Paul T Horgan: Even a drubbing may not finish Corbyn off

There are numerous reasons why Mrs May has called a general election less than 12 months after the EU referendum. The main issue of the election will be Brexit. However, people will also be casting their votes based on their opinion of the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

The main opposition party is meant to act as if it is a government-in-waiting, able to present a viable challenge to the incumbent. Labour ceased to function in this way 18 months ago.

So people expect a Conservative landslide in June. Well, let's see about that. I will write on this subject in a future post.

Nobody expects Corbyn's Labour to win the election. Corbyn will lead Labour further into the wilderness, in exactly the same way that Michael Foot did in 1983, the year Corbyn, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown all won seats for the first time. Corbyn, like Blair before him, knows exactly where he is leading his party.

Everyone expects Corbyn to quit shortly after his party's defeat. After all, Michael Foot did in 1983. However, Corbyn is not Foot.

Foot was a polymath, a journalist and newspaper editor who became an MP in 1945, an election that generated no less than three party leaders for Labour. He had considerable experience on the front bench. Corbyn's first and only frontbench position has been as leader. He is the most inexperienced Labour Leader of the Opposition in history. The previous holder of this dubious accolade could argue that his inexperience of the despatch box was because Labour had just usurped the Liberals as the main opposition party following the extension of the franchise in 1918. Corbyn has no such excuse. Labour members elected a novice to the most responsible position in their party. And it shows.

As I have written before, communists like Corbyn are very bad at achieving power. However, they are very good at holding on to it once they are there. If Corbyn quits, there seems to be no natural successor while John McDonnell is ruling himself out of the running. Losing in June is not necessarily a good reason for Corbyn to quit. Millions will still vote Labour.

When Labour was defeated in the landslide of 1983 on the back of a manifesto described by the late Gerald Kaufman as 'the longest suicide note in history', Tony Benn had these words of consolation for his fellow party members:

"The general election of 1983 has produced one important result that has passed virtually without comment in the media. It is that, for the first time since 1945, a political party with an openly socialist policy has received the support of over eight and a half million people. This is a remarkable development by any standards and it deserves some analysis … the 1983 Labour manifesto commanded the loyalty of millions of voters and a democratic socialist bridge-head in public understanding and support can be made."

This quote on its own explains Corbyn's mentality. He was, after all, Benn's acolyte. Corbyn is not interested in winning the general election, except on his terms. He comes from the wing of the Labour Party that believes in 'no compromise with the electorate'. Ideas come before politics and even parliamentarians. The millions that will vote Labour in June, even if Corbyn loses, will be seen as a more important validation of Corbyn's policies than actually winning the election. Corbyn and his people have no intention of relinquishing the power they have in the party. Not even electoral defeat in June will change this. The surviving MPs will be purged and replaced to become an ideologically pure presence in our most powerful debating chamber.

The Corbyn project is about remaking Labour into a hard left socialist party with a presence in Parliament, as part of a wider movement that is willing to employ extra-Parliamentary activity to achieve its goals. Part of this is to endure that Labour MPs are aligned with the ideology of the leader, something that is not the case at present. Losing a general election is an incidental event while Labour remakes itself in Corbyn's image as part of a long-term project.

Back in 1974, it was extra-Parliamentary action that forced a Conservative government with a perfectly functioning majority to go to the country, as its authority was eroded by a series of industrial disputes that caused power cuts and damaged the economy. People voted in a minority Labour government as it was widely recognised that governments could only operate with the consent of the trades unions, a consent that the Conservatives would never receive. This is the forgotten political history that Corbyn relies on, national disruption forcing the public to vote for the party that promises the greatest chance of political peace. Labour activists now openly denounce the Blair/Brown administration as an aberration. The leadership moderated policy to maximise appeal in a democratic framework.

Their model therefore has to be Wilson/Callaghan administration, where unelected union leaders and activists had the greatest access to power, and the sovereignty of Parliament was open to question and was challenged in the streets and in the workplace.

