For those convinced that you never lose in politics, because either you win or you learn from your failures, have a look at the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn. ‘Delusion’ doesn’t do justice to the past four years, the Brexit referendum and the last election, in which Corbyn led the official opposition against dysfunctional, misfiring, failing, inept and divided Tory administrations.
In power for a decade, the Conservative Party is seeking a fourth win in a row at a general election. There should be hesitancy and concern. Why? Because what the Tories are defending makes for grim reading.
Recent Tory governments have instigated a misjudged regime of austerity, supervised near-static growth, indulged in civil war and attritional infighting, and been disowned by leading figures who once shaped their party’s identity, including a former prime minister.
They are currently led by a mendacious narcissist, Boris Johnson, once serially dismissed – inside his own party – as an offensive buffoon ill-equipped for high office.
Yet as we go into the final hours of this election campaign, polls predict a Tory majority of anything between thirty and seventy, with Labour heading for its worst defeat since the catastrophe of 1983. Hopes are now clinging to the careful psephology of the latest multilevel regression with post-stratification (MRP) model, which says the damage might not be as bad as the first MRP forecast of the 2019 campaign.
However, the shadow health secretary, John Ashworth, caught off-guard in a covert recording with a Tory aide, puts it rather more colloquially. “It’s abysmal out there. They don’t like Johnson, but they can’t stand Corbyn.” Ashworth used words like “dire” and “awful” to describe Labour candidates’ chances.
If, as polls suggest, Johnson will remain in Number 10, Corbyn will have lost to a Tory leader regarded as a serial liar, condemned for expressing openly racist remarks, laughed at by a television audience when he claimed trust was important. He will have lost to someone who has refused to say how many children he has fathered, lost to someone who sees scrutiny of his past and current dealings as none of the electorate’s business. He will have lost to a political coward, one unwilling to engage in a head-to-head interview with a journalist he knew would cause serious damage.
No sound reason Johnson should win
The political arithmetic seems clear enough. There is no sound calculation why a politician with this track record should win convincingly. Johnson should not only be hiding from Andrew Neil, he should be hiding from the electorate; his party should already be engaged in analysis of why, once again, its toxicity looks terminal.
This is not going to happen. The uncomfortable reality of 2019? Boris Johnson is not going to win – but Jeremy Corbyn is going to lose.
Corbyn is the frontman for the delusional left, the tribe-within-a-tribe still failing to recognise that the most important donation to the Tory cause is the gift that keeps giving, Corbyn himself.
Johnson’s credibility is at best an in-house Tory joke. His foundation is conference buffoonery, one the party buys into because it believes that behind the pantomime persona lies that most sellable of assets – the populist who can win.
Corbyn’s credibility? If it’s there at all, it barely troubles. Boris may be the star of this trust-free 2019 contest, but Jeremy remains the unpopular sideshow cheered on only by those unwilling to be distracted by polls which keep pointing to yet more opposition wilderness.
Two years ago, ahead of the last election, I questioned Corbyn’s supposedly respected authenticity. Up against the failed marketing trying to sell Theresa May as “strong and stable”, Corbyn’s authenticity was proclaimed as a game-changing quality that would propel Labour, old Labour, back into Number 10.
Corbyn’s excruciatingly poor performances at Prime Minister’s Questionss, the proto-Marxist manifesto, the planned festival of Keynesian revivalism, the IRA support, the peacemaker-at-large in terrorist circles, the weakness over anti-Semitism, the large-scale nationalisation, the pork-barrel give-aways – all would be glossed over as the electorate embraced Corbyn’s resurrection of state socialism.
Except they didn’t. He lost.
Sure, Labour did better than expected. Humiliation was avoided. May needed the votes of the Democratic Unionist Party to survive. Though Corbyn didn’t win, the accidental victor of the post-Miliband vacuum was now seen, by some, as a prime minister in waiting. I have no idea why.
So, what lessons have been learned from 2017 by the trio of Corbyn, the shadow chancellor John McDonnell and senior advisor Seamus Milne? It would appear none at all.
December 2019 will be remembered as the Brexit election. And though that complicates the calculation of what Labour needed to do to win, it does not absolve Corbyn of blame.
Polls point to Corbyn being short on credibility, a poor leader not trusted, trailing well behind Johnson. The solution? Not just a repeat of the rejected 2017 offer, but an exaggeration of it; an explosion of promised state-growth and state ownership. Corbyn’s promises and McDonnell’s spending wish-list have not just been trashed in independent analysis, they have been rubbished by potential supporters. They don’t see fully-costed socialism, but rather fantasy promises they cannot believe in.
The Conservatives’ economic promises, especially those on taxation, have also been accused of lacking credibility. Johnson simply tells lies when the truth might be difficult to admit. But when Corbyn’s project is regarded as economic la-la land, any punches he throws finds thin air. Without a clear policy on Brexit, attempts to bring attention to other issues simply failed. Only the potency of the NHS crisis brought traction, but even this came too late.
Likewise, warnings of growing anti-Semitism were there and damaging in 2017. Were they addressed? No, they got worse and widened to create a destructive poison. Corbyn’s assurances that this small problem was being dealt with, contradicts all the evidence. As the facilitator of this open wound, his denial of the scale of the problem bled and spread into other territory.
Credibility is hard to win, but so easy to lose. Corbyn told a lie about watching the Queen’s speech on Christmas morning. What is a natural reaction to that? To guess what else he’s lying about.
Occupying credible central ground encourages a reflex for tactical voting. But if you don’t believe Corbyn, or worse, you don’t trust him on security, or you don’t actually know where he stands on Brexit, or you think he and McDonnell have a destructive anti-capitalist agenda they won’t fully admit to – you get drawn in by over-hyped warnings of handing power to Corbyn & Co.
Did Labour’s campaign directly address such concerns? No, it dismissed them as unwarranted conspiracies.
Nothing Corbyn has done during this election minimised this lack of trust. In a room full of cheering supporters, trust isn’t a problem. This, sadly, is tribal politics at its narrowest – a convenient assumption based on blinkered arrogance.
Johnson has always believed he’s entitled to the keys of Number 10, and it was just a matter of time before he got them. Corbyn, a largely ignored incompetent on Labour’s backbenches for decades, is making the same kind of mistake. But without trust, he’s entitled to nothing.
The consequence of all this is that Corbyn will probably lose to a flawed Tory leader widely regarded as a mountebank, a fraud, peddling promises he cannot deliver.
Corbyism – as I said two years ago – is a terminal affliction that Labour cannot recover from. His leadership has been a disgrace, his brand of party democracy a stain on his party’s history. His legacy? Let’s start with the keys of Number 10 on Friday, nicely wrapped in Christmas paper, and handed to someone who could not have won without him.