One would assume that the week that the Prime Minister resigns is, on balance, quite a good week for the opposition. Sadly the Labour Party appear to have decided to compete with the Conservatives to win the: “Which party can self-destruct the fastest” competition and for once Labour are winning hands-down.
Last summer I voted for Jeremy Corbyn to be the leader of the Labour Party. There were a number of factors that influenced my decision. The worst being I was still reeling from the result of the General Election which I knew would lead to the country becoming more unequal. Broadly speaking, I would describe myself, like Corbyn, as a democratic socialist, and just like the Brexiteers say of the referendum, last Summer was the first time I saw an option that closely reflected my political views on a ballot paper. Most significantly, I didn’t see a strong enough alternative being put forward. I would have been more than happy to vote for the candidate I saw winning a general election over the person that shared my own personal views but I wasn’t convinced that any of them could. I’ve got a lot of time for Yvettte Cooper, I think she’s great but for a significant percentage of the country she (unfairly) represents the Blair years. Andy Burnham seemed unable to decide what he stood for although in hindsight would have perhaps risen to the task and Liz Kendall had plenty of sensible things to say but an unfortunate patronising way of saying them. I don’t speak to 6-year-olds the way she addressed those hustings audiences. So Corbyn it was. Had there been a Stella Creasy, or Dan Jarvis on the ballot paper then things may have been different; it was a self-indulgent way to vote but it felt like the right thing to do at the time. Above all I’m an optimist (yes, really) and genuinely believed if we could just get people to hear what was on offer they couldn’t not agree with it. I was wrong.
I live in Haringey which is as close as a teacher can get to living in Corbyn’s Islington constituency whilst still affording to eat. I am a member of the Labour party, I attend ward meetings and represent my ward at General Committee meetings. It’s clear that amongst the members in those meetings the support for Corbyn is still strong. I wish I could share their confidence. It is all too easy to sit in a room and shake our heads at the state of country and curse those terrible Tories but unless we are able to gain the power needed to change things we may as well be the WI tutting about the way of the world.
It’s no secret that the decision the country made in the referendum shocked me – it was a real wake-up call and we all need to learn what we can from it. I am now less certain about things I was previously confident about. The only thing one can be sure of is that in the next 6 – 12 months it is likely that there will be a General Election and I don’t think Jeremy Corbyn can win in.
In the referendum the country voted with Nigel Farage: the most right-wing politician with such a high level of exposure since Enoch Powell, if not Oswald Mosley . They are not exactly crying out for socialism. We need to address the country on their terms not ours and we need to accept them as they are not as what we hope they are deep down “if we can just convince them.” I know that it is normal for the opposition to pull further left when facing a right-wing government but that would be a mistake. We need to find the midpoint position ourselves between our members and the PLP and we need to do it soon. For the poorest people in our country, life is getting harder at an exponential rate. Wanting to win an election so we can actually start improving life for the people we claim to represent does not make me a Blairite, despite the insistence of Corbyn’s supporters on describing anyone who opposes him in this way.
I’m not saying we should abandon our values altogether but they need to be packaged correctly. The public say they hate spin and soundbite politicians but just over a week ago, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage convinced over 17 million people to vote to leave the EU by repeating three little words: “Take Back Control”. Similarly last year, Obsorne’s “long-term economic plan” helped seal the Conservative majority. The public feel comforted by a well-dressed politician with a reassuring soundbite.“I know appearance is superficial, but people judge people by their appearances and when you see politicians in their smart suits, and then Jeremy Corbyn is there, he looks like he has just come off his allotment, and people aren’t drawn to him.” said one ex. Labour voter in response to the question “Do you like Jeremy Corbyn?”
Nationalism is back in a big way and it comes hand in hand with its close friend Royalism. The country wants to see their Prime Minister singing the National Anthem. Personally I think the Royal Family are a waste of tax-payers’ money and it’s a shame they weren’t one of the victims of austerity cuts instead of funding for hospitals and schools. However I know that my view is not the view of the majority – a YouGov poll last September found that 71% of adults believe that the monarchy should remain. I also know that just shouting louder and louder that the monarchy are a waste of money will not change people’s minds.
The country also do not want to talk about reopening coal mines, scrapping trident or quantitative easing. Once again my opinion on some of these issues is at odds with the majority and for most people those ideas are scary – they appear risky and radical. We lost the election last year because Rupert Murdoch and Lynton Crosby managed to convince voters that the Labour Party could not be trusted with the economy. One year on and our economy is increasing unstable as a result of the referendum result: the Conservative Party line that Labour can’t be trusted with our economy has been shot to pieces. Now is the time for a strong leader offering a clear vision that the public can relate to. Now is NOT the time for the Shadow Chancellor to be quoting from Mao’s Little Red Book or to talk about printing more money. People want shorter hospital waiting lists, school places for their children and a better quality of life but more than anything they want to feel secure. We have to discuss the issues the general public want addressed and not just keep banging on about Trident. That is another argument for another time.
Corbyn is a good man and, by all accounts, an excellent local MP. I wanted him to be the leader of the Labour Party. But to quote Sir Jagger, “You can’t always get what you want but if you try sometimes, you just might find, you get what you need.”