We’ve recently had what’s termed in Britain a General Election. It’s the equivalent of a Presidential or National election in other countries as it decides which party will form a government and run the country for the next five years. It resulted in a disaster for all but one of the main parties, with the exception going on to form the current administration. As for the other significant parties, their leaders resigned and new ones were or are being chosen.
The interesting thing about the election was that it was widely touted as a neck and neck cliffhanger but the actual result was political annihilation for all the main parties except for one. The media, pundits and the supposedly in the know insiders were all stunned into silence by the result, but that’s the sort of deluded world view you pick up when you’re only talking to or running opinion polls at the beautiful people who live in the more fashionable and expensive parts of north London occupied by the chic Left.
The previous government was a coalition of the Conservative and the small Liberal Democrat party and despite everyone being palsy walsy in it, the electorate never really warmed to it, not least because they knew the compromise policies it put in place never significantly addressed the broad employment or economic concerns of the average person.
It was five years of stasis because the Liberal Democrat junior partner in the coalition had a disproportionate influence in blunting the necessarily tough policies you need to put in place to get an economy moving out of a recession. They’d inherited what was essentially a bankrupt government created by the previous Labour administration who saw no problem with excessive borrowing and equally excessive spending. Not only wasn’t there any rainy day fund – there wasn’t any money left at all. Period.
The new majority government of the Conservative party, are now getting down to the tough measures which should have been taken five years ago, that’s to say cutting back on spending and starting to chip away at the sovereign debt mountain. Like any one of us who’ve every got into financial trouble, it’s obvious that you have to cut back on spending and start paying off all those overdrafts, loans and credit cards.
Needless to say, such a necessary but austere regime provides a golden opportunity to make political capital at the expense of the government. There are loud howls of protest from the much slimmed down Labour party and the self-appointed guardians of the welfare class. Given the sheer scale of the Labour party’s downsizing in the last election, it’s nothing more than a point scoring exercise abetted by an overwhelmingly liberal mass media.
It’s all very noble sounding but of course cynical and totally futile, and that’s nobody’s fault but their own. They forgot the first, middle, last and greatest lesson of all growed up politics in a democracy – you have to win the damn election. They didn’t manage that at the last one, and by a long way.
In the aftermath of the disaster, the architects of it came up with some great excuses, typified by the campaign’s Director of Communications who surprisingly declared they had to find better ways of getting their message over to the electorate. It’s perhaps an obvious idea, but firing the chap who ran the failed communications strategy would seem to be a decent start to solving that particular problem.
Going into the election, the party had two liabilities, either one of which is almost guaranteed to lose it for you; the wrong leader and the wrong policies.
Taking the leader Ed Milliband first, he had little or nothing of that leadership look, which is still so important to any electorate. He was more like a geeky student’s union president, probably great in the backroom committees but never cut any sort of impressive figure in public, despite some frantic make overs. He was prone to nearly falling off podiums and eating food with all the grace of Gollum gnawing on a raw fish.
There was also a nagging resentment by the public that he’d stabbed his own brother in the back to get the leadership. It didn’t help that the brother, who was the favourite to lead the party, would have gone down much better with the electorate.
That resentment also extended to large portions of his own party, who knew the main reason for him unexpectedly winning the leadership election was the most powerful trade union in the country getting behind him and dropping his brother. In essence, he was foist upon them by a dinosaur trade union determined to get what they considered to be a more socialist leader.
On the policy front, it was hard to find anything the electorate would be attracted by, because nearly all of it was predicated on the existence of an electoral demographic that died out in the nineteen seventies. Once you stripped off the Church of the Latter Day Socialists spin, the basic message was vote for me comrades and I’ll tax the rich and redistribute the lot to you poor down trodden workers. It’s a different world nearly half a century later.
And it’s a very different electorate.
The young have no interest in the class war politics of their grandparents. They are into entrepreneurship, they watch the apprentice as keenly as they watch their waistline. They aspire to be millionaires themselves, not working class heroes. The cup of tea and a jam sandwich have long ago given away to a low-fat café latte and a New York bagel to go. The socialist politics of class and envy were always going to bounce off a demographic like that because they want to be bosses themselves.
