Incredible scenes from the Labour Party leadership election announcement
Margaret Thatcher’s electoral hegemony during the eighties was almost certainly helped by by the Leader of Her Majesty’s Opposition across that whole period being completely unelectable.
Neither shambolic Marxist Michael Foot nor the Welsh Windbag who followed him were ever seen as seriously electable by the British public, giving Thatcher more space that she otherwise might have enjoyed to pursue her programme.
Current Conservatives are now crowing that British Labour’s election of aging Trot Jeremy Corbyn will give them the same chance at an electoral dynasty. Trouble is, the decidedly damp David Cameron is no Margaret Thatcher.
In July 2014 Michael James reviewed Peter Mair’s book, Ruling the Void: The Hollowing-out of Western Democracy, in which Mair lamented that
. . . the parties are no longer significant venues of citizen participation in public life; their consequent loss of membership fees has forced them to become dependent on large donations from wealthy sponsors, with the attendant suspicion that their policies are effectively being bought. . . . [T]he parties typically attract youngish career politicians whose ambition is to become members of the executive. Parties are nowadays little more than machines for winning elections . . .
As he now says this morning: “Be careful what you wish for.” It was the “grass-roots” Labour supporters that got Corbyn over the line–just like they got Foot and Kinnock over the line before him.
The consensus among British commentators [reports Michael James] holds that a Corbyn-led Labour Party cannot win an election (but then, a few weeks ago they agreed that Corbyn could not win the leadership contest). It’s true that Corbyn’s socialism moves Labour even further away from its working-class roots; at the May 2015 election working-class voters largely abstained or drifted towards the UK Independence Party (or even the Conservative Party). Indeed, the Corbynistas seem uninterested in representing anyone but themselves and their quintessentially middle-class, ‘progressive’ and anti-capitalist sentiments.
Their ascendancy is best interpreted as an attempt by the Labour Party to redeem itself for cynically trading off its principles back in the 1990s for the prospect of power held out by the now despised Tony Blair. Yet one of the momentous lessons of the twentieth century is that unexpected events can interact disastrously with ideological movements. In the late 1920s German commentators wrote off the Nazis as a lunatic fringe that could be safely ignored. A few years later the Great Depression gave Hitler an electoral base from which to seize power.
In fact, it’s frighteningly easy to see how Corbyn might come to power in Britain. For a start, under Britain’s first-past-the-post voting system a party can form a government with little more than a third of the vote . . .
James pointes out several reasons Corbyn’s destructive policies may nonetheless prove politically popular, but offers another reason for some hope which is a good one:
Corbyn’s victory will force the Conservatives, too, to talk about principles, something they’ve been thankful to be able to avoid since Margaret Thatcher left the scene, and the demise of the Soviet Union appeared to discredit socialism for ever. Who knows, some of them might even find their voice and be able to argue a persuasive case for capitalism.
Wouldn’t that be a change.
[Pic hat tip David Wyllie]