When Corbyn made it onto the ballot paper in a last minute, charge of the Rohirrim-esque piece of theatre, his chances of victory were written off with scoffs, and some of those who did nominate him openly boasted that their rationale in doing so was to see the Left smashed in the leadership election and out of the Labour party. He was at 100/1 in the betting odds, and pretty much the only person that took his chances seriously was the New Statesman‘s Stephen Bush. Fast-forward two months, and Jez is leading the polls, the aforementioned commentator is predicting his victory, and his becoming favourite in the betting odds has me wishing I’d laid £20 on him rather than Yvette.
All this is very exciting from a schadenfreude perspective, and one cannot help but relish the irony that what enabled Jeremy’s nomination were the calls for a ‘wide and open debate’ came from the party’s right, who thought it would benefit them. However, there is one thing that has dogged Corbyn more than accusations of his being unelectable: the charge that he doesn’t want to win.
At the start of the contest, I believe this was true. I am sure Corbyn himself didn’t think he had any more of a chance than his detractors were predicting, and declaring that you were only standing to broaden the debate and give the left a voice when you came last is a perfectly noble and rational excuse to give. However, looking at the contest now, I think Jeremy may not only be in with a chance of victory, but that he also wants it. Why do I say this? Because Corbyn has embraced two of the greatest weapons the Blairites used to have in their arsenal before they abandoned them for righteous fury: pragmatism and compromise.
Make no mistake, Corbyn is a figure of the hard-left, yet his platform would not give this away. If he really didn’t want to win but give a last blast on the trumpet for Bennism, he could do so quite easily. He could pledge that his Labour Party would fight to disestablish the monarchy and the Church, withdraw fully from the EU, raise the top rate of tax to 80%, nationalise industry, a strictly non-interventionist foreign policy etc. It would appeal to Labour’s traditional hard-left and draw in some of the rump of Britain’s far-left, but it would be too extreme for most of the soft-left whose presence was boosted by Ed Miliband’s leadership. Instead, the main things Corbyn have argued for are abandoning austerity, an end to attacks on the welfare state and a more humane rhetoric around immigration. These are all platforms that you can read plaudits of in the Guardian or The Independent every week, and were adopted by the SNP, the Greens and Plaid Cymru during the 2015 general election campaign, they are hardly hard-left fringe ideas. The main truly hard-left ideal Corbyn espouses is scrapping Trident, but even this is no longer as controversial as it was in the 1980s, due to it being brought into the mainstream by the SNP and the Greens as well as the fact that the Thermonuclear Russian Bugbear is no longer a big issue.
However, Corbyn has not been content to stick to simple platitudes. He has produced a manifesto for women’s equality, promised to scrap tuition fees and posited a ‘National Education Service’ based on his ‘admiration’ for Blair’s focus on education. I don’t know about you, but these hardly seem like the actions of a man intent on losing. Instead, it appears Jeremy is trying to build a broad coalition based around appeals to both Old and New Labour ideals, as well as to interest groups. Far from the cries of ‘Loony Left’, Corbyn is showing himself to be a fairly canny politician who is able to compromise.
In contrast, the party’s hard right are trying their best to become the new lunatic fringe. Luke Akehurst, a bastion of the old right, has reproached the Blairite faction ‘Progress’ for describing Cooper and Burnham as ‘Corbyn-lite’ and expressed concern at the amount of Kendall supporters who are refusing to put a second preference. Throughout the leadership election, this grouping of the Labour party have berated the left for thinking they can ‘wish an electorate into existence’, pursuing ‘purity over power’ and rejecting compromise. Unfortunately for them, every one of these charges can be levelled in their direction in regard to their conduct. Their ‘strategy’ has been to mock and deride large swathes of the Labour membership, make threats of splits and coups and to pursue a pristine Blairite philosophy without any intention of compromising with their electorate. It is a sad, undignifying sight that will see them come a distant fourth. They deserve nothing more.
As for Corbyn, I still don’t expect him to win, and I would prefer Andy Burnham did. However, before writing off his desire for victory, remember that it has been the dream of the left for over half a century to capture the Labour Party. It is a struggle that runs from Bevan through Benn and to Militant. It is some stretch of the imagination to think that Corbyn, a friend of both the latter two, would want to squander this opportunity to finish a lifetime’s work. If he does win, do not expect him, and the rest of the hard left, to go quietly.