It’s a question many will no doubt have asked themselves these past few weeks.
We can say with some certainty that when it comes to the Party’s leadership selection, perceived notions of the politically possible (and acceptable to some) appear to be crumbling.
To listen to some MPs and political commentators you’d think that, like some Salvador Dali painting, the very building blocks of reality were falling apart around their collective ears. I guess in some ways they are. One week you’re contemplating your desired future shadow cabinet position, the next looking at a (self-imposed in many cases) stint on the back-benches.
But as many of the Corbyn campaign critics are quite rightly quick to point out – winning over a selectorate – no matter how impressive, does not equate to winning over the wider electorate – especially one that has just rejected your political offer.
Pre-Corbyn, the consensus went pretty much, something like this: ‘Labour just fought on the most left-wing manifesto to date for 20 years and received a drubbing. The electorate, or more to the point those swing seats in England we need to win, have now moved further away from us. Consequently we need to orientate ourselves to a more ‘realistic’ political position that concedes welfare spending reductions, austerity economics and closer adherence to Tory policies generally, to win said Tory swing support back towards us’.
The only problem I see with this analysis (and so it would appear have many other members) is this.
Firstly, the manifesto we fought on was a confused, contradictory bundle of compromises. Compromises that accepted austerity economics in one chapter, but opposed them in another. Simply put it wasn’t credible to either left or right.
Secondly, it almost entirely omits any mention of Scotland and the fact we were beaten by a party that, rightly or wrongly, was perceived to be to the left of Labour. Arguments that ‘nationalism did for us’ don’t particularly cut it considering a majority had voted to remain within the Union a few months before.
Thirdly, this analysis takes no account of the large numbers of Green, former Labour now UKIP voters and millions of politically disengaged non-voters. It’s as if they simply don’t exist and any attempt to engage with them or question why they are so minded, deemed unrealistic. It also fails to factor in the millions of core supporters who would either join their ranks in disgust or switch to a more left orientated Liberal Democrat Party or the Greens.
Fourth, this analysis also assumes that whilst the Party’s political elites, in the form of the PLP, are happy to tack rightwards, it fails to factor in the rest of the Party which, by and large, is clearly not.
And here in lies the problem. George Osborne’s ‘traps’, far from being just individual policy snares were in fact playing on this obvious tension between the PLP leadership and wider labour movement. On one side a political class, who staring at defeat in 2020 under the current orthodox consensus ‘rulebook’ (incidentally the same one that said Corbyn was a selection no-hoper) decided we had to jettison more principles, more values in order to win. On the other a Party and wider movement horrified at the prospect and asking themselves, quite rightly, what was the point of our continued existence? What on earth did we stand for?
Ultimately, George Osborne’s trap was to drag the PLP ever further rightwards into his new ‘political consensus’ and in so doing gleefully watch the Party fragment from the predictable and inevitable resulting stresses.
But in a perfect storm no one saw coming, with a new, more independent and left orientated 2015 MP intake; London MP Mayoral candidates jostling for the left vote and nominating Corbyn; the new Collins electoral system and a general disillusionment with stale, triangulated, sound-bite, technocratic speaking clock politics - Corbyn’s campaign sprung fourth.
Here was a candidate that, forgive me for using the term, had the ‘Farage factor’. Anti-establishment, spoke his mind without triangulating, stood his ground whatever the political prevailing winds and spoke ‘humanese’. It was if a flood-gate had been opened.
So can this phenomenon that has seen tens of thousands pack halls, fields and streets to hear a politician speak, translate to the wider electorate? Well it already has. Around half of the 600,000 members and supporters we now have are new. But admittedly they’re voters, who in the main, already sympathise with broad Labour values.
Here enter the latest Survation poll as reported by Sky News, the Guardian and the Evening Standard last week (http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2015/aug/14/jeremy-corbyn-labour-leadership-most-popular-candidate-voters-all-parties). It would appear to suggest Jeremy is cutting through to a wider audience – something the orthodox political rulebook of three months ago said was impossible. It finds Jeremy, of all the leadership contenders, has the strongest electability-factor with the young, old, ABC1’s, UKIP and Liberal Democrat voters at the last election.
Clearly this flies in the face of those in our Party and beyond who’ve screamed till coarse in the throat that Jeremy is a walking, talking political suicide pact that will not only guarantee Labour defeat in 2020 but possibly end all life in the cosmos.
However, perhaps surprisingly for some, I’m not going to lay out an argument here one way or another based on this poll or any other as to whether Jeremy can win in 2020 or not. As one anti-Corbyn social media commentator explained on hearing about the Survation poll, ‘Who cares about it? The only poll that counts is the nationwide one conducted in May.’
My point here is that as we were all painfully reminded in May, political science is anything but scientific. True it can, all things being equal, predict broad directions of political travel. But unfortunately all things are not always equal and human beings it seems do their very best to thwart any and all accurate scientific analysis of their ultimate intentions (one of humanity’s genuinely wonderful traits I may add).
Hence whatever ‘evidence’ anyone from any camp comes up with, another will provide their own supporting ‘evidence’ to rubbish it. And as the establishment forces who’ve queued up to rubbish Corbyn’s future prospects have discovered, no one has a monopoly on wisdom or for that matter credibility for the future.
So what are we to do then?
In a nutshell? Grab this opportunity with both hands. As a Party we are being given a rare chance. Politics may or may not be re-writing itself. But if there’s a glimmer of a chance that we could break 35 years of awful, damaging, hell-in-a-hand cart neoliberal consensus politics in this country then I believe we have to take it.
Critics will say I and others like me are gambling with people’s livelihoods and futures. The same could be said of them with their fear of change, fear of reaching out for something infinitely better.
Throughout history, when dramatic change has transpired, we see there are two opposing forces at work. On one side the forces of conservatism, who fight for the status quo, from a fear of change and loss of power, no matter how much of an abject failure that status quo may be. On the other side are those prepared to seize the moment and transform and shape the reality of the day into something different, something better.
Unfortunately as things stand, the offer coming from the establishment candidates feels like neoliberal death by a thousand cuts. No matter who loses under their leadership – Tory or Labour - vested interests, the powerful, the wealthy, the plutocrats, win. As the extremes of poverty deepen, the environment degrades, climate change rages and , the international arms race grows, now is the time to choose a decisive break with a failed political and economic system we’ve regrettably been an inherent, if at times, reluctant part of.
Real change then rarely comes on your own, preferred, perfect terms. For those in the midst of it, it looks uncertain, unpredictable, and unknowable. But in my political lifetime I’ve never seen an opportunity as promising and I for one intend grabbing it with both hands.
Thankfully, in that desire, I’m not alone.