In the words of Erich Maria Remarque, “This is to be neither an accusation nor a confession”. In fact, it seems more like an exercise in futility, but who can blame one for trying, right? As things currently stand, Jeremy Corbyn will almost certainly win the Labour leadership contest. When that happens, the least productive thing the left can possibly do is bury its head in the sand or, probably even worse, form a breakaway party and effectively hand half of Labour’s Northern seats to UKIP.
Unfortunately, much of the recent debate surrounding the leadership contest has been inaccurately framed as a left vs right, or left vs centre, struggle. On the one hand, you have people calling all their opponents “Red Tories” or “Blairites”, while on the other, you have those who claim that only by shifting Labour to the centre can the party ever again form a Government. Now, what if I told you that both of those assumptions are wrong. What if I told you that it is entirely possible to oppose Jeremy Corbyn’s ability to lead an effective opposition while still believing in left-wing solutions to Britain’s multitude of problems?
There is a reason why supporters of the incumbent leader are accusing the challenger, Owen Smith of stealing policy ideas. Because while that particular claim is entirely untrue, most of the Parliamentary Labour Party has never really disagreed with Corbyn in terms of economic policy. Neither, by the way, has the British public. It is simply a matter of fact that most people living in the UK oppose further NHS privatisation or for that matter any increase in public sector cuts. Furthermore, most people living in the UK are in favour of renationalising the railways, and judging by the current fiasco surrounding Southern Rail, those numbers are only likely to grow. Now bear with, because I’m actually going somewhere with this.
The idea that a genuinely left-of-centre Labour Party (after all, Jeremy Corbyn was never advocating full on Marxism) cannot win a general election is simply not true. Whether they like it or not, most of the British public is much further to the left than most of them care to ever admit, and if Labour’s next election campaign is fought on hard policy substance that actually resonates with the average voter, then five more years of Tory government might not, after all, be a foregone conclusion.
It would, of course, help if we had a leadership team that knew what they were doing. However, as I said at the start, the least productive thing we can possibly do is to collectively bury our heads in the sand. Owen Jones recently wrote an excellent blog post outlining the most potent questions that Corbyn supporters have got to answer if they ever want their man to be Prime Minister. Personally, I would like to add my two pennies worth into an inherently related point. While left-wing solutions such as renationalising the railways are very popular, Jeremy Corbyn also happens to cling on to several other positions which will simply have to be dropped if he’s to ever stand a chance at the ballot box. To start with, please do me a favour and listen to this BBC Radio interview.
Interviewer: “But do you condemn what the IRA did?”
Corbyn: “I condemn all bombing, it’s not a good idea, it’s terrible what happened…”
Interviewer: “It’s not the question. The question is ‘do you condemn what the IRA did?'”
Corbyn: “Look, I condemn what was done by the British Army as well as by other sides as well”
Interviewer: “But if you’re a potential candidate for Prime Minister of the UK, Jeremy, it’s fair for me to push you one more time. Are you prepared to condemn what the IRA did?”
Corbyn: “No, what it’s fair to push me on is how we take the peace process forward…”
Interviewer: “What’s fair for me to ask is…”
Corbyn: “You can ask any question you like…”
Interviewer: “Are you prepared to condemn what the IRA did?”
Corbyn: “Can I answer the question in this way? We gained ceasefires. They were important and they were a huge step forward. Those ceasefires brought about the peace process, brought about a reconciliation process, which is something we should all be pleased about. Can we take the thing forward rather than backwards?”
Now, when I listen to that exchange, I hear Jeremy Corbyn trying to strike a nuanced position on what is clearly not a simple black and white issue. Unfortunately, most people living in the UK will instead hear a terrorist sympathiser trying to avoid answering what they would view as a rather simple question. The question was, “are you prepared to condemn what the IRA did?”, and what your average voter wants to hear is, yes, I fully condemn the actions of the IRA. I condemn all bombing and it’s terrible what happened. Honestly, how hard can that possibly be?