Corbyn himself is say he is 'going nowhere'. He is where he is. And he has no reason to leave, not even if he leads his party into a catastrophic electoral defeat. Through the lens of socialist politics, this is but a small feature in their grand design.

(Image: Garry Knight)

Paul T Horgan

  • Groan

    A. I doubt Labour will get a “drubbing” too many rely on public spending.
    B. You’re so right to point out that Corbyn et al are playing a different and longer game. Corbyn made this clear in his opening campaign speech, he isn’t playing bourgeois democracy. The socialist way is revolutionary and about seizing “power”. As contributors and commenters to TCW point out the public services and their unions and professional bodies have consistently built up a “lefty” state and government largely impervious to public opinion. See the story about Glasgow schools above. In fact Benn was probably right for it is the generations educated at that time who now are in charge of our public sector and election or two was lost. Just as I read the piece about “intersectionality” below new Guidance from the CPS arrives, anyone who thinks conservatives will be “in charge” who ever wins an election needs to read this.

    • Even in the event of a Conservative overall majority, then there would still be about as many Labour MPs as there were now. The return of the Conservatives to second place in diehard Labour seats, often including a numerically close second place, was in fact a mere reversion to the historical norm. It did not, and it does not, make those seats winnable from the Conservatives’ point of view.

      Moreover, the Liberal Democrats are on course to take dozens of Conservative seats in the Remain heartlands of the South. Those Conservative losses will be too numerous to be offset by the Conservative gains from the SNP, of which there will certainly be some, since the SNP heartlands are places that the Conservatives have to explain how they ever stopped winning. They did not used to be Labour. The seats like that went Nationalist only as recently as two years ago.

      And in the midst of all of this, certain online bookmakers have already suspended betting on a Labour overall majority, and on Jeremy Corbyn as Prime Minister.

      • Dominic Stockford

        The LimpDems are not going to take loads of seats. They will probably lose some, including Richmond Park and North Kingston, for instance. They may take some in the North, ironically, when people start to churn around trying to find a new home for their vote which isn’t Corbyn.

      • Paul Robson

        Well, good luck in the Seychelles. You can get 17/2 on Corbyn being PM (May 1/18) and 20/1 on a Labour majority (Tories 1/14). So you can make a fortune out of it, assuming you put your money where your mouth is.

  • Did you want a General Election this year? No, neither did I. The official line is that Jeremy Corbyn would have been hammered at any time. In which case, why now? Perhaps it is about that fraud case, but mostly it is because Theresa May does not understand how Parliament works, or is supposed to work. She thinks that it is supposed to be “united”, which is a fluffy way of saying that she thinks that there ought to be no Opposition.

    Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the SNP have been giving her grief, so she has called a General Election in order to crush them into silence, which in any case even the most abject defeat would not do. I am starting to wish that they had voted against her on Wednesday. That would have denied her the necessary two thirds majority. But hey ho, here we are.

    Whether Mrs May is Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition, then she will need to be held, not least against much or most of her own party, to her stated commitments to workers’ and consumers’ representation in corporate governance, to shareholders’ control over executive pay, to restrictions on pay differentials within companies, to an investment-based Industrial Strategy and infrastructure programme, to greatly increased housebuilding, to action against tax avoidance, to a ban on public contracts for tax-avoiding companies, to a cap on energy prices, to banning or greatly restricting foreign takeovers, and to a ban on unpaid internships.

    And whether Mr Corbyn is Prime Minister or Leader of the Opposition, then he will need to held, not least against powerfully well-connected sections of his own party, to all of the above, which he originated, and to protecting the Triple Lock up to 2025, to compensating the WASPI women, to protecting the pensions of British citizens living abroad, and to keeping the Winter Fuel Allowance and the free bus passes for pensioners.

    He will need to be held, not least against powerfully well-connected sections of his own party, to cancelling the inheritance tax cut in order to spend the money on paying carers properly, to scrapping the VAT exemption on private school fees in order to spend the money on free school meals for all state primary pupils, and to introducing a minimum wage of £10 per hour for all, which is more than Durham County Council proposes to pay its Teaching Assistants.

