The Labour leadership has been set alight by a YouGov poll putting Jeremy Corbyn 17% ahead on 1st preferences. Even with a margin for error, it is difficult to see how the poll is so wrong that he is not well ahead. Since then on social media I have had a number of exchanges, some heated, with Corbyn supporters convinced people like me who do not believe Corbyn would be a good choice for Labour are completely wrong. Indeed it is a given default position for most people that Corbyn, whatever you think of him, cannot win a General, is unelectable, some go further and think he will put the parties existence as any sort of electable force is at stake. like this warning from Peter Mandleson.
So let’s look at the political landscape in detail and ask, are those who assume Corbyn is a bad idea for Labour actually right? Or, as some of those who support Corbyn suggest, is this just a lazy mindset of those with groupthink who do not really understand what is going on? Let’s seriously ask ourselves the question, can Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party actually win a General Election.
We all know any Labour leader to earn victory needs more votes than they got in May, that is a given. Corbyn’s supporters first point to those who did not vote in May, and those who have been lost to the Greens. They argue that these are natural Labour supporters who considered Ed Miliband Austerity-lite or even tory-lite, and there are millions of these people ready to flood back to Corbyn offering a real anti-austerity agenda. This is the first key to winning back support they claim.
The first problem is the left as anyone who has any knowledge of left-wing and trade union rallies, marches and events will know, have a tendency to exaggerate numbers. If there were millions on the left who did not vote Labour in May ready to come back to Corbyn, they had plenty of options to vote this way in May. There were Respect, TUSC, Class War and various other socialist parties and independents who barely registered on the radar (barely 50,000 votes between them.). The idea that loads of these non-voters will come out and vote for Jeremy Corbyn if they didn’t bother to vote in May is difficult to believe. Corbyn’s supporters also seem to think these people would definitely be Labour inclined, a fact that cannot be verified by any credible measure, and is probably not correct anyway. This is the comfort blanket of the losing side, those who didn’t vote would have voted for us, if only.
Then there is winning back the Greens who have deserted Labour. The Greens managed 1.15 million votes in May and are a party steadily on the rise. It should be pointed out though that even if Labour did win every green voter back, they would still be over 1 million votes behind the Tories. They are a party who boarder on the socialist left, so Corbyn will have some appeal, but also have an environmental agenda. It is that that gives them a USP (Unique selling Point) Corbyn does not have. One thing the Pro-Corbyn argument also ignores is that many of the Greens are actually Green, not Labour in the first place. There may be some votes to be got back by those for whom the Green agenda is not a big part, but this will be small in number. The other problem is, whether talking non-voters or Green voters, those who could be gained generally live in the inner city areas where turnout is lowest and Labour win big anyway, reducing the value of any gains made in terms of the General Election outcome.
So the deserters targeted by this strategy are small in number and do not live in areas in the main that will affect a General election result. Then there is the SNP argument. They were anti-austerity and did well, we can win them back. This firstly misses the complexity of the SNP vote. Yes it is true in Glasgow anti-austerity went down well and on the face of it this is the area Corbyn is most likely to appeal to. But they also consider themselves on a journey towards independence, Don’t forget the City of Glasgow voted yes afterall, which Corbyn is against. So again Corbyn will be fighting on the same ground, where his opponents have a USP they support which he does not have The SNP vote across the rest of Scotland is a complex patchwork of the fallout from the referendum, the SNP’ long standing commitment to rural and farming issues in the North-East of Scotland, the SNP commitment to fishing and island related issues in the islands, as well as tactical voting to give one party or other a good kicking given the awareness that the SNP as a party was on the rise. A move to the left will not undo a huge amount of that. Corbyn may win some support back in Scotland, but it won’t be anything like enough, Scotland is not going to move away from the SNP anytime soon.
So if the scope for a hard left agenda does not have much room to win back anywhere like the support as those Corbyn supporters propose. What about elsewhere. The reality is to win Labour needs to win back the demographic who were pro-Thatcher, pro-Blair and now pro-Cameron. This is especially key in the midlands and some parts of the south, along with some seats in the north-west. The pattern is clear, they were pro Thatcher when Labour moved too far to the left, pro Blair when the Tories moved too far to the right and shifted back as Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband shifted Labour back into their comfort zone. What does a Corbyn leadership offer these people? It;s very difficult to see much at all. The likelihood is these people will stay with the Tories in 2020, killing dead Corbyn’s chances of winning back these key marginals and any chance of winning an election.
Then there are those who voted Labour in 2020. I saw one Corbyn supporter assume these votes were ‘In the bag.’ Again this is incorrect. The Acting leader Harriet Harman candidly admitted some Labour supporters were relieved Labour lost. These found Ed Miliband someone on the very edge of acceptability in term of his leftward trajectory, or voted Labour out of loyalty in hope they would sort themselves out and provide a good opposition after the defeat. Many of these voters may well consider themselves having been let down with a move further to the left with Corbyn. These are Labour votes that could easily go to the Tories, or become abstentions next time. The affect would increase majorities in Tory marginals, and put Labour MP’s with small/medium size majorities under threat themselves.
Then there is the new Lib Dem threat to the Labour vote. Electing Corbyn moves Labour away from Ed Miliband’s turf and heads further left. Ironically leaving that turf to newly elected Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron, whose early works suggest the Ed Miliband ground is the basis of where he is looking to re-build from. While there are not enough of these people to win an election as was proved in May, there are enough of them to do Labour serious damage and help the Lib Dems fight back. So you are left wing but not of the Corbyn variety? Farron has given these people somewhere else to go if they no longer consider Labour credible. Finally there are the UKIP voters. many of whom are of the left, but their main concern is immigration. Guess what, Corbyn is pro open immigration. His chances of winning many of those votes back are,m I would suggest rather small, in addition the threat of Corbyn may put UKIP voters of a more right-wing lean back in the Tory column, as the threat of the SNP did in parts of England in May.
Electing Corbyn means pursuing a group of voters small in number, many of whom cannot be won anyway, who live in areas that will not affect the 2020 result. Electing Corbyn will not win back swathes of Scotland. Electing Corbyn will ensure the Tories comfortably win the battle in key marginals of key marginal voters who do not vote for the extremes of left or right. Electing Corbyn will put existing Labour votes at risk to the Tories in key marginals and existing Labour votes at risk to the Liberal Democrats as they re-build. Electing Corbyn means policies that will not win back left-wing UKIP voters and could mean right-wing UKIP voters head back to the blues. So to conclude, is the Corbyn is bad for Labour consensus of most based on reality or is it nonsense as Corbyn’s supporters suggest? Going through the evidence, it is clear, those warning Labour that electing Jeremy Corbyn is a mistake are absolutely right. The probability is the Tories would win by more than in 2015, The SNP will retain a large contingent with Labour losing out to the Lib Dems in some places too. Jeremy Corbyn cannot win a General Election even if the best of everything available to him goes his way.