Don’t assume you’ve heard the last of that interview, by the way. Because if Jeremy Corbyn remains as leader in time for the next general election, I’m willing to bet that you’ll be hearing those exact same words played out to you in a Conservative Party attack ad. As I already mentioned, there are certain positions which, if he actually wants to be Prime Minister, Jeremy Corbyn will have to abandon; and his lukewarm attitude towards Irish separatists is just the first in that list. Here are some more:
Look, personally I am against the UK renewing its nuclear deterrent. At a time of great economic uncertainty, it’s a giant waste of money on something we’ll never actually use. In the words of Tony Benn, “We have the best defended homeless people in the world”, but unfortunately, most of the UK electorate strongly disagrees. The truth is that no one really cares that much about Trident, that is until you actually bring it up.
Part of the reason Labour lost in 2015 was because The Conservatives did a sterling job in convincing the public that Ed Miliband could not be trusted with national security. Their argument went something along the lines of, should Milliband be forced to form a coalition with the staunchly anti-Trident SNP, all prior commitments to our nuclear deterrent will be dropped as a way of getting power. Were The Conservatives wrong? Probably, but I guess we’re unlikely to find out since Ed Milliband never became Prime Minister.
The battle for unilateral disarmament is a battle long lost. Now while I understand that for many on the left, including myself, this remains a pressing issue, it’s only one in a million issues we’ll never get to see addressed if Labour doesn’t form a government. Think what you will about Trident, but even hinting at its removal is politically toxic. It causes the wider electorate to think that we as a party simply cannot be trusted to keep them safe, which is after all the number one goal of any government. Just as a gentle reminder, the last time Labour had unilateral disarmament in its election manifesto, Margaret Thatcher won a majority of 144 seats.
Contrary to popular belief, one does not always have to be a bigoted EDL supporter to discuss immigration policy in a way that’s slightly more critical than a John Lennon album. The vast majority of traditional Labour voters are indeed highly sceptical about both ours and The Conservative’s record with regard to this issue. This is why the majority of them voted for Brexit, and why many others have defected to UKIP.
Now no-one is saying that we need to shut the borders, deport all foreigners and blow up the channel tunnel (almost no-one anyway), however, Jeremy Corbyn’s stance on immigration will have to change from what currently might as well be blanket support for open borders. Again, I’m not saying we need to go back to Millibands moronic immigration mugs or anything of the sort, but Corbyn’s team have got to find a way to reconnect with all those currently sitting in team purple.
That policy solution will probably be partly determined by whatever deal on free movement Theresa May gets from the EU, but that policy solution will have to exist. If you want to look at it from a left-wing perspective, realistically, you can either have open borders or you can have a welfare state. Now go ahead and ask yourself which one is more likely to get you votes. Furthermore, this isn’t a black and white situation. You can absolutely discuss the many merits brought on by controlled immigration while understanding that an open borders policy cannon feasibly coexist alongside Keynesian economics.
Much attention has already been brought to the fact that Jeremy Corbyn happens to be a republican. Now sure, it is a little silly that 21st century Britain still has an unelected head of state, and personally I’m not even a great fan of the British Monarchy. However, and I’m sorry if this is starting to become a common theme here, the vast majority of the electorate happens to disagree. The UK as a whole is still very much in favour of keeping the Royal Family, and thankfully Corbyn has in the past stated that this is not something which he seeks to make an issue of.
Well, would you look at that… A reasonable and mature response to an issue which Corbyn knows pits him against overwhelming public opinion. Brilliant! Now if only a similar attitude could be applied to Trident the man would immediately make himself more electable. That being said, why oh why would you not sing the National Anthem? I get it, the whole thing was blown way out of proportion by the right-wing media, but when the press is just looking for an excuse to attack you, you don’t start to feed them ammunition. If you want to be Prime Minister, as I hope Jeremy Corbyn actually does, you sing the National Anthem. Seriously.
This really should just come across as common sense, but if Labour is to have even a little chance of winning the next election, it needs to appeal to the wider public. This means reaching out and convincing people who typically do not vote Labour, as opposed to spending your entire time speaking to rallies full of the already converted in areas which were already going to vote for you. It doesn’t matter how many people come to hear you speak in Liverpool, or Newcastle or Manchester because Labour would still win Liverpool, Newcastle and Manchester even if it’s leader was a golden retriever or the ghost of Maggie Thatcher. As I previously mentioned, the British Public at large is not hostile to left-wing solutions, quite the opposite. However, there are a number of fringe beliefs held by the current party leadership which it would be wise to separate itself from. If it fails to do so, Theresa May will find herself living in Downing Street for a rather long time.