond recognition, and now the party has taken back its purpose and re-linked with its origins.
The irony is that his detractors within Labour have often joked that Corbyn’s policies have not changed in decades which Trad Jez himself probably views as something of a compliment. He would say he has retained his principles, his Labourness if you like. It is they who have wandered away to other places. As for Momentum being some dark force propelling Corbyn it actually started less than a year ago, a month after Corbyn was first elected. And I’m sure the right wing of the party has some equally shadowy group behind it.
The other main thrust of his party critics against Corbyn is that his policies make Labour `unelectable` but they are basing this on the past two decades. Certainly ten years ago they would have been unelectable had they presented such a collection of defiantly Socialist ideas but with recent events the slate is wiped clean. The statement that they are unelectable under Corbyn might just end up in the same trunk with “The UK would never vote to leave the EU” and “Scotland would vote for independence if they had the chance”. I think there is growing evidence that the electorate is no longer voting or thinking predictably. A succession of scandals has eroded trust in politicians and the growing divide between the parts of the country for whom things seem back to normal and those still suffering under austerity means that the kind of conditions that might embrace a socialist agenda are re-appearing albeit in a different guise.
Of course like many a left wing politician, Corbyn’s ideas sound reasonable until you read the small print and realise the only way to afford to do any of them would be increased taxation not just for some but for everyone. Take one of his signature beliefs- that the railways should be re-nationalised. Ignoring for a moment just how awful British Rail was in its apparent heyday (rarely has a view been more rose tinted), how will the majority of people in the country who drive rather than use rail feel about paying more tax to fund something they never use? I know the idea of socialism is us all chipping in for the greater good but as a concept that is a very hard sell nowadays because the amounts we are talking about that would be needed are huge. Corbyn needs to learn the lessons of the 1970s when tax and spend got this country into a terrible mess and laid the ground for the rise of Margaret Thatcher. On the other hand he definitely has ideas that could never be mistaken for Conservatism and you couldn’t say that about Blair and Brown. Plus he does want to scrap HS2 which is the biggest waste of money currently on the table.
Labour have wasted a year faffing about over the leadership but now have an opportunity to do something. The last Labour leadership’s idea that by saying as little as possible- and often agreeing with the government- meant that people would have had enough of the coalition after five years and would automatically vote Labour didn’t work. There are far worse things Labour could do now than to adopt some of Jeremy Corbyn’s politics and present themselves in effect as New Old Labour. Unelectable? They won’t know unless they try. Maybe what really scares Corbyn’s enemies is that his ideas if put to the electorate may be more popular than they would dare to think…