The man who promised to stick to his principles discovered a third wayby Stephen Bush / July 14, 2017 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2017 issue of Prospect Magazine
“Paris is worth a mass,” Henry of Navarre is said to have remarked before he renounced his Protestantism in order to claim the French throne. One of the reasons why the perennial protestor and seeming political puritan, Jeremy Corbyn, won the Labour leadership in 2015 was that his opponents all seemed to believe that Downing Street was worth not only a mass, but a cathedral, a seminary and a host of monks, too. Corbyn’s election literature even came enclosed in an envelope bearing the disclaimer: “Warning: Contains A New Kind of Politics.”
Much of Corbyn’s appeal was in that promise of a new kind of politics. Here was a politician who had avoided the compromises of New Labour and its descendants, who would run the party differently. There would be an end to artful positioning. In its place we would have “honest, straight-talking politics.” The purity was the point. Paris would have to be secured without a mass—or not at all. The seeming lack of the will to put winning first was also why the Conservatives relished the idea of an election against Corbyn. “It’s as if the laws of gravity have been suspended,” one minister reflected shortly after the Islington North MP first became Labour leader.
Then the 2017 election happened, and the laws of gravity turned out to apply after all. Sure, Labour didn’t win, but they came close. The result was even better in the light of 2015’s disaster. The Tories might only have had a narrow majority in the Commons, but most MPs were sitting on super-majorities. For Labour, revival looked like a 10-year project. Now Labour needs just a one-point swing from the Conservatives to form a minority government and a mere three-point swing to win a majority of one. Paris is in sight, no mass required.