The people in their middle years busy raising families had a shrewd suspicion who would be bearing the brunt of the tax rises they were supposed to like and also who would be on the wrong end of the redistribution of wealth. The elderly, having lived through the absolute political chaos of the seventies, were never going to go back to that.
Fielding a candidate like that with such dire polices to match, is a sure sign of a political party that’s only listening to its own party members and has totally lost touch with the electorate.
There were other factors but to my mind, those twin liabilities and the disconnect with the aspirations of the average voter combined to make the perfect storm and as a result, the Labour party suffered the worst election defeat in its history.
Obviously the party would need a complete rebuild and the thinking was that they’d had their experiment of moving the party leftwards and the electorate had rejected it massively, which was exactly what happened. Moving it back to a politically central position would involve the new leader being more of a social democrat than a socialist, both in terms of perception and actual policy. It was going to be history repeating itself.
No Labour leader had ever won two back to back elections until Tony Blair came along – he won three in a row before handing over the leadership to Gordon Brown, living up to a deal for support he’d made with the left wing of what had become a centrist party. If he’d run a fourth time against the new and rather indifferent Conservative leader David Cameron, I think he just might have added another election to his tally, despite what the media and pundits were saying. In contrast, the accident prone Brown cocked up and lost the election clumsily.
The reasons for Blair’s success was he and others had modernised the Labour party, moving it from the unelectable extreme left to the centre and pointed it at the electoral demographic of the twenty-first century. It helped that most of the time the Conservative opposition were busy tearing themselves apart over doctrinal nonsense of little consequence. It was their turn for a bit of political aberration.
Blair’s reward for being Labour’s most electorally successful leader ever was to be roundly despised, if not hated, by the left-wing of his party as well as the union movement. I think it was PJ O’Rourke who said if Joseph Stalin couldn’t please the socialists, what chance did somebody like Tony Blair stand?
Anyway, bearing in mind Blair’s winning formula and at last remembering the prime imperative is to get elected, they started a leadership contest with four candidate’s hats in the ring. Three of them were suitably Blairite enough to front up the party’s move back to centrist politics and the fourth one was an eccentric socialist called Jeremy Corbyn of the old school vintage, who was widely perceived as a sop to the hard left after the disaster. Somewhat a joke candidate, to be frank.
He wants to get rid of the nuclear deterrent, withdraw from NATO, abolish the monarchy, has voted against every military action in the last thirty years and can think of no circumstances when the army should be deployed. He’s even entertained representatives of Hezbollah, Hamas, the PLO and the IRA in parliament as well as heading up various protest committees against fighting terrorism.
Railways, utilities and no doubt other industries should be nationalised. Free child care, a national bank, rent controls, a state funded house building program and that’s just a selection of his opinions and suggested polices. All this will be financed by somehow recouping a magical £120 billion in missed taxes from the rich and quantitative easing, a new term for what used to be called printing money in the good old days of the Weimar republic.
He’s of course the type of committed socialist raised in a five bedroom manor house in the country, cycles to parliament every day and is as green if not greener than the next vegetarian and most objectionable of all, teetotal. I can’t help but include his support of apartheid for women by designating female only carriages in trains. Perhaps men only carriages, whites, blacks and Muslim carriages too?
That joke candidate now looks poised to become the leader of the Labour party this Saturday.
The important questions are how the hell did that come about, and if it actually happens, what will be the effect of it? The how comes down to a new leadership election procedure which is ridiculously easy to abuse. Just pay the modest sum of £3 to join the Labour party, tick a box saying you support them and you can vote. There’s probably some truth in rumours of Conservatives thinking that’s a cheap price to pay just to hang an electoral albatross like Corbyn around Labour’s neck for the next five years.
But whether there’s any material truth in that rumour, they wouldn’t be the only ones busily gaming the system. The unions, whose influence the new system was supposedly designed to dilute, have lined up their members to vote for him and more importantly their £20 million a year donation to Labour behind his selection. Bottom line, money talks and bullshit walks. Compared to the other three candidates, Corbyn’s rallies have a well-financed and orchestrated look somewhere between a messianic tent revivalist meeting and a formal get together of the supreme soviet, but on a more modest Islington north London scale.
