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)