If Corbyn had lost the support of a third of Labour voters in an election then he would be forced out. This is worse than thatby John McTernan / June 24, 2016 / Leave a comment
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“It’s not up to me to throw in, other than a couple of lines about ‘the government’s in a mess.’” That is what Jeremy Corbyn said in Vice’s recent fly-on-the-wall documentary, talking about why he wasn’t going to embarrass David Cameron over the shock resignation of Iain Duncan Smith. Instead, he embarrassed himself. Rather brilliantly.
The documentary gave many insights into how Corbyn’s office functions—and it allows us to reconstruct how Labour’s campaign strategy for the European Union referendum was probably devised.
Corbyn effectively decided: “It’s not up to me to throw in, other than a couple of lines about “it would bad to leave the EU.” Remember, his support for Britain’s membership of the European Union was a meagre “seven out of ten,” in his words.
And thus Labour’s campaign strategy was set. There were three key elements:
– devoting most of the time to attacking the Tory government, as if this was a general election. And petulantly refusing to share platforms with senior Tories
– spending most of the rest of the time telling voters they were wrong on immigration and free movement of labour. Even though this was the single most important issue for them and could—and should—have been directly addressed
– selling the benefits of the EU in the tone and style of Socialist Worker in the mid-1970s. Trying to tell working class people who had already experimented with voting Tory or even UKIP that historic rights granted by the UK parliament were delivered and guaranteed by the EU
All of these elements were delivered in the bemused tones of a geography supply teacher having to give a Founder’s Day speech. Lacklustre doesn’t begin to describe the tone in which Corbyn delivered his message.
The consequence was all too predictable. A third of Labour voters, people who had stuck with the party through Ed Miliband and even Corbyn, voted for a campaign led by right wing politicians who want to reset the entire social settlement of the UK—from workers’ rights to the NHS.
The Russians say that “a fish rots from the head down.” In politics, leadership matters in all senses. In the inspiration that a leader gives to the both the faithful and to the waverers. In the clarity with which positions are articulated and proselytised. In the energy that can be mobilised amongst activists.
In this referendum campaign, Jeremy Corbyn hit the ground strolling and then for good measure took lots of naps along the way. The Labour campaign didn’t start until after the May local elections—which was far too late, campaigns are won in months not days. But this was no normal campaign either—it was an irreversible choice about the future of the country. It should have been the priority of Labour’s leader from the very day it was announced.
That it wasn’t spoke volumes about Corbyn and his true beliefs—both to commentators and to voters. The former group pore over every word and action of a leader. The electorate, on the other hand, tend to give politics a cursory glance. Still, they have a good nose for authenticity, and on the EU Corbyn was inauthentic. His political views on foreign and domestic policy have been unchanged since the 1970s—why would this be any different? Corbyn’s EU campaign did not show the reluctance of general unhappiness with the responsibilities of leadership; it showed the reluctance of someone who still believes that the EU is a bankers’ romp but who has already had too many fights with MPs—and so does not want another one.
Since the 1980s Labour has been united on the EU because of the contribution it makes to jobs, growth and prosperity and the protection it gives to workers’ rights and to equality. It is a catastrophic failure of leadership that Corbyn didn’t manage to unite Labour voters to a cause which is so clearly in their interest. If Corbyn had lost the support of a third of Labour voters in an election then he would be forced out. This is worse than that and he intends to cling on. Time to dynamite him out.
Now read: How Brexit should be done