When Britain’s Labour Party elected arch left-winger Jeremy Corbyn as its leader last weekend, it waved goodbye to any hope of forming a government anytime soon. Corbyn’s supporters may have aped President Obama by chanting “Jez we can!” but the reality is that they won’t, can’t, and are kidding no one but themselves.
This is the kind of man we’re dealing with: Corbyn called the assassination of Osama bin Laden “a tragedy,” wants to pull Britain out of NATO, refers to Hezbollah and Hamas as “our friends,” wants to renationalize Britain’s energy companies and railways, intends to re-introduce rent controls on private housing, wants to give Argentina joint-sovereignty of the Falkland Islands, and would abolish the monarchy. He’s also just appointed as his Treasury spokesperson a man, John McDonnell, who is so socialist he says he’d like to have assassinated Margaret Thatcher.
It’s one heck of a gift for Prime Minister David Cameron and his governing Conservative Party. Corbyn is, in effect, no threat at all.
So why has the Labour Party, which only eight years ago still had triple-election-winner Tony Blair at its helm, just committed electoral suicide? Why have turkeys voted for Christmas?
The simple answer is that Labour recently took the catastrophic decision to allow its own supporters to decide who the leader should be. One member, one vote. It didn’t used to be like that. In fact, until this latest leadership election Labour’s Members of Parliament had a much bigger say, which inevitably led to more sensible choices. But now anybody who supports (or claims to support) Labour’s values and aims can sign up and vote in the leadership election — for just £3. Half a million people ended up taking part, and over half of them supported Corbyn.
These Corbyn groupies are an odd mixture. A large part of them are idealistic youngsters (average age, it would seem, about 19 and a half) without enough miles under their belts to realize that their man has no chance of getting close to Downing Street, and that even if he did, by some political miracle, he would be a disastrous Prime Minister. Then there are various groups of hard-left socialists and union members, alongside one or two cheeky Conservatives who slipped through the net and voted for the candidate likely to do most damage to his own party.
Meanwhile, sensible, moderate Labour supporters split their votes between the other three candidates, for whom the word “unimpressive” would be too kind. The result? Corbyn won by a landslide. That’s democracy for you, baby.
As if it wasn’t already bad enough for Labour. Up in Scotland, where the party used to sweep the board, the voters have abandoned Labour in their millions, opting instead to support that pocket dynamo Nicola Sturgeon and her Nationalists, who want complete independence from Britain. Nationalism has been on the rise in Scotland, as elsewhere in Europe, for the past 25 years, and — notwithstanding the narrow victory for “No” in last year’s referendum — it’s finally reached a tipping point where there are now more Scots saying they’d vote for independence than those wanting to stay in the United Kingdom. For Labour, a party that believes passionately in the Union, it means about two million lost votes.
That just leaves those supporters in Labour’s traditional heartlands, essentially London and the north of England, who will vote for the party come what may. But they equate to only about 25% of the electorate — nowhere near enough to win power.
It all amounts to a perfect storm, with David Cameron’s Conservatives, barring some unforeseen disaster, set fair for ten years of uninterrupted government. Yes, as a former British Prime Minister Harold Wilson once said, “A week is a long time in politics.” Yet, short of the entire Conservative Party being caught up in a massive sex scandal, it’s hard to envisage the circumstances in which they will fail to win the next election in 2020 — so long as Corbyn remains Labour leader.
And we can also give Cameron a huge dose of credit. It’s not all down to luck. Britain’s politics is about occupying the centre ground, and pushing your foe off to the left or right. The master of this art was Tony Blair. Under his leadership, between 1994 and 2007, the Labour Party transformed itself from left-leaning to centrist, and as night followed day the Conservatives shunted rightwards to political oblivion and three straight election defeats.
Cameron has performed the same trick from the Right, seeing off the Labour leaders that succeeded Blair — first, hapless Gordon Brown, then nerdy Ed Miliband. He’s now faced with hard-left Jeremy Corbyn. How has he achieved this? By pursuing a conservative economic agenda combined with relatively liberal social policies (supporting gay marriage, for example) — very much in tune with the feelings, values, and beliefs of the average British voter.
Cameron himself won’t fight the election in 2020. He’s already promised to step down before then. But his successor, likely to be Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne or Mayor of London Boris Johnson, is set to face a disunited, weak opposition with a leader lacking any political credibility.
For any Conservative, it’s a political inheritance to dream for.