The Cult Of Corbyn


Source: Questionable Time blog

Lilian has been following the Labour party leadership competition intently, and wonders whether the time is right for Jeremy Corbyn to step up, given all his detractors.

Thus began the long and arduous process of recreating the Labour party.

The story of the rise of Jeremy Corbyn begins on 8th May of this year, just 24 hours after general election day, when, now ex-Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband resigned in response to the Conservative majority victory no one had predicted. In an emotional speech (at least to me), Miliband accepted ‘absolute and total responsibility’ for Labour’s defeat. Thus began the long and arduous process of recreating the Labour party.

Amidst the post-election turmoil, every political pundit, newspaper columnist and politician had an opinion on why they had lost. Labour were too left wing; too right wing; they couldn’t be trusted on the economy; or were too liberal with benefits and ‘hand-outs’. Regardless of the electorate’s reasoning, the implications were clear: Britain didn’t want Labour. Clearly the responsibility of the next leader was momentous, if the party had any hope of making a comeback in 2020.

I haven’t been one of the many thousands who have taken to Twitter hashtagging #JezWeCan

And so – long story slightly shorter – Jeremy Corbyn, Labour party MP for Islington North since 1983 and widely deemed the ‘left-wing candidate’, went from relatively obscure backbencher to potential leader of the opposition. A YouGov poll earlier this month suggested he was the first choice for 53% of those able to vote for the party’s next leader. It has come as a surprise to many, not least his four opponents Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall. And having experienced first-hand the on-going furore over Corbyn – at least on Twitter – it wasn’t enormously surprising (to me, anyway) to learn that he is 17 points ahead of Burnham in the most recent voter poll.  According to YouGov, he is particularly popular amongst trade unionists, women and younger people – of which you (the reader) and I are both one (presumably). However what I do not have in common with many of my young counterparts is that I remain very much sceptical about Corbyn’s capability as the next leader of the Labour party and, even more so, as the next prime minister. Needless to say I haven’t been one of the many thousands who have taken to Twitter hashtagging #JezWeCan

That’s not to say I disagree with everything Jeremy Corbyn says – not by a long stretch. Nor do I intend for this to be a personal attack on the man, because there are few things worse in politics than stooping low enough to criticise the individual as opposed to countering their opinions. My strong reservations about Corbyn arise for different reasons.

My strong reservations about Corbyn arise for different reasons.

As much as I am reluctant to admit, I feel that Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s warnings about Corbyn should be heeded. Now don’t get me wrong – I am in no way a Blair or Brown advocate or apologist, and will readily admit that the Iraq war (which seems to be the only legacy Blair has left in the minds of many) was disastrous and quite possibly illegal. However, purely because of Blair’s severely misguided foreign policy and Brown’s shaky reputation it does not automatically follow that their political opinions should be completely disregarded. Tony Blair in particular. He recreated Labour and gave the public exactly what they wanted – rising from the ashes of their 1992 loss and culminating in the Labour landslide of 1997. I don’t wish to imply that what we need now is New New Labour, or New Labour 2.0, but what must be done is to learn from New Labour’s example. If nothing else they demonstrated that Labour’s key principles, upon which it was founded in 1900, must be updated and made relevant to the public’s genuine concerns in 2015. This is something I do not feel Jeremy Corbyn is able to do – just as both Blair and Brown have warned in recent months.

But it seems to me that socialism – at least in its truest form – is not what the British public want at this moment in time.

Corbyn’s message is undoubtedly loyal to what Labour stood for when they were founded, and until New Labour came along in the 1990s and the party was dramtically rebranded. And it goes without saying that those key principles of equality and fairness must be retained in order that the Labour Party remains the Labour Party. But it seems to me that socialism – at least in its truest form – is not what the British public want at this moment in time. The disastrous elections of 1983 and 1992 are more than sufficient evidence for that.

In order to be successful, those central values need to be redesigned and rebranded for the 21st Century, because currently many see them as out-dated and even, in the case of Jeremy Corbyn, extreme. Corbyn has brought some important ideas to the debate, such as the renationalisation of the railways. But in order to win over the Conservative/Labour floating voters, it needs to be sold in an appealing way, in a manner that makes it seem beneficial to everyone. But instead of focusing on policies that could feasibly be rebranded for a 21st Century election, Corbyn has chosen to bring up issues such as re-opening some coalmines. As far as I can tell this is not something at the forefront of the average voter’s mind, and in an age where services are the country’s largest money-maker, it seems a ludicrous and irrelevant suggestion. In fact it’s not only the New Labour politicians who are raising alarm bells about Jeremy Corbyn. Tristram Hunt, Chuka Umunna (both Labour politicians) and the Guardian newspaper have all discouraged Labour members from voting for Corbyn.

In fact it’s not only the New Labour politicians who are raising alarm bells about Jeremy Corbyn.

But clearly Labour need to be seen as relevant to twenty-first century Britain, and it seems to me that Corbyn does not offer this. It is important to distinguish between what Labour party members want and what the general public want; most elections are decided by ‘floating voters’. Most likely they are not members of a political party, but, when election time rolls around, weigh up the pros and cons of each and place their vote accordingly. Of course it is regrettable that much of what Jeremy Corbyn is advocating is now seem as ‘extreme’ within modern-day politics, and it is without a doubt a positive that he has been able to partake in the debate, bringing up issues that may otherwise have been overlooked. But even Corbyn himself admits that he initially did not want to become Labour leader, but rather open up the leadership debate.

Corbyn remains the candidate Labour supporters believe will be the least likely to be able to form the next government – whilst also being the most popular. This seems ludicrous. And it isn’t a case of abandoning morals and values in order to become the party in power. Just as Chuka Umanna, Shadow Business Secretary, said, ‘there is no glory in opposition’. Perhaps Labour and their supporters are keen not to betray their foundations, but if Corbyn fails to win in 2020 it will be a betrayal of the people they claim to represent. It will mean five more years of Conservative government. We only need to look at history to understand why #Corbyn4Leader would not end well.

I don’t wish to tell anyone outright that they shouldn’t support or vote for Jeremy Corbyn. I merely hope to encourage a modicum of scepticism. Don’t give in to Corbyn-fever, but rather consider – although I can’t claim to know – why Labour have failed in the past and what they need to win in the future.

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