OPINION: Corbyn Has Momentum
Watching Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to a packed-out Labour Conference hall it was hard to escape the feeling that you were, in fact, watching the speech of a leader whose Party is, in fact, a government in waiting. Sounds fantastical, doesn’t it? Well so have a lot of things that have come to pass in politics in the last few years. In fact, I was perfectly prepared to declare afterwards that a Labour-led (they probably won’t be able to win a majority) government is now odds on. So, let me explain why I am prepared to stick my neck out on the line and make that bold prediction and let me attempt a stab at what we can do about this.
OPPOSITIONS DO NOT WIN ELECTIONS, GOVERNMENTS LOSE THEM.
This famous political dictum would seem to apply here. In fact, in many senses, it has already happened. For the whole of 2017, it looked like Theresa May’s Conservatives would cruise too, if not a historically epic majority, then certainly a very comfortable one. However, when it came to the crunch, she and her Party spectacularly fumbled and bumbled its way through the election campaign culminating in the dementia tax disaster. It was all downhill from there and the slow collapse of Mrs May’s and the Conservatives credibility has continued apace.
I don’t blame Corbyn for acting like he won the June poll. He didn’t but when measured against the extremely low bar everyone set for him and his Parties performance he most certainly dramatically overperformed. So, by that measure, he did win and not only did he overperform but he put himself and Labour on the front-foot and Mrs May and the Conservatives on the backfoot.
The fact is that the Conservatives have massively overplayed their hand on austerity which people are fundamentally sick of; people have taken the pain, are still suffering and not seeing enough gain. They have become, as Conservatives who spend a long time in government are often want to do, utterly complacent and arrogant, thinking they could not possibly lose to Corbyn when in fact they can, and are now doing regularly so at the polls. Because Corbyn has tapped into a strong public mood regarding austerity he now also is Teflon; nothing that is thrown at him in the right-wing press seems to stick. People barely acknowledge stories about sympathising with terrorism etc; they only resonate with the people who already hate him in any case.
This is why the flip-flops over Brexit are barely registering a single-digit dent in Labour’s standing. Brexit is another thorn in the government’s side whose tenure is becoming a boulevard of broken promises and shattered dreams. What May is doing will hurt her far more than what Corbyn has already done will hurt him.
ORGANISATION, ORGANISATION, ORGANISATION
It is an undeniable fact that the Labour Party is now the biggest political Party in Western Europe. The Conservatives are not, in fact, they are a Party locked in a death-spiral at the grassroots. Yes, they can compensate through aerial superiority to a degree with more money to spend on ads, media, etc, but with Labour’s massive ground superiority there is only so far that will take them. When Labour can put 20 boots on the ground for any given by-election that is a simply formidable machine which will take an awful lot of stopping.
If we are also honest, left-wing activists tend to be drilled with almost military precision and have the zeal and fervour of your average Jehovah’s Witness and then some. You can’t help but feel the wind is out of the Conservatives sails and that the humiliation of Mrs May in Florence along with serious doubts about her leadership and an obviously divided Cabinet will continue to leech off morale.
The government cannot stem the red tide. It has nothing to offer, no answers. Improbable as it may seem, especially with Brexit in mind, we have to see ourselves as Labour’s principle opposition. If we are going to do this we have to offer those who are attracted to Labour’s anti-austerity message as well as exposing their total betrayal of Brexit. We need to steer a course between the government’s policy of taking more pain for no gain and Labour’s economic policy which seems to have originated somewhere south of Narnia. We have to listen as well as talk to these people who are being driven into the arms of the left by utter despair. If we do this we can help beat Corbyn back and crucially save Brexit from being drowned by him and his red wave.