Labour are currently experiencing an existential crisis, struggling to decide who and what they want to be and stand for. Lurching back to the left will clearly appeal to traditionalists and new younger labour members but I don't see this left wing platform sweeping Labour to power in 2020.
Clearly this election campaign hasn't gone according to the script. I like most people assumed that Corbyn would be the token candidate from the left, running for symbolic reasons but with no chance of actually winning! But that's all changed.
A YouGov poll claiming that Corbyn is on course to win the leadership and stories of left wingers joining the party to vote for Corbyn - mean the Labour establishment is now in a state of panic. Last week Tony Blair issued his warning to the party, that lurching to the left will result in further election defeats. I couldn't agree more.
I've been reading a lot about the leadership election and thinking about Labour and left wing politics in general. Lets be honest Labour are in a total mess. Not only are they struggling to understand why they lost the election and what they should stand for, they're also being completely outmanoeuvred by the Tories who have claimed the centre ground and stolen some of Labour's policies.
So what is going on with Labour?
There's a number of things I've started to realise about the Labour Party, particularly in the last few years. I voted for the first time in 1997 and my vote helped usher in New Labour under Tony Blair. Despite his 3 election victories, the truth is that many inside the party always have and continue to resent the lurch to the right and the centre ground which New Labour represented. I mentioned in one of my previous posts, that you rarely here Labour supporters saying anything positive about their 13 years in power! For them New Labour was completely inauthentic.
After the 2010 election, Ed Miliband's leadership was meant to return Labour back to its roots after the New Labour years but despite appearing to take the party to the left, he and Labour were roundly rejected by the electorate in May. The argument from the left is that voters were not presented with a clear enough choice, they see Jeremy Corbyn's leadership bid as a unique opportunity to 'reclaim' the party and take Labour back to its authentic socialist roots and ideals.
Do I think Corbyn can win the Labour leadership? I've come to the conclusion that yes he can. Do I think Labour could win a general election under his leadership? No I do not!
I wouldn't go as far to say there's a civil war in the party (that may come later) but there's clearly an ideological struggle taking place between the traditional Socialist left of the party and the more moderate, centre left, social democratic wing. I've started to realise that those on the left don't want, moderate centre left politics, they don't want to claim the centre ground, they want a Left wing socialist party.
Pragmatism v Principles
What I've started to understand is that the difference between the Conservative Party and Labour is this.
The Tories exist to be in power, they see it as their right and duty. Conservative politics relies on a degree of pragmatism and understanding on what policies will win votes and achieve power. It explains why they've been one of the most successful political parties in the Western world over the last century.
Labour, however are a party steeped in its own history, ideals and principles. You could argue they have more of a soul than the Tories. I now realise that for some in the Labour party, it's not about the winning - its about remaining true to the party's founding principles and beliefs. This is all very noble and admirable but my problem with this is that ultimately if you want to implement change then at times you have to be in government and that means winning elections.
I think a lot of people in the Labour party would rather lose and remain out of power than win and compromise on their principles. This may explain why I now keep hearing this phrase of 'Tory-lite' from those on the left.
Tony Blair and New Labour were 'Tory-lite', the policies put forward by Ed Miliband were 'Tory-lite', Liz Kendall is a Tory. In fact it now seems that those of us who aren't left wing socialists are all 'Tories'.
The left don't want to occupy the centre-ground, they don't want to appeal to former Conservative voters, they want left wing purity and want to appeal to those that share those values. Jeremy Corbyn is the man that embodies this.
I get Jeremy Corbyn's appeal. He's not the political establishment, he's not part of the 'Westminster bubble' we hear so much about, he's "principled" (why is everyone that's left wing principled?). He's a champion for the Labour left that for too long has felt ignored and marginalised. He's also benefited from the fact that his rivals are all in different ways so uninspiring.
We've seen all across Europe and in America in recent years that there's a great deal of disillusionment with the political establishment and people are looking for something different; this explains why Corbyn's campaign has appealed to so many. However it is one thing to be the leader of a growing political protest movement but very different to be the leader of the opposition and potential future Prime Minister.
The appeal of Corbyn particularly amongst the young, is like someone telling me about some great new band or singer they've just discovered. You listen to a few tracks and it sounds kind of new, but when you listen more closely you start to recognise a lot of the influences and styles that you've heard before. It's been repackaged and updated. Jeremy Corbyn is introducing 'New Skool' socialism. Nothing wrong with it but I've seen and heard it before!
You can't win elections in a comfort zone
I have no doubt that if Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership election he would appeal to more voters who have become disillusioned with the Labour Party in recent years. I'm thinking of people who have switched votes to the SNP in Scotland and UKIP and the Greens in England and Wales. The question is whether these are the voters that will help win an election?
This is the point I have about Labour moving to the Left. It may satisfy their core voters and make them feel warm and comfortable about themselves but that doesn't necessarily mean it will translate into an election victory.
Politics is always about striking a tricky balance between principles and pragmatism. A Jeremy Corbyn victory for me would send out a message that it is more concerned about appealing to itself and its principles rather than trying to appeal a wider electorate.
Too many on the left show a disdain and at times contempt for those on the centre-ground of politics and floating voters who have previously voted Conservative. Some simply don't want to appeal to those voters as they think it would be somehow 'selling-out'. When will they realise it isn't.
There's a part of me that's now beginning to think that perhaps it would be a good thing if Jeremy Corbyn became leader of the Labour party. It's what a lot of Labour grass-roots members and activists want.
We constantly hear about how the parties are all the same and people want a real choice - well Labour under Corbyn would be a complete and utter contrast to the Conservatives. There can be no more complaints about a lack of choice.
In the same way you can get excited about two great football teams playing against each other in a big final. Or a boxing world title fight like Pacquiao v Mayweather, I'm quite intrigued to see a left wing socialist Labour party go up against the Tories in the 2020 election. I would love to see it.
I've got a good idea of what the result will be, but perhaps it's something that needs to happen. Having received the following tweet last week from a member of the Labour Party I have some idea of what the response would be following a Labour defeat.
@Rodneyd75 labour didn't 'lose'. They failed to win election,there's a difference. They need to take the next one with both blood red hands!— mardymum (@helenturley68) July 21, 2015
Interesting semantics from mardymum!
Even if under Corbyn Labour get annihilated in the 2020 General election, there will still be some like the tweeter above who will claim that they didn't lose. They will self-righteously claim that they somehow won the moral argument, or that the electorate were scared off by the right wing media.
Whatever happens in the next few months or years, what we've seen is that many in the Labour party are happy to retreat into their comfort zone where it's as much about satisfying their own collective beliefs and values rather than appealing and meeting the electorate where they are.
If Labour elect Jeremy Corbyn they're effectively saying they're not interested in being an alternative party of government - instead they're choosing to be nothing more than a glorified left wing pressure group something which will not be of benefit for the Labour Party or democracy in the country.