I have had a number of conversations with friends supportive of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership which have, strangely, come down to the final sentence, “Urghh… What’s the point?!”
The response comes after my (undoubtedly annoying) flagging up of the electoral maths that faces Labour.
This maths says that Labour must take votes from people who voted Conservative last time. I base this on the fact that even if Miliband had won all the seats that went to the SNP (56), the Greens (1), Lib Dems (8) and Labour (232) he would still have been 33 seats short of the Conservatives’ 330.
For a lot of his supporters Corbyn appears to provide the only chance for the party to be truly Socialist. And, for many, if Labour can’t be a truly Socialist party, what’s the point?
Ironically the result of the referendum may be Corbyn’s salvation.
The result indicates to some extent that the traditional left / right spectrum may now be misleading. Labour leaders and members are very concerned that they are losing traditional supporters to UKIP. Equally the Conservatives are losing traditional middle England supporters to Farage & Co. And it may be that Corbyn’s restrained enthusiasm for remaining in the EU might make him the only leader on the left capable of fully honouring Brexit.
So I think that there may be some electoral hope for a Corbyn government. Only a thorough polling will reveal this.
The 2016 local election results tell another story though. Across the country Labour lost seats overall. I had an email from Corbyn’s team this week saying that Labour became the largest party in the local elections. For context, Labour was already the largest in England where it only gained control of 1 more council (with an overall loss of 11 councillors). In the Scottish assembly (where they are now the third largest party) Labour lost 13 seats. In the Welsh assembly they lost a seat. This tells of the other complication for Corbyn’s Labour. He may be able to attract back traditional working class voters – but this may only benefit him in areas where Labour is already winning.
It may be that the only way a leftist party can win in the UK is for it to be more centrist. Or it may be that this entire issue is not about policy appeal, but personality appeal.
Whether Corbyn’s “quiet dignified man” archetype will have that appeal will have to polled to be believed.
So… urrgh! Is there a point? Well for lots of Corbyn supporters (as with post-primary Bernie supporters), a centrist government seems to be as bad a right-wing government. So for them, they must fight the good fight.
For others, the maths might indeed tell them that unless Corbyn can turn UK politics on its head, there is no point. This week it seems, though, anything is possible.