I am not ashamed to admit that if I woke up tomorrow to read that the Labour Party no longer existed, I would feel nothing other than sheer elation. I despise it, both ideologically and as an organisation, and nothing would satisfy me more than one day having the privilege of seeing it collapse. Although personally I doubt that I should ever be so lucky, a number of political commentators and insiders have recently suggested otherwise. Judging by the conduct and discourse of the current Labour leadership contest, they might just prove me wrong.
The man who has triggered this anxiety amongst Labour-types is Jeremy Corbyn; a politically ordinary serial backbencher and unassuming Party outsider. Until recently he was considered nothing other than a token candidate for the Party’s left, nominated by just some 15 MP’s for the candidacy. But support for him has since exploded, and he now tops the polls in the race to become leader. Why Corbyn has proved to be more than just an anomaly is in part easy to answer. His attractiveness stems mostly from his possession of an extremely well articulated political vision. He provides clear answers to the tough questions regarding both Labour’s recent failings and its uncertain future. Personality-wise the man is mesmerizingly honest and affable; seemingly free of bad temperament or selfishness.
But is it all worth it, I ask, to elect such a stone-cold ideologue as Labour Party leader in the name of political integrity? It is as though people forget that Corbyn is nothing but an antiquated Bennite; an outdated remnant from the British left’s past. To have the Party as the embodiment of this is to once again cast Labour into the political wilderness. The blood-red socialism of which he is an advocate is not just an electoral liability but is also in itself a dangerous philosophy. It is one which advocates the ballooning of an already overbearing centralised state through an extensive programme involving the (re)nationalisation of various industrial sectors and a hugely unsustainable hike in public spending to splash out on lucrative benefits and to abolish tuition fees. Rather unimaginatively when quizzed as to how he plans to fund such lunacy, he merely confidently spews out the same old leftist drivel that we have heard time and time again and attempts to disguise it as a bold new idea. Perhaps the most pathetically tedious of these is that if ‘Robin Hood’ Corbyn were elected Prime Minister he would embark on a campaign to close down Europe’s tax havens whilst concurrently hiking corporation tax and even considering levying the top rate of tax at way above 50%: an impossible dream to achieve without macroeconomic decimation in a globalised competitive capitalist world such as ours. Is Corbyn blindly ignorant as to what has happened since the French attempted this same scheme in the last few years? Socialist President François Hollande constructed a tax to extract revenue from company’s who pay their workers yearly salaries of over €1million at a rate of 75%. The result was nothing other than an exodus of businesses that chose to move their operations abroad, whilst also scaring away future investors who chose to channel funds into projects elsewhere in the EU. Perhaps he is just uninformed, or perhaps he is so reckless as to wish to do the same to Britain. Either way, ‘Corbynomics’ is clearly flawed.
Whilst Corbyn is above all a terrible candidate for Britain, he is also such for Labour. In an organisation filled with ideological volatility and a tendency to split he is far too divisive of a man to take the Party forward. An essentiality of success for political parties is unity; the ability to campaign and legislatively function coherently and cohesively. This requires ideological compromise. Corbyn promises little of that. I can guarantee that if he is leader come 2020, the voting public will not reward him with governance based upon his genuineness and integrity alone. He needs to tone down his rhetoric dramatically and find more of a middle ground to which the electorate can relate. The leftist radicalism for which he is a poster boy isn’t palatable whatsoever to a British public that are inherently capitalist in their desires. I ask: what is the point in remaining out of office and shouting from the sidelines, whilst your bitter enemy runs amok in government, just for the sake of having a leader you can boast is honest and principled?