The extreme left is well into the mix too, busily coughing up their £3 to get what they consider the nearest thing to a Marxist candidate and they’re of course correct in that perception. If you think that’s a rather harsh judgement of him, google his pronouncements over the last three decades and make your own mind up.
Since the leadership election was announced, the number of people eligible to vote in it has trebled to nearly half a million and apparently quite a number of them haven’t receive their voting papers. Call me cynical, but it all smacks of a mainstream party in trouble being opportunistically hijacked. The extreme left, like the extreme right, is always with us and never gives up.
Another factor was the sameness and even blandness of the three other candidates. There was a Stepford Wives feel about them. They were yet another bunch of well-heeled, professional politicians who’d never held down a real job for any length of time. That’s also true of Corbyn, though he doesn’t look like it. They had all the right words for any occasion without an ounce of passion for anything other than a desperate desire to be the party’s leader. There was never a well-groomed hair out of place while Corbyn ambled into every rally looking like an elderly uncle on the cusp of letting himself go to seed.
Moving to the effects his leadership would have, the most serious is that in the short term it’ll kick off an internal war in the Labour party, and there are signs that’s already happening. Several next generation Labour MPs have already declared they wouldn’t serve in any shadow cabinet he forms and one of his supporters is trying to bring back what was called deselection, essentially a way of getting rid of elected MPs of your own party whose political position you don’t approve of. The last time Labour had a civil war because of a lurch to the extreme left, the political centre spilt off to form a new party, and that hurt them badly.
Any political grouping that has no internal discipline is not a party but more of a bickering protest movement. Asking the parliamentary Labour MPs to swear fealty to a leader who has over the course of his thirty-two year career in Westminster ignored the whip and voted against his own party on over five hundred occasions is pushing things and no doubt will be exploited by the Conservatives. At the end of the day, a lot of younger Labour MPs want a credible record untainted by what they already see as the Corbyn née Brezhnev years of stagnation.
Corbyn is a conviction politician and the downside of that kicks in when the policies they sincerely believe in are not acceptable to an electorate. They’re inflexible in any fundamental sense. He won’t be modifying, toning down or diluting any of them in the face of a general election and he’ll lose because of that. Politics is the art of compromise, unless you’ve been an ineffectual backbencher for over three decades whose petulant stamp of the foot vote has never counted for much.
There would be other impacts which are essentially domestic but the ramifications might all too easily become international. For instance, it’s a well established tradition that the Prime Minister keeps the leader of the Opposition in the loop on matters of national security. Given Corbyn’s not just connections but active participation in several dubious organisations who on any charitable view don’t have the best interests of the UK at heart, will Cameron be able to continue that informal tradition?
If he does, will the intelligence services continue to feel free to brief Cameron unselectively, knowing they might ultimately be leaking sensitive information to the enemy?
There is also something called the control principle applied by all intelligence services across the world when sharing data. When you give an ally sensitive information, they cannot share it with another country without first getting your explicit permission. If Cameron is perceived to be sharing sensitive intelligence with a security liability, that flow of information will dry up. The old adage of intelligence work applies – when there’s a doubt, there’s no doubt.
Political analysis is all about parking your own convictions and trying to look dispassionately at candidates, policies, the economy and above all the perceptions of the electorate, no matter how erroneous or misjudged they might be. On a personal level, I’m sure I’d like Jeremy Corbyn, but as a person who’s occasionally voted Labour over the years when they were the only credible party in town, I think he’ll be a disaster for the party.
If Corbyn is still at the helm at the next General election in 2020, I can’t see any way of Labour not having an even bigger disaster unless something totally catastrophic happens to the world economy or the Conservative party. If you accept that assessment, then what the country is looking at is at a minimum a coming decade of rule by one party, making fifteen years in total and all of it with no credible political opposition.
That’s never a good thing for any democracy.
Related articles by Pointman: