Labour have gambled the project, the party and arguably the country on one manby Chaminda Jayanetti / December 5, 2019 / Leave a comment
After a tepid first half of the election campaign, Labour started to make up ground in the polls. Record numbers of people registered to vote, most of them young. Labour’s cash splurge on the WASPI campaign hit home on the doorstep in a way that free broadband didn’t.
Yet something else is repeatedly coming up on the doorstep, too. Throughout the campaign, the biggest risk to Labour has been its historically unpopular leader. Jeremy Corbyn was more unpopular at the outset of this election than he was at the time the 2017 election was called, which provided the setting for his, and his party’s, dramatic rise in fortunes.
That progress had been squandered in the ensuing two years—on anti-Semitism scandals, factional warfare, the hubris that sparked the ill-fated Labour Live, and endless confusion and dithering over Brexit.
Labour centrists have long fantasised that some favoured product of the Blairite machine (David Miliband; Yvette Cooper) “would be 20 points clear in the polls.” It was nonsense. Brexit cut across Labour’s coalition of voters, and while their 2017 manifesto stance on the EU was deliberately unclear, it did help neutralise the issue at the polls.
But now, almost any plausible alternative leader would be outperforming Corbyn with voters—John McDonnell, Emily Thornberry, Angela Rayner, Keir Starmer. Voters have simply not taken to him, particularly the working-class Leave voters that Labour is desperately trying to hold onto under pressure from the Tories.
Media coverage plays a part, as it did with Ed Miliband. And as with Ed’s bacon sandwich, some of the coverage has been nonsense. But as with Ed, not all of it has: it was fair to say Miliband was often indecisive and rarely sure of himself under assault from all sides. Corbyn is decisive in his comfort zones, but has meandered back and forth on Brexit while his frontbenchers publicly fight among themselves. The public’s perception of him as weak is wrong on many issues, but it’s right on this one.
And then there is anti-Semitism. The evidence that British voters are heavily influenced by concerns about racism is limited—otherwise Boris Johnson would be electoral anthrax. It is also true that media coverage of racism by Conservatives has been inadequate.
Nevertheless, one consequence of Labour’s ongoing anti-Semitism…