    And he will need to be held, not least against powerfully well-connected sections of his own party, to ending the public sector pay freeze, to renationalising the railways for free as each franchise came up for renewal, to banning late payments to small and medium-sized enterprises, to reversing the hike in Business Rates, to banning zero hours contracts for workers with regular hours, and to saving five billion pounds by renationalising the NHS in England, which is the only part of the United Kingdom where any such renationalisation is necessary.

    • Snoffle Gronch

      Do you suppose anyone will ever read any of that twaddle?

  • Colkitto03

    Corbyn was positively ‘Trumpesque’ in his speech this week. Though im sure he would prefer the term ‘Sandersesque’
    I’m not joking, if you get a chance to hear it, please do. He seems to have understood the zeitgeist.

  • bevinboy

    I agree. I have been saying much the same over at Labourlist.

  • Guy Family

    Simply put, Labour is screwed for maybe a generation and I will drink to that. What odds on Labour becoming as forever irrelevant as the Dim Libs?

    • John Birch

      I don’t think you understand what was being said.

  • Under-the-weather

    Labour will be peddling the ‘Tory = nasty party’, and control the establishment, rhetoric for as much as it’s worth, and where ever it can be applied in whatever obscure circumstances. Today regarding pensions, although the history of Labour and pensions is hardly a good one (Brown and dividends, failure to raise state pension, and link to inflation under Blair, concessions to public sector workers), forget all the multimillionaire Labour voters inc the luvvies. Libdem remainers are more likely to be an issue, they lost out as a result of the coalition in 2015, will the public have the same opinion now?

    • Dominic Stockford

      Labour run the Unions, which in fact have a far greater effect on our daily experience of life than the government of the day does.

      • TJB

        It’s a symbiotic relationship for sure. I’m personally not 100% sure which is the host and which is the parasite.

  • simonstephenson

    “The Corbyn project is about remaking Labour into a hard left socialist party with a presence in Parliament, as part of a wider movement that is willing to employ extra-Parliamentary activity to achieve its goals. Part of this is to endure that Labour MPs are aligned with the ideology of the leader, something that is not the case at present. Losing a general election is an incidental event while Labour remakes itself in Corbyn’s image as part of a long-term project.”

    It’s good to read this thinking in the main article, rather than just in the comments section. As a nation, we need as many people as possible to understand and accept the human evil that is embodied in Corbyn and his supporters. It’s true, of course, that these people are as they are for no reason other than that they have experienced problematic childhoods, but we must face the reality that what the Corbyn sect has become is a threat to the wellbeing of the rest of us, and that it is imperative that they are never allowed to acquire the power to do us damage.

  • Marat

    Labour now reduced to appealing on Twitter for candidates;

  • PierrePendre

    Labour has embraced Brexit, albeit with window-dressing caveats, leaving the LibDems as the only anti-Brexit mainstream party. Labour no longer has the power of a mass trade union movement above the law to fight big extra-parliamentary battles. But trades unions and political activists do still have the ability to inflict painful damage on the economy with targeted actions, some of them small scale.

    There are tactics imported from France like the blockading of oil refineries and the transport system that can quickly force any government into a corner. Big unions aren’t necessary for that, just a reliable number of dedicated and disciplined activists such as Momentum and Unite can provide without getting officially involved.

    Sophisticated trade union strategies together with the uncertain and unpredictable course of the Brexit negotiations could serve the Corbynist wing of the Labor party well in coming years. A majority support Brexit now and will probably re-elect Mrs May to enact it. They haven’t yet tasted the potential adverse economic consequences.

    Remainers say without any evidence at all that the referendum result was a colossal mistake but if the evidence does start to arrive in the form of economic problems that hit living standards, public attitudes could change fast. The Tories who were responsible for the referendum and for the negotiations will get the blame. It makes Horgan’s “grand design” theory more than plausible.