Back in 2007, I was roundly ridiculed when I predicted that a relatively obscure Illinois Senator might overtake Hillary Clinton (the bookies’ favourite for the best part of a decade) to gain the Democratic Nomination for US President. “It’ll never happen” they said, “everyone knows it’s Hillary’s, and even then, America would never vote for him”.
More recently, in the latter half of 2010, when the Scottish Labour Party were riding high in the polls, and looked set to ride to victory at Holyrood the following May, I remember arguing that Scottish independence should be pushed up the agenda. “Get your priorities right” people said, “no one cares about independence, even the SNP think it’s irrelevant”.
Now, I’m not looking to paint myself as some sort of iconoclastic political soothsayer here, I’m just trying to illustrate the point that recent political history is littered with seismic developments that were considered utterly fanciful just a year (or sometimes even months) beforehand.
Sadly, I don’t think my latest prediction will come to pass, but that doesn’t make it any less important. I genuinely believe that if the UK Labour Party were to show some guts in their current leadership election, to throw aside the received wisdom of the conservative commentariat, they would have a very real chance of returning to power at Westminster in 2020. I suspect they won’t though, as it would involve picking Jeremy Corbyn as leader.
I’ve watched Corbyn on a few occasions now, namely that God-awful hustings in Nuneaton and his more recent appearance on BBC’s Question Time. Each time I find myself wondering why he’s not the front runner for Labour leader, indeed why – perversely – he’s almost the “joke” candidate? He’s statesmanlike, he isn’t afraid to stick to his principles, and he doesn’t speak in sound-bites. What’s not to like? Well, he’s left wing – that’s what – and Labour have talked themselves into believing that left wing policies can’t win a general election in the UK.
Contrary to popular belief, the Labour Party did not lose the 2015 general election because they were too left wing, no matter how much the John McTernans of this world might like you to believe it. Labour lost because they were in total disarray, their leader was a laughing stock, they weren’t a credible government in waiting and they had no policies whatsoever (as the now infamous “EdStone” paid ironic testament).
Where all the more “serious” Labour leadership candidates respond to questions on immigration or austerity with mealy-mouthed calls for “tougher border controls” or “strong public finances”, Jeremy Corbyn is a lone voice decrying the xenophobic hysteria surrounding an immigrant population whose impact on our economy is demonstrably positive, as well as utterly rejecting the ideological crusade to punish the poorest in our society for the failings of a system designed – basically – to make rich people richer.
When you think about it, what I’m really describing is an actual opposition leader, as opposed to a watered down version of David Cameron – who, lest we forget, is just a watered down version of Tony Blair, who in turn, was just a watered down version of Margaret Thatcher.
“But how will the Tory party win back all those progressive voters who’ve peeled away to the Greens and Labour?” said no one, ever. Say what you will about the Tories, but they know who they are, they know what they stand for, and they’re steadfast in their Dickensian right-wingery. The Labour Party though, are forever worrying about how to appeal to UKIP and Tory voters, and rather than offer left wing arguments to combat the xenophobic anti immigration myths, or the widespread misconception that benefits cheats are to blame for all society’s woes, they feed the fire. In doing so they only pull those people further to the right, and make the ground more fertile for the likes of Nigel Farage.
The English electorate are as sick as everyone else of right wing politics, they just haven’t had a chance to express that view at the ballot box for over 30 years. A genuinely left wing Labour Party – worthy of the name – could massively change the face of UK politics and re-engage huge swathes of the electorate, much like the SNP did in Scotland. If the Labour Party wakes up in time, it has a golden opportunity in Jeremy Corbyn to stop the rot that has been eating away ever since Neil Kinnock first sowed the seeds of Blairism.
For those who say that England will never vote for a left wing Labour Party, I would remind them that more people didn’t vote in England In 2015, than voted for any single political party. But perhaps those same naysayers would also have predicted that America would never vote for a black president, or that Scotland would never hold a referendum on independence.
A week is a long time in politics, but five years is an eternity.