Tuesday, 15 September 2015

Jeremy Corbyn: Why I Don't Think He'll Be PM

So the impossible has become possible. Jeremy Corbyn, the hard-Left rank outsider for the Labour leadership, won the vote by an impressive 60% in the first round. He has been busily assembling his Shadow Cabinet after a slew of front bench resignations. His supporters are overjoyed.

So, of course, are the Conservatives. Because the odds of a Conservative victory at the 2020 General Election have just significantly increased.

Hubris? Complacency? I don't think so. I could be wrong, of course, but I cannot seriously see Corbyn as a genuine alternative Prime Minister. The reasons for this are as follows.

1. Lack of Appeal
Quite simply, Corbyn does not appeal to a broad enough section of the electorate to win a General Election.

Hang on, I hear you say. He's been MP for Islington North for about 30 years, and he's just won the Labour leadership by 60%! How can you say he's not electable?

The answer to this is quite simple. Neither the constituency of Islington North, nor the Labour Party generally, are representative of the voting population of the United Kingdom. Approximately 46.5 million people are entitled to vote in UK general elections. Of those, approximately one in four hardly ever bother to actually vote. So you have about 35 million people who do vote, who have a range of political views, from hard-Right to hard-Left. Most people, assuming a normal distribution (which is not an unreasonable assumption to make given the diversity of the UK's population), tend towards centrist political views.

Furthermore, our electoral system of First Past the Post (FPTP) tends to punish political parties with widespread, but low level support, and amplify the gains of parties with concentrated high level support. In the last election, nearly 3.9 million people voted UKIP, but were rewarded with only one seat in the Commons. The SNP polled 1.5 million votes - less than the Liberal Democrats (2.4 million votes and a mere 8 seats) - but won 56 seats. In order to win a significant number of Commons seats, UK political parties have to have widespread and concentrated support.

Corbyn represents a relatively uncommon strand of political thought. He has the ardent support of many Leftist voters and activists, who are loudly proclaiming his victory. Many of them have joined the Labour Party precisely to install a leader who shares their values. The problem is, they only represent 10-20% of UK voters, which is not enough to form a Government. Many centrist voters will be put off by his views, and those on the Right will find them abhorrent. The only way Corbyn can realistically command enough support is by capturing mainstream public opinion - the centre ground. But doing that will probably involve political compromises that he is unable to stomach.

2. Mobilisation of the Right
Corbyn is utter anathema to anyone on the Right of the political spectrum. He has advocated renationalisation, unilateral nuclear disarmament, heavy taxation, money printing, and withdrawal from Overseas Territories such as the Falklands. He has therefore handed a sizeable constituency of voters to the Tories.

Ah, but they'd vote for the Tories anyway! I hear you say. Not necessarily. Many voters who are put off by their party of choice, don't vote for the opposition - they just don't vote. Ed Miliband experienced this at the last election - Labour voters didn't necessarily switch to the Tories, but they just stayed at home. Corbyn is so toxic to the Right, you can be sure there will be a big mobilisation against him. This will inevitably increase votes for the Tories as the Right unites to keep him out.

3. Attitudes in England
UK general elections are won and lost in England. The biggest nation in the UK represents about 80% of all Parliamentary constituencies, and England is not really a socialist country. Corbyn's attitudes on foreign policy and defence will be of particular concern. Most English people see the UK's place in the world as a projection of their own national pride (compare this with the SNP, for whom the UK's wider foreign and defence policy is one of their key grievances with the Union). If Corbyn wants unilateral disarmament, withdrawal from NATO and the Overseas Territories, he is saying to the English: you don't matter any more. England is not a powerful nation, and the Union is an empty projection of greatness long spent.

Now, I could be wrong, but I don't see a majority of English people buying into that subtext. I see them being openly hostile to that narrative and turning out in force to reject it. And, although it is possible to win a UK majority without having an English majority, in practice, it's pretty difficult.

One of the unsung stories of the 2015 General Election was the rise of UKIP. They came second in many Labour constituencies, reducing Labour majorities. This confirms what Nigel Farage has been saying for some time: UKIP are now taking votes off Labour. They've damaged the Tories about as much as they're going to. Now, they're hurting Labour.

Many working-class voters feel that the New Labour era was not representative of them. They looked at the front bench and saw people who were utterly alien to them. They looked at Nigel Farage, with a fag in one hand and a pint in the other, and they saw something familiar. So they voted for him.

Now, it remains to be seen whether Corbyn can reverse that trend. I'm skeptical. Corbyn has the backing of the unions, who are making noises about mobilising the working classes and general strikes, but union membership is at pretty low levels compared to their hey-deys in the 1970s, and overwhelmingly public sector. Disaffected constituencies in the inner cities and the North of England have been voting Labour for decades, and they're still in the same state. The people who live there don't see Labour or the Tories doing anything for them, and they have a deep mistrust of the EU and immigration. I can only see UKIP's vote share in these areas increasing.

5. Perception of Chaos
It has already started. Many Labour front-benchers have resigned. The mood of the Parliamentary Labour Party is reported to be foul, after they have had a leader foisted upon them who has made a career of rejecting the whip, rebelling against his own party and generally making a nuisance of himself. The Party seems on the brink of a split. It is uncertain how Corbyn will hold sway over his mutinous colleagues in the Commons.

All of this contributes to a public perception of chaos and instability, which are hardly criteria the British people regard with much affection when eyeing up a potential future government. Indeed, with the mood of his Labour colleagues so mutinous, all that is required for an uprising is a figurehead for the rebels to coalesce around. Alternatively, the Party could split (SDP redux), shattering Leftist unity and making another Tory victory all the more likely. 

Either way, I can't see Corbyn being Prime Minister. He'll be utterly smashed by the Tories.