The current political theatre resembles one of the more absurd Monty Python sketches; full of unpredictability, stupidity and chock full of nonsensical phrases like “Corbynistas” or “Brexit means Brexit” -phrases which at the best of times make me want to finally take up that plan of deserting society and moving to Nepal- simply put it does seem a bit farcical to anyone not involved in it, which is most of us. I’d like to focus on the Labour leadership campaign though, yes, there’s another one (would you have guessed) The basic synopsis can be summarised as a bland, yet amiable MP, who’ve I seen described as having pertained “sheer forgettability” (think of all last years candidates) is facing off against another bland, yet again amiable MP, who 5 years ago wouldn’t have stood a chance in the labour leadership contest.
This new leadership contest feels like the basic M. Night Shyamalan film, near the end everyone expects the huge twist: either the party soars to greatness or collapses into a red puff of smoke as the left sings the Internationale (although personally my vote is for Corbyn being able to see dead people). It’s easy to make fun of because it’s been set up to be a comedy, what with the accusations that violent “Corbynistas”, although farcical in their own way, are being secretly ordered to harass their leaders enemies by Corbyn himself; the ridiculous idea that a party leader should refuse to step down when the majority of his MP’s despise him, and, my personal favourite; the idea that a man who lobbied for Pfizer, supported the Iraq war and voted for the Tory government’s welfare reforms, is somehow going to bring about a “socialist revolution”, in his own words. I’m no expert, but it can’t just be me who believes that claim might have been a bit disingenuous.
Full disclosure, I have no side here, and I’m certainly not on the opposing side of the political spectrum either, jumping in to make spurious claims about the unelectability of the left. My angle is a bit more of a cynical one, away from the emotional Labour supporters fighting for, let’s break out those phrases again, the “heart and soul” of the Labour party, whatever that means.With that said then, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. The two sides are set, the die-hard Corbyn supporters who believe he best represents their socialist views, and the Owen Smith supporters who see him as a better leader who has a more “realistic” chance of getting Labour into power. The main thrust of the Owen Smith supporters argument is that the Corbyn followers are ignorant of Labours failed socialist excursions in the past, holiday choices that in electoral terms were about as successful as a holiday to Syria might be, and that Corbyn himself has provided poor leadership. Although Corbyn’s leadership style leaves much to be admired, the first point in particular deserves contesting.
Across Europe we’ve seen the collapse of centrist parties and increasing polarisation, strides for AfD in Germany, La Pen’s Front Nationale in France, Podemos in Spain and Syriza in Greece, the tight presidential election in Austria this year, for example, was only contested by the left and extreme right, the centrist parties were out long before the final vote. What this clearly shows us then is that centrist politics are not appealing to voters, and they didn’t in our last election in 2015. There seems a clear strand of hypocrisy then from some Labour members when they claim that Corbyn supporters are ignorant of the past, for surely they are ignorant of the present, putting forward an opposing candidate who, for all his left-leaning policies, merely comes across as another Ed Miliband, who we must remember was widely rejected in last year’s election – although it does feel like a political lifetime ago.
The centre is no longer a valid option for Labour, what is left of it has been taken up, first by George Osborne and successively by Theresa May, as she outlined her policies aimed at supposedly helping the working class as she assumed office; although I’m sure she won’t mind if I’m slightly sceptical about that claim.What Jeremy Corbyn has done, like it or not, is shift the conversation in the Labour party. What was deemed during Ed Miliband’s tenure as party leader as unelectably left is now a necessity to even win the leadership contest, we’ve seen this as Owen Smith outlined his own policies earlier this week with a strong socialist overtone. Start with some sizzling wage councils, dashed with the abolishment of zero hour contracts and finished with a pledge not to cut corporation tax, to mention but a few. Of course, don’t forget the pledge to reduce skyrocketing inequality, a term repeated so often it’s probably the second most commonly said phrase in Britain only narrowly behind “Well that was disappointing” and “Oh look it’s raining again”.
In truth, this is Corbyn’s greatest success as party leader. Perhaps he is indeed unelectable, he definitely isn’t the most infallible leader; I’d worry for him even leading a geography trip to Blackpool, but he’s moved the parties discourse back to its roots, and more importantly, to a place of potential. Britain might not be ready for a socialist government, but it certainly isn’t in the mood for another Blairite one; those ideals of cool Britannia and multiculturalism have certainly been tarnished in the wake of Brexit. No, if European trends of polarisation are anything to go by, the Labour party will embrace the present and move with the popular, charged activism of Podemos and Syriza in the tough days ahead, and it may yet clinch a victory. In the words of Abraham Lincoln, Labour needs to put their “feet in the right place, then stand firm” the only trouble being they don’t know which foot to put forward…and they’re standing in an alligator infested river.