“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.”
This is the unspoken truth of Labour’s new leader. When Labour’s Socialist Campaign Group, comprising Labour’s most left-wing MPs, met after Ed Miliband’s resignation to decide who would be the no-hope, left-winger in the party’s leadership election – and this time it was Jeremy’s turn – none of them could have imagined what we have witnessed today. Jeremy – dear crumpled Jeremy – has been thrust into the limelight, Special Branch operatives, cameras in his face, privacy gone forever as this left-wing gentleman walks blinking into the flashbulbs.
Today’s result was manufactured in Ed Miliband’s lounge in Islington, North London – oh the irony – when the new leadership election rules were designed. But it was supplied by the angry, disenchanted non-party political people joining Labour in their droves after an election loss they thought would be Labour’s victory. These fresh Labour members have now delivered a leader with the strongest popular mandate of any Labour leader ever. Ed Miliband’s gift to Labour has been an electoral system which has further quietened the voice of the moderates – for they are not known to be shrill – who tend to choose electable leaders to the significant benefit of the vocal, bellicose left-wingers and now we have the most unexpected of unintended consequences.
These fresh Labour members do not like triangulation, moderation or any of the compromises Labour has made to become electable beyond its normal supporter base. Indeed, when recently polled by Lord Ashcroft, 52% stated they’d rather have a principled party than one that compromises to win elections. The pre-Kinnock Labour is back, even though the majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party don’t want it and evidence from May is that the overall electorate doesn’t either.
But now is not the time to look back. Rather it’s time to look ahead to what’s in store for Corbyn. Firstly, Labour’s press team will have their hands full dealing with the backlog of his political views and allies which the 3rd Estate will rake over, helpfully aided by the Conservative Party’s most assiduous researchers. Then he has the problem of pulling together a Shadow Cabinet with few recognisable faces willing to serve under him for fear of ruining their future chances. And then there’s the grubby job of party fundraising. If the Conservative Government is successful in severely reducing Labour’s main funding stream through the Trade Union Bill, then he will have to find donors and how many wealthy individuals or corporations are going to donate when his economics will significantly reduce their income through taxation.
However, I believe Corbyn is an intelligent man and he knows the electoral maths are not in his favour. Bluntly, for a Labour leader to stand any chance of winning Number 10, they need to reclaim the majority of the seats they lost in Scotland, which is perhaps the only bit of electoral evidence he had in his favour over his leadership rivals. But here’s the tricky bit, he also needs to win England and he will never be able to win back enough seats on his record without compromising his left-wing ideals to the detriment of winning back Scotland. This suggests two possible consequences:
- He never wanted the leadership in the first place, nonetheless it has been thrust upon him. So this is his chance to remodel Labour closer to his image, while moulding a successor more suitable to English voters and bequeathing it to them at least 18months before the next election.
The latter will kill his supporters to witness or even consider, but really, does he have a choice if he is leading a mainstream political party? One of the biggest compromises and the hardest for him to stomach will be his position on the nuclear deterrent. Blair may have delivered a degree of economic unanimity between the Conservatives and Labour, but rediscovering unanimity on the nuclear deterrent helped get Labour back within a whisker of claiming the ’92 election. The tacit psychological security of the deterrent to the electorate cannot be underestimated, particularly when the world feels more dangerous with Russia sabre-rattling, the existence of North Korea and of course the rise of ISIS. Perhaps every other idealistic, left-wing policy could, with a lot of work and huge swathes of luck, be sold to the electorate, but giving up the nuclear deterrent? Well then Mr. Corbyn, you’ve given up the keys to Number 10.
So which Corbyn will we see?
The one who cradles the greatness thrust on him and accepts the compromises to make Labour electable under his leadership. Or the one who holds it tightly like a rugby ball, grimly wading through the hardest tackles politics can throw to plough the campaigning furrow he’s diligently followed all his political life, before throwing it to his younger, more-electable successor.
Only time will tell.