Jeremy Corbyn is not going to be the next prime minister. But the 2017 General Election could still be a triumphant campaign for Labour.
The state of the Labour Party under Corbyn’s resented leadership, monochrome policy palette, watery stance on Brexit and weak communication skills is not an attractive prospect for anyone other than committed Labour voters and those to its left. And the killer image that will stay in people’s minds, justified or not, is a bumbling Jeremy Corbyn trying to undertake complex negotiations with Brussels.
The usual suspects (who were happy to attack Gove for being anti-expert) will attempt to wave away the political science that shows that (1) the Labour party is suffering the worst polling in its history and (2) in order to win Labour needs to appeal to people who voted Conservative or Liberal. The idea of a coalition of the Left remains irrelevant as all Green, SNP, and Liberal Party seats still total less than the Conservatives.
Labour will come out fighting though and their best hope will be to lay bare the Conservatives’ capricious, failing policy choices and to keep pointing out that talent like Keir Starmer will be in charge of Brexit negotiations, not Jeremy. Now is also the time for Labour to turn the screw on austerity. Although Labour will not win the election, it can now pave the way for future party policy. The party can start testing the waters with a strong defence of borrowing and investment, trumpeting the moderate success of Obama’s fiscal stimulus, and repeating that the deficit is significantly worse under the Conservatives despite pitiless cuts to essential services and having sold off the country’s silverware. It does look as though we will see Labour on the front foot for the first time in a decade and that is something positive – even it only serves to embolden future leaders.
Even so, none of this is likely to hold much sway with an electorate that votes for leaders not policies.
Mass-movement delusionist and self-confessed not-sold-on-Corbyn Corbynite Paul Mason was on Newsnight last night “thrilled” by the prospect of a revolution. He was his usual mercurial self and his enthusiasm for revolution and converse declaration that he would vote tactically reveals two important points: (1) The idea of a revolution is still acting as a more powerful stimulant than genuinely wanting to serve the interests of the poor, vulnerable and underfunded. (2) This “revolution” is a negative force not a positive one – it is significantly more anti-Tory than it is pro-Labour.
However, the election need not result in a Conservative government with an increased majority. As I said when Corbyn regained the Labour leadership, this is Tim Farron’s big chance. An open goal in front of the Remain stand with all the other players down at the Brexit end. If Tim Farron can pull his finger out, he could represent the currently voiceless, furious and well-resourced 48%. Possibly, just possibly, he could do a Nick Clegg and squeeze a coalition result from the Brexit / Corbyn fiasco.
Finally, I can’t suppress a feeling that Tony Blair may have a hand ready to play.