by Conor Fitzpatrick
You know it’s a bad sign when, from a Scottish perspective, the Labour leadership contest takes on the flavour of a foreign civil war.
I’d be more confident in giving you a break-down of the eastern front in Syria than I would be in trying to explain what the hell is going on with Her Majesty’s Loyal(ish) Opposition.
Now being honest, as a Nat so partisan I’ve honestly tried sourcing partisans, it was funny at first – but the grim reality of being stuck alone in a cage match with the post-Brexit Tory Party has descended and, regardless of one’s attitude toward the British state, it would be fairly convenient if the formerly-fifth largest economy in the world could once again have a functioning political system.
On the surface, the problem would appear to be the ludicrous leadership contest the heritors of Keir Hardie have inflicted upon themselves.
Corbyn’s challenger Owen Smith has as much chance of winning as a troop of snow balls, recreating July’s Turkish coup attempt, in hell. Despite managing to pick up some impressive endorsements (including any recognizable Labour figure who hasn’t been held under police caution at some point) his main qualification seems to be that he isn’t Jeremy Corbyn and that he is otherwise indistinguishable from 35% of the male Anglo-Saxon population.
Now, this sets him up quite nicely for a job in the Special Branch, or marrying one of Corbyn’s direct blood relations, but it falls far short of the curricula vitae expected of the leader of major political party.
Granted, there are some impressive Labour figures who could head a more viable leadership challenge (Hillary Benn, Watson and even the shadow chancellor) but they are wisely keeping well away from the helm at the moment since the party is in a “retreat from Moscow” situation; even if you do a bang up job the best case scenario is you end up exiled to St. Helena. Metaphorically speaking.
No, by far the deeper challenge facing Labour seems to be figuring out what precisely Corbyn’s leadership is going to mean once it has been dejectedly asserted and he can get on with the job of running the party.
So far, two Corbyns are being sold by his supporters.
He is either the scrappy back-bencher who could easily unite the nation against #ToryAusterity if only those Iscariot Blairites would let him OR he’s the true believing, fellow traveling, Marxist Jesus as anointed by John the McDonnell who shall herald a militant Socialist revival delivering us unto the utopia of bread lines and collectivized shoes.
Further complicating matters is that it’s quite evident he is neither of the above. While certainly an ideologue, he is also a softly-spoken intellectual who has spent the entirety of his parliamentary career representing the same London constituency of metropolitan progressives.
The fact is he is too principled and dogmatic to compromise with the broad range of interests needed to gain a majority in parliament (or forge a working coalition with other parties), yet he is also too polite and professorial to be a true revolutionary.
This does not necessarily render Corbyn’s leadership futile in and of itself yet I suspect that Corbyn’s most ardent supporters might prove to be his greatest liability and eventual undoing.
Put succinctly, the left-wing reformation in Labour, nominally headed by Momentum, will in all likeliness secure Corbyn’s premiership but is unlikely to win over many voters.
Entryism, dragooning, strictly enforcing alleged consensus and an absolute intolerance to any external criticism or internal dissent are patently effective when trying to establish control of private entity like the Labour Party (with non-conformists either leaving or keeping quiet for the sake of the whole) but not as a means to charming the voting public.
The electorate (and especially swing voters) are too numerous to be bullied, expect to be served by rather than serve political parties, and honestly don’t care if you call them a red Tory. Hell, for the majority that would be a pretty apt description.
Not to delve too deeply into the electoral history of The Left™ in the UK (there’s far, far, too many acronyms and it all smells faintly of damp rollies) but the last attempt to drag Labour to the hard left took place when we actually still had an industrial working class and it ended in the Thatcher administration.
I doubt a second attempt in the 21st century, when the country is much more atomised and class-identities much looser, will prove any more successful.