(tl;dr JC is not the messiah, but he’s not a very naughty boy either)
The ballot papers are being sent out, so the election is proprly underway. And yes, when the email showed up today, I logged in and voted for Corbyn. But no, I’m not a member of the Cult of Jez, and I’m not a doe-eyed idealist either, or a raving swivel-eyed Trot (though I think some of the people bandying the term around don’t actually understand what Trotskyism is). So here’s why I’ll be voting for Corbyn this time :
- It’s not all about Corbyn – he’s 67. It’s possible (maybe likely) that he won’t fight a General Election campaign in 2020, because there won’t be a snap election. We have four years to wait. By then, he’ll be 71. That’s going to be an issue, even for a man in decent health. So who wins this election is going to be turning around the oil tanker, to use a metaphor that Barack Obama dropped into a conversation with the podcaster, Mark Marron. Political parties are big things, and riddled and beset by inertia. If you want to reposition the party then you have to start somewhere and Corbyn may have to be that place. UK politics over the last three decades has shifted the terms of debate firmly rightwards, and has narrowed those terms. Noam Chomsky has nailed this point repeatedly. The Blair “Project” was all about moving the Labour Party rightwards into so-called Overton Window, making them more acceptable to an electorate who had been moved to the right.
- “Corbyn is unelectable”. Ah, yes. After all, Labour has been oh-so-electable since 2005. Even Blair’s final win was anything but triumphant in the analysis. The “centrist” politicians of the Blair era may need need to adjust to a more complex multi-party environment (even if UKIP’s vote collapses, but that remains to be seen). For example, consider the Labour share of vote in General Election from 1997 to 2015.
Year Turnout Votes cast Percentage share Source 1997 71.3% 13,518,167 43.2 1 2001 59.4 10,724,953 40.2 2 2005 61.4 9,552,436 35.2 3 2010 65.1 8,606,517 29.0 4 2015 66.4 9,347,304 30.4 5
The result in 2005 was especially bad, mostly due to the fallout from Iraq, and the damage to Blair’s reputation and legacy that continues to this day. Nearly two thirds of Labour’s Parliamentary majority was wiped out, and the party lost FOUR MILLION voters. For those who trumpet Blair as the great winner, these numbers are uncomfortable; its easy to see why he walked when he did. The party have never really recovered from this period, and those who are keen to push the party back that way might spend a couple of seconds thinking just how poisonous that legacy has become. we dont have to guess much; all we need to do is look at the post-thatcher Conservative party to see excactly what effects refusing to let go of your past can have
- Also, the aftermath of 2008 has changed things politically. We’re not in Kansas any more, so trying to pretend like it’s 1997 is possibly not the most sensible of strategies. The things that made Labour successful then are not likely to be as successful now, especially as we’ve seen how the trick was performd once already.
- This brings us to Owen Smith. Is he a long term option, and how long would he actually last? This is not meant to be a personal demolition of Smith himself, but he does represent a part of the party that has gaps outlived its time. Also, his associations with the lobbying industry lay him open to the suspicions of voters who are already mistrustful of the business of national politics. Even if he were to win, which is not looking likely at this point, it would only be a matter of time before he was elbowed aside to let a more “electable” candidate through. The campaign so far has been amusing to say the least, with Smith effectively trying the age-old tactic of trying to neutralise his opponent by wearing his clothes. the only problem is that he did it so transparently badly.
And there are the polls. Ah yes, the polls. The polls are frankly up and down right now. May is a new Prime Minister, who is enjoying a brief honeymoon. the infighting is not playing well in the wider public, and Corbyn is facing a fairly unfriendly media, even if only from the usual and predictable quarters.
Psephology is a like reading tea leaves. And about as accurate. using historical poll data right now is not unlike Amazon’s oh-so-brilliant AI technology that notices you’ve just bought a rubber chicken, and thinks you want to to purchase lots more, so it keeps suggesting you want to buy some. One problem is that the rule book is being rewritten, so using polling history as a guide is more than a little chancy. The cureent fragmenation of the political parties makes it extremely difficult to use historical poll data as any kind of reliable basis for analysis. The vectors by which engagement are taking place are also changing. Anyone pondering on that should consider how effectively Momentum are using social media channels (whatever you think of them politically). In contrast, the Smith campaign looks flat-footed, which given his background is something of a disappointment.
Corbyn definitely has his faults. You cant fail to notice them, given how they are being laid bare in public. But are they worse than those of the people opposing him? I don’t even agree with all of the policies. On Trident, for example, I am somewhat conflicted, and on balance probably pro. Same goes for nuclear power.
So what is Corbyn for in this context? Well, his job is to begin he job of trying to move the Overton Window, and to start turning the tanker. I thnk there might be a signiificant body of people in the country who might be receptive to such a break with the politics of the modern era. But its likely that someone else (and there are no clues there yet) is going to have to continue the steering. If youre going to hang on the the somewhat messianic message, Jezza isn’t the Messiah. you might be better off describing him as John the Baptist, though hopefully his head wont end up the same way.