So, judging by the panic and the increasingly desperate attempts by John Mann MP to oust him from the Labour leadership contest, it seems there are now real prospects that Jeremy Corbyn may actually become the next leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition.
All of which is odd, because right now, only those on the extreme left side of the political commentariat disagree with the overwhelming consensus, that the Labour party would almost certainly lose the 2020 General Election, if led by Corbyn.
The Tories seem to agree, many of them allegedly having paid £3 to join the Labour party and vote for him, while those on the left, supporting him, are being painted as intransigent idealists. Indeed I’ve heard many of my left wing friends suggesting that it’s better to lose fighting what you believe in – as if they’ve given up on the 2020 election already. Are they really so unimpressed by the other candidates?
I confess, all my instincts push me towards the majority view; that the Labour party is preparing to commit electoral suicide, just as it did in 1980 when electing Michael Foot over Dennis Healey, and just as the Tories did in 2001 when electing Iain Duncan Smith over Kenneth Clarke.
But might we have judged this wrong?
It’s a theory which appears to be underpinned by three supposed historical precedents, which I will examine in turn:
1) Elections are won from the centre ground.
Certainly in 1983, and to a lesser extent 1987, Labour were some way further left than they are today, and they lost; just as in 2001, and to a lesser extent 2005, the Tories were further to the right, and they lost.
But in the two 1980s elections, the only party anywhere near the centre (the Alliance) came 3rd. So we’re left with only two historical precedents (2001 & 2005) which are both recent and relevant, where a centre ground party fought against idealist opposition. And yes, Labour, the party closer to the centre, won both.
Significant, perhaps, but as a basis for electoral certainty, it strikes me as more than a little flaky.
So let’s have a look at the second:
2) Labour lost the 2015 election because it became too left-wing
If the first theory is flaky, then this one strikes me as positively leprous.
Labour failed to build up a lead before the election because the electorate widely believed their leader was not Prime Minister material, and because the Coalition Government were seen to have managed a difficult economic period, pretty well.
Despite this, the election should still have been pretty close, and in my opinion it certainly would have been, had it not been for the SNP tidal wave in Scotland, and the consequent fear (justified, and ruthlessly exploited by the Tories) in England & Wales, of a Labour minority Government propped up by the SNP.
While the SNP sweep owed far more to patriotism than economics, the scale of their impact on the overall UK result, coupled with fact that they campaigned on very left-wing rhetoric (albeit rather more so than was justified by their manifesto), makes it very difficult to conclude that Labour’s defeat flowed from their policies being too left-wing.
So how about the third pillar of wisdom?
3) Labour also lost the 1983 election because it was too left-wing
At first glance, this seems a more solid premise. In 1980, left-wing leader Michael Foot was elected by an inward looking Labour party, and a landslide Tory election win followed in 1983.
But again, I think there is reason to doubt the central premise.
Michael Foot’s Labour were supposedly ‘unelectable’ in 1983, but it’s also widely believed that Margaret Thatcher’s Falklands triumph of 1982 was the crucial factor in turning around the Tories’ fortunes. Both of these can’t be true, unless one really believes that the Alliance were on course to win the next election (they began eroding the Labour vote in late 1981 and polled well in 1982, but that was in mid-term).
Moreover, Michael Foot himself was an electoral liability – even more so than Ed Miliband this year. Can we really be sure that similarly left-wing policies, presented by a more charming leader, during a period when Tory policies were far more socially divisive than anything seen since 2010, might not have returned Labour to power in 1983 or 84, if the Argentines had kept their gunpowder dry?
I don’t think we can.
So is there no other basis for the Corbyn-doom theory, beyond the three pillars of wisdom, upon all of which, a seed of honest doubt can apparently be sewn?
Because if not, I don’t think we can be quite so sure that a Labour party led by Jeremy Corbyn, would go down the tubes in 2020.