The electoral and parliamentary arithmetic has altered; the issues of principle have notby Oliver Kamm / June 9, 2017 / Leave a comment
Labour lost the election, the third in succession since Tony Blair stepped down, despite a prolonged squeeze on household real incomes. Yet many pundits, including me, were mistaken. We expected Labour to suffer a historic defeat; evidently, so did Theresa May. The measure of our error is not the gains of 29 seats and 9.5 percentage points in the vote share, or the huge majorities built up in major urban constituencies, but the fact that Labour at the start of the campaign looked at risk of annihilation.
Voters were unimpressed with the Tories’ chaotic, ugly and intellectually risible campaign. Given the opportunity to endorse a hard (or rather, dogmatic) Brexit, they demurred. Yet the early evidence suggests that Jeremy Corbyn attracted votes, especially from young people, who would not have gone to Labour under any likely alternative leader (say, Yvette Cooper) with a different manifesto. Where I live, in Hackney in east London, the capable, moderate pro-European Labour MP, Meg Hillier, was returned with a majority—not her vote, but her majority—of 38,000. By strengthening Labour’s relative position and increasing its vote, Corbyn has ensured the parliamentary party’s loyalty and nullified any notion of a breakaway centre-left grouping.
And this is wrong. Critics of Corbyn within the party stressed that he was leading Labour to oblivion. They were confirmed in this belief by the Copeland by-election and last month’s local elections. Now that Corbyn has confounded these expectations, they have nothing left. So it needs to be said: Corbyn’s politics are not a reputable or coherent stance for a progressive party to take.
It’s perfectly possible to construct a rational, redistributive left-wing programme for government. Labour’s manifesto isn’t it. On the contrary, it fails to attack the biggest obstacle to intergenerational equity—a dysfunctional housing market, granting tax privileges to homeowners—while entrenching the protected position of pensioners. The party’s commitment to abolish tuition fees is, by comparison, minor in principle while being regressive in practice. These spending commitments are pork-barrel politics targeting a source of revenues that probably doesn’t exist. There’s nothing wrong with raising corporate taxes so long as you’re aware of the trade-offs: the likelihood that companies will reduce dividends, headcount and spending on research and development.
Corbyn meanwhile promises to retain all the benefits of the…