Yet even still there are those stalwart supporters of Corbyn that would have you believe that he can win the people over to his socialist ways based on his cogency alone. All I can say is that such hopeful types must be benighted as to the wisdom offered to us by history. “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it” once asserted George Santayana; a truth that certainly speaks volumes with regards to the leadership contest. Labour have only once before experimented with a radical leftist leadership: back in 1980, Michael Foot of the Party’s so called ‘New Left’ faction succeeded in his bid for the position of leader. The context in which he did so is uniquely similar to that of today. Following an atrociously poor four years in power for Labour between 1974-9 (including the infamous Winter of Discontent, where massive striking happened) and the stepping down of Jim Callaghan as leader, the Party was thrown into a great uncertainty as to what direction they should take in order to recapture the faith of the British people. Thanks to a groundswell of support from disillusioned backbenchers, grassroots party members and open union support, the same groups that today support Jeremy Corbyn, gathered together and voted in favour of Foot. Building up to the 1983 GE Foot and his New Left cronies (including Tony Benn and a young Margaret Beckett) formulated a manifesto which has now become known as ‘the longest suicide note in history’. At the vanguard was the Alternative Economic Strategy; a harrowing macroeconomic model involving central state economic planning, nationalisation, withdrawal from the EC (now EU) and price fixing. It also advocated unilateral nuclear disarmament and an increase in corporation tax, both of which currently stand on Corbyn’s to-do list. Labour suffered excruciatingly at the hands of the merciless public when it came to the vote. The Conservatives under Margaret Thatcher advanced their legislative grip on the Commons by winning a landslide and would not taste defeat again for another 14 years; leaving Labour to shout from the sidelines.
We must also not forget that even prior to the election, having Foot as leader crippled the Party by causing the many on the right to abandon it all together. Perhaps it was the ‘Gang of Four’ (Shirley Williams, David Owen, Roy Jenkins and Bill Rodgers) who broke from the Party to form the Social Democratic Party that actually caused disaster at the polls in 1983 by splitting the traditional Labour vote; we shall never know. But either way, they left only because Foot drove them to do so by excluding their voices from discussions over what direction Labour should take. We see a glimpse of trouble such as this today: with Corbyn having drove the discourse leftwards, Liz Kendall, the contest’s only openly Blairite candidate and sacrificial lamb of the Party’s right, has been isolated in debates and barraged by all forms of abuse regarding her apparent Tory stance. People are wrong to Labour her as such. She is by no means a Conservative sympathiser and neither are her supporters. Kendall advocates what I like to call ‘sensible socialism’; an ideology that advocates, as Blair did, high public spending provided for by neoliberal economic means. It’s realistic approach to achieving the socialist goals of equality, community and positive liberty, without assuming that money grows on trees and that the entrepreneurial rich should be punished, is the only remaining method through which the left can achieve its goals in a modern world. But because it embraces the free market, individualism and ambition, it is considered heresy. Kendall I believe is the best bet of a candidate that the public will warm too.
What of the others in the race, Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper? Pre-Corbyn, the race was believed to belong exclusively to these two, but now interest has waned dramatically. Why? Simply because they’re boring. Neither has ever – nor will ever – stray far from the centre of social-democratic thought so as to make themselves controversial and thus too unpopular for success. I would go so far as to describe them as opportunists. Yes Burnham might be left of centre and Yvette to the right, but both are pragmatic and willing to compromise to the point that they make for good leaders but average political figures. If Corbyn doesn’t pull off the impossible, then my bet is that Cooper will clinch it; especially given her support from some of the Party’s more senior figures such as Alan Johnson.
For me as a Conservative, the election of Jeremy Corbyn would be a political miracle. He is electoral poison and could perhaps keep Cameron’s men in power for many years to come with his repulsive brand of radical socialism. As a Briton, I wholeheartedly condone Liz Kendall. It would not be so bad if she were elected because she condones the use of her head over her heart when it comes to providing the answers. If she was fighting this contest before the word Blairite became unutterable, we would already have a clear winner. In the end, regardless of whether Corbyn finds himself as leader or not, he can claim victory in some form. If he wins, he has done something thought impossible since 1983. If not, he has at least shifted Labour discourse and direction leftward based on the virtue of his impact alone. Either way, this has proved a leadership contest not to forget.