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Uncertain outcome

Who knows what the outcome of Labour’s party leader election campaign will be? As a keen observer of politics but (I like to think) with no political views of my own, arguably – to me – the identity of the next Labour leader should be of no consequence.

I think it probably is, but that needn’t prevent anyone being fascinated by recent developments.

Initially the prospect of Jeremy Corbyn becoming a runner was generally treated by pundits and Labour politicos alike as a welcome joke that, at the very least, would perhaps add some colour to a distinctly lacklustre campaign and list of candidates. Then a number of well-meaning and/or mischievous Labour MPs either ‘stood down’ and/or became temporary Corbyn sponsors, ostensibly in order to add some left-wing ideas (and therefore spice) to the wider ‘whither Labour now?’ review the contest had prompted. Apparently, if reports are to be believed, none of the above seriously considered that Mr Corbyn would become a front-runner, let alone win.

Nobody would contend that the MP for Islington North has not ploughed his own furrow since first becoming elected to Parliament in 1983. Long regarded even within Labour Party inner circles as an outsider – a bit of a character, but one of the loner (loony left) maverick ones, rather in the style of the ‘Best of Bolsover’ (Dennis Skinner) – Corbyn has the advantage of being thoughtful, articulate and towards the positive end of the likeability scale, e.g. had the average ‘man on the Clapham omnibus’ voter been asked to nominate which MP they’d be prepared to go down the pub with for a drink.

corbynPerhaps surprisingly, Corbyn’s low-key humble style has done him no harm in the interminable round of hustings, during which (generally-received opinion has it) none of the candidates has impressed as potential Prime Minister material.

Corbyn’s opponents have been tarred, Andy Burnham as a ‘speak your weight, any old policy will do’ typical Westminster Bubble politico and Thunderbirds puppet; Yvette Cooper as a similar lightweight, albeit acknowledged as intelligent and astute; and Liz Kendall as an innocent, well-meaning but loony Blairite.

Measured against those, Corbyn’s absence of ‘insider’ status and Old Labour values have played well.

I have written previously about the seemingly inherent contradiction in the fact that any two highly-intelligent individuals can come to directly opposing views on anything/everything – when (logically, to me) you’d tend to think that the more intelligent people are, the more often they would come to similar conclusions as to how to solve the world’s problems.

An example of what I mean is the tale told by my father of the time decades ago when he was lunching at the House of Lords. A leading Tory peer at the table commented how valuable the then Labour chancellor Dennis Healey – acknowledged to be no slouch in brainpower but also a Grade A prat – was in cabinet. My father asked the speaker to explain how this could be. The reply came back that Healey was always, invariably, wrong – and that, generally in politics/diplomacy, if you are stumped for what best next to do, at least knowing what not to do was a start!

I’m getting a slight sense of a variation of this in the drift of Labour Party members to the left, if that is what the apparent surge in support for Corbyn signifies.

Here’s my thought process.

Most political observers and centre (or right-of-centre) leaning Labour MP, citing Tony Blair’s three consecutive General Election victories, maintain that Labour needs to occupy the centre ground in order to have any chance of winning power.

Meanwhile, most local Labour Party activists instinctively feel more comfortable with an old-style ‘them and us’ (rich and poor, the toffs versus the weak and vulnerable), broadly socialist, view of society and politics.

The main difference between the two is over the effect of these different political approaches upon the chances of winning a General Election.

The frustration for centre-right Labour politicians – if their logic and reasoning holds water – is that such a large proportion of Labour’s core support appears not to care about whether Labour wins power. The way centre-right Labour politicians see it, winning the next General Election is the main (if not only) short-term goal.

(After all, it doesn’t matter how brilliant or fine your policies might be if you’re never going to get the chance to put them into practice).

However, the local activists and therefore the left-wing Labour core vote have a completely different viewpoint. To them, Labour lost the 2010 and 2015 General Elections not because they were too left-wing – and therefore regarded as scarily irresponsible by the broadly conservative (with a small ‘C’) bulk of the UK electorate – but because they were not left-wing enough.

Corbyn’s supporters believe that Labour’s problem in 2010 and 2015 was that it presented itself to the electorate as little more than a Tory-lite. They argue that if Labour returns to its old-style working class (socialist) roots, it would not only provide a viable alternative to the Tory ‘take’ on how UK society best operates and prospers, but actually win the next Election.

The irony with political opinions is that – whatever their hue – they’re always self-justifying.

If by any chance Jeremy Corbyn should win the Labour leadership in September, you can expect soon afterwards to begin reading and hearing left-wing Labour supporters getting their excuses/explanations in early, should Labour then lose the next General Election.

The reason, of course, would be that the UK ‘establishment’ – the political and business elites, the media, the ‘behind-the-scenes’ movers and shakers – had done everything in its considerable power to thwart the will of the people. During the next General Election campaign, these ‘agents of darkness’ will have loaded the dice, and therefore the result, against them.

And there you have it. Intelligent people tend to have a set view of the world. Even when events don’t go their way, e.g. they lose an Election heavily, in their eyes it won’t (of course) be because any of their views and policies were misguided or wrong, or indeed just unattractive to the electorate.

It will be because ‘they’ (someone else, inevitably undemocratic and evil) has conspired to prevent their idea of Heaven coming to pass.

About Simon Campion-Brown

A former lecturer in politics at Keele University, Simon now lives in Oxfordshire. Married with two children, in 2007 he decided to monitor the Westminster village via newspaper and television and has never looked back. More Posts