Even those of us who anticipated a Corbyn victory from early on, couldn’t have imagined he’d scoop a whopping 60% of the votes. This victory was unprecedented for so many reasons, not least his outsider, left-wing status. For a candidate so roundly vilified by the media and his parliamentary colleagues, his success is symbolic of the shifting sands of democratic engagement in this social media age. In Scotland of course, we are firmly ensconced in that sort of politics, hence most of those early predictions of a Corbyn led Labour Party emerged from north of the border. In Scotland, we are by now relaxed at the notion of left wing politics, in the face of a hostile media, emerging victorious (and then some).
For decades, political parties have credited their supporters and campaigners for their successes, though that credit was never so deserved as it is now. In days gone by, the narrow version of events presented by the media was always more likely to sway an election – the glory days of headlines like “it was the sun wot won it” spring to mind.
Media influence hasn’t entirely disappeared, but it has massively diluted in the face of social media’s ever widening, democratisation of the commentariat. The old media institutions don’t like their loss of influence, hence they tend to paint the internet and social media as little more than hotbeds of abuse, identity theft and credit card fraud. But I digress…
We’ve all been conditioned to believe in a very specific narrative with regards to British politics, and particularly the Labour Party, a narrative so pervasive that even quite sensible people have bought into it. That narrative, essentially states that Britain is a fundamentally conservative country, and that Labour must always tack right in order to win elections.
The adoption of this (mistaken) belief was very much Margaret Thatcher’s vision, and probably Tony Blair’s proudest achievement. It is arguably the greatest piece of Tory propaganda that exists today; in fact, as propaganda goes, it’s a work of art.
The idea that Labour must be forever “reaching out” to Conservative voters is like a slow poison in the veins of progressive politics in the UK. It assumes that those on the right must be pandered to, whilst traditional left wing voters are so desperate for what what scraps they can get, that they’ll put up with anything. It’s patronising, it’s insulting, and it’s the definition of taking your core support for granted.
If labour stops chasing Tory votes in marginal seats in southern England, and instead concentrates its efforts on the huge swathes of disenfranchised voters who (when combined) make up more people than voted for either of the two major parties in May, it’s fortunes can begin to change. Those folk aren’t crying out for carefully crafted sound bites, or watered down conservative economics; no, they want a genuine alternative. They feel so robbed of that alternative that they won’t even vote any more, they feel voiceless and powerless. If Labour speaks to those people, gives them a voice, it can win in 2020, and it can win big.
When all’s said and done, you can’t out-Tory the Tories. They’re excellent at being Tories and they’re excellent at appealing to Tory voters. Labour must offer a genuine alternative if it’s to survive, only then can we drag the “centre” of British politics back to the centre, as opposed to this weird right wing “consensus” that no electorate ever actually signed up for.
The Labour Party has a huge opportunity in Jeremy Corbyn, they must not squander it.