Assailing the veteran left-winger for being “unelectable” is the coward’s way out. Jeremy Corbyn opponents should spell out to the Labour Party membership exactly which of his policies they disagree with, and why.
The three candidates running against Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour Party leadership are willing to talk about almost anything, it seems, other than why Jeremy Corbyn’s policies would be bad for Britain.
Don’t misunderstand – they are more than happy to talk about why a Jeremy Corbyn victory would harm the Labour Party. But pinning them down to any specific criticism of Jeremy Corbyn’s policies is close to impossible. In fact, for every one specific criticism of a Corbyn policy coming from within the Labour Party, there are at least ten other generic complaints that he is “divisive”, or that he will “split the party”.
Why is this so?
The 2015 general election result proved that there are still just enough votes in David Cameron’s wishy-washy, watered down conservatism for the Tories to win an outright majority in Parliament. The margin was not comfortable, but the Tories were able to haemorrhage right wing votes to UKIP and still carry the day.
But Labour no longer have this luxury. Following their wipeout in Scotland, and with the Green Party nibbling at their heels in England, Labour need all the centrist votes they can muster to ever win again – barring some major external shock or unforeseen realignment of British politics.
The Labour Party must be united to win, but a united Labour Party means a party where the socialist Left sit quietly at the back of the bus, letting the centrists run the show and take all the glory. Both sides have upheld this arrangement since 1997, but consecutive defeats at the hands of Gordon Brown and Ed Miliband have brought the entente to a sudden end. And now that Jeremy Corbyn has a real shot at becoming leader, Labour’s left flank are no longer willing to play the smiling, decorative 1950s housewife.
The obvious alternative would therefore be for the right wing of the Labour Party, the Blue Labour types, to take their turn on the back seat and let the Corbynites drive for awhile. But unsurprisingly, they have absolutely no intention of doing so. Already the centrists and the SpAdocracy, accustomed to getting their way, are throwing their toys out of the pram and vowing never to serve in a Jeremy Corbyn cabinet. Some of them are already plotting a pre-emptive coup, so determined are they to maintain their grip on the Labour Party’s future direction. It is their way or the highway, they shout petulantly.
That is why the Labour Party establishment is in meltdown. The party’s centrist chiefs are used to taking their left-wing support base for granted, ignoring the old fashioned socialists completely while they pander instead to the centrist swing vote. But now that comfortable, familiar option is being taken away.
Now the Labour elite is being forced to choose – they can keep pandering to the centrist swing vote if they wish, but Jeremy Corbyn’s army of supporters will simply desert and undermine the party’s left flank. Or they can come out and say that they agree with Jeremy Corbyn, and then face the huge uphill battle of convincing the broader British electorate that red-blooded socialism is the way forward – which is what they would do if they had the courage of their supposed convictions.
But rather than committing one way or another, the Labour Party establishment wants to have it both ways. They want people who believe in the nationalisation of industry and unilateral nuclear disarmament to remain within the party to shore up the left flank, but they want them to do so while accepting that their strongly held views can never become official party policy.
But why should Jeremy Corbyn supporters continue to accept this unsatisfactory deal, especially when the party leadership is tantalisingly within their grasp? Why should they grin and bear it, giving their support to Andy Burnham or Yvette Cooper so that one of those two bland nonentities can fight and lose the 2020 general election on a platform of being slightly to the left of the Tories?
The Labour Party big beasts and columnists lining up to denounce Jeremy Corbyn are desperate to postpone this reckoning indefinitely. They want the party’s left flank to continue voting against their conscience so that the centrists can continue to run the show.
And that’s why they won’t explicitly criticise any of Corbyn’s policies; they already seek the Left’s vote while offering nothing in return, and so they are desperate to avoid causing additional offence by admitting the truth – that they no longer believe what the Corbynites believe.
David Green’s analysis in CapX is spot on:
Above all, [Corbyn’s rivals] have not offered a fundamental challenge to his programme. He seems to lack the political guile of a Blair or a Mandelson, while his rivals seem only to be saying that the voters are not ready yet. They could easily agree with his ultimate ends but feel that it is too soon to spill the beans to the voters. Liz Kendall finds Mr Corbyn unrealistic and insists that, if Labour is to help the most vulnerable in society, they must win power first. It all seems to be about tactics. Don’t frighten the voters by telling them what Labour really wants to do.
Alastair Campbell has taken the same line in the Telegraph, warning that Mr Corbyn’s policies will not be acceptable to voters in many constituencies. The implication is that he may have sound convictions but the voters are rather backward and so it’s best not to say too much at this stage. Corbyn is wrong but only because he is blurting it all out.
But the Labour Party establishment now believes that Corbyn is flat out wrong in principle as well as in strategy – it’s just that they will never say so in public.
The connection between the Labour Party and its socialist base has decayed like a long, stale, sexless marriage. In the beginning, passion burned bright and the love was all-consuming, but decades later all that’s left are the chill bonds of custom, familiarity and duty.
The Labour Party of Burnham, Cooper, Kendall, Umunna and Hunt tolerated the likes of Jeremy Corbyn because they were used to his quiet, unobtrusive presence on the backbenches. But just as the overbearing old husband gets angry if his usually placid wife dares to contradict him, so the leading lights of the Labour Party are quietly livid that Jeremy Corbyn has actually dared to influence the direction of the political party he calls home.
Does Yvette Cooper think that British Telecom should be renationalised, with the state becoming monopoly provider of telecommunications once again?
Does Andy Burnham believe that Britain should unilaterally decommission our nuclear weapons, invite in UN inspectors to confirm that we are not playing tricks, and then resign our seat on the UN Security Council?
Does Liz Kendall believe that imposing confiscatory rates of tax on successful individuals is a good way to attract and retain the world’s best talent?
Does Chuka Umunna, with all his friends in finance and industry, really look like the sort of person who is itching to crack down on the City of London?
Of course not – to all of the above. None of the people who currently pass for Labour Party heavyweights believe in any of these things. But they all rely on the votes of people who do sincerely believe in them.
And so, when seeking to tear down Jeremy Corbyn, they have to tiptoe around the real reason for their opposition. They can’t admit the truth – that they violently disagree with Corbyn and everything that he stands for – because although the party elite have nothing left in common with the activist base, they still need them to turn up and vote in local and general elections.
Is this a profile in political courage? Absolutely not. Is it understandable from a short-termist tactical standpoint? Yes, it is. Will it be enough to help the Anyone But Corbyn brigade avoid defeat on 12 September? No – by most reckonings, Corbyn now has the Labour leadership in the bag.
All that’s left now is for the Labour Party’s centrists to go down fighting, to prove to the world (and crowing Jeremy Corbyn supporters) that they do have sincerely held political views after all. Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall should come out swinging and declare that they oppose everything that Corbyn stands for – not because of narrow concerns over his electability, but because he is an unapologetic socialist. And they are not.
With nothing left to lose, it’s finally time for Jeremy Corbyn’s opponents to put up or shut up.