Monday, 20 July 2015

Why Corbyn can't win a general election

For the overwhelming majority of people this blog post is completely superfluous. They read the newspapers, consider the last election result or think about the 1980s and the fact that Corbyn won’t win an election is obvious. But for the small group that continue to clamour for Corbyn – I hope to change your mind. Here’s why the arguments in his favour don’t stack up.

Pro-Corbyn argument number 1
At the last election voters weren’t offered a real choice. It was austerity heavy or austerity light. The one place voters were given a real choice – Scotland – they overwhelmingly voted for an anti-austerity party. If Labour was a genuinely anti-austerity party, like Corbyn would create, people would have voted for it.
  1.  In the rest of the country voters were offered an anti-austerity choice – the Green Party. They didn’t vote for it;
  2. One might argue that people didn’t vote Green because, due to our FPTP voting system, the Greens were not a viable choice in most constituencies. But if voters nationally were against austerity, then even if most people's choice was just austerity-light (Labour) or austerity-heavy (Tory), you would expect austerity-light to win – it didn’t;
  3. The SNP's success cannot in any case be put down entirely to its economic offering. Nationalism and weaknesses within the Scottish Labour party machine contributed to it;
  4. Scotland has for a long time been to the left of most of the country. A policy offering that works in Scotland won’t necessarily work in the rest of the country;
  5. It’s worth remembering that even if Labour had won every single seat in Scotland, the Tories would still have a majority nationally. If the next government is to be a progressive one, that majority has to be overturned. If Labour shifts leftwards, it may well pick up seats from the SNP, but there is no evidence to suggest it will take away Tory seats. (And in any case, Scottish seats make up less than 10% of the whole). 

Pro-Corbyn argument number 2
Disillusion with a Westminster elite who are all too similar has fuelled the rise of UKIP. UKIP votes were a protest vote for people who wanted something different. Corbyn is different. He will win back the their votes.

  1. A protest vote for something different need not have been a vote for UKIP – it could have been a vote for the Green party, an independent candidate, or a spoilt ballot. So a vote for UKIP also suggests something about the politics of the people making their protest vote – a politics that is anti-immigration and anti-EU. Corbyn is probably the most pro-immigration of the Labour leadership candidates. There is little reason to believe his politics would appeal to UKIP voters;
  2. Corbyn has angered and alienated UKIP voters with a recent interview in which he maligned many of them as racists (probably true, but nevertheless not a great way to get them on side…)
  3. In any case, Corbyn is not the only candidate who differs from the typical Westminster elite in some regard. Corbyn is an old, white, male southerner. The same can’t be said for any of the other candidates.

Pro-Corbyn argument number 3
Corbyn is brave. He has the confidence to speak to terrorists to promote peace. He has been unfairly attacked in the press for calling them friends, but that’s just how he speaks to people. If peace is to come we need leaders like him, who will do dialogue with terrorists.

  1. Corbyn is not the only candidate willing to talk to terrorists in pursuit of peace. At leadership hustings this week Cooper said she would do it. The difference between them is one of language and approach; she would not call them friends.
  2. In Corbyn’s interview with Ch4 he explained that he used the word ‘friend’ as a ‘collective term’. The explanation is bizarre – there are multiple ‘collective terms’ that could be used to describe Hamas politicians, such as ‘leaders’, ‘representatives’, or just ‘politicians’.  Why use ‘friends’? Corbyn has since said that he just calls everyone ‘friend’, but…
  3. Politicians have to use language in a nuanced way. The word ‘friends’ connotes warmth and support. You don’t need to be someone’s friend to make peace with them. Calling someone a friend, whether one intends it or not, quite obviously conveys support – which ought not to be given to homophobic, anti-semitic terrorists.

Pro-Corbyn argument number 4
What about all those people who didn’t vote? They didn’t vote because all the main parties are too similar. Corbyn is different. They’ll vote for him.

  1. Where’s the evidence that non-voters are overwhelmingly leftists? What’s to say that Corbyn's inclusion on the ballot paper won’t rouse non-voters from their political slumber to vote Tory, to make sure he doesn’t win? The truth is, we just don’t know.
  2. The reality is that people who don’t vote, don’t vote for a whole bunch of reasons. Some are left wing, some are right wing. Many just don’t care.
  3. In any case, it's not a sound election strategy to pin your hopes on the one group of people whose track record suggests that they don’t care enough about politics to vote.
  4. Finally, nothing promotes voter apathy as much as an alternative that is not perceived to be credible, and based on all the polling and anecdotal evidence around, a Corbyn-led Labour party would not be perceived as being credible.