Monday, 24 August 2015

Time for the Labour Realists to Get Real

Another day, another warning about the impending apocalypse. If only Labour were half as worried about climate change as it is about Jeremy Corbyn.

To judge from the press reaction you'd think a Hell Mouth  had been left unlocked somewhere in deepest Islington. Out of said demon hatch a puckish cohort is supposedly lurching - all bearded; most bereted; of wild and red-starry eyes. Behold, the demonic Left! It slouches toward your house prices, your budget flights, and your artisan cheeses! It brings inflation, immigrants, and a collectivist uniform of flat caps and donkey jackets.

Jeremy Corbyn's followers have inspired a whole new apocalyptic language among their rivals. The urge to string clunky metaphors together into the rough form of a Times opinion piece seems quite irresistible to them. Labour is all at once being rugby tackled through the looking glass; flogging a dead horse that's gamely sprinting towards a political precipice; and deluged by such totally uncharted waters that the outcome is a strangely guaranteed destruction.

The avid mixing of metaphors by - lest we forget - such handsomely paid political communicators suggests the babbling of feverish imaginations. The clammy paranoia of the Victorian consumptive, half-mad and half-lucid.

The whole "centre left" - as it still likes to be known - has been seized from its usual studied blandness and led Shelley-like "with great force to walk in visions of," well, Corbyn. No doubt if they meet murder on the road, he'll have the face of Owen Jones. Or trailing in death's folded cloak they'll find that awful Brand bloke. Next comes the Dreaded
Jeremy - he wants to nationalise our Queen, allegedly!

But what any real Trot will tell you is, like red squirrels, public loos, and Jeremy Clarkson's career, they are a phenomenon in decline. The whole entryist furore is a fantasy born of those feverish columnists, scribblers who, till now, have never troubled themselves with the views of real-life Labour members. Bur there are no ecstatic visions at Corbyn rallies. In fact, these supporters are really quite clear-eyed. They have come to a basic political conclusion: when the electorate has a half-decent Conservative Party to vote for, it has no  need of a right-wing or centrist Labour. 

Labour won in 1997, 2001, and 2005 not because everyone loved Tony (God, they hated him by the end!) but because the Tories resembled a tipsy, slightly racist and very sexist uncle at a wedding for about a decade. Then they sobered up - a bit  - and became eminently electable again.

Since 2005 the Conservative Party has been firing on all cylinders. 2010 and 2015 were grim reminders of what Labour's soft left has always counselled its more insurgent centrist bedfellows: Essex woman and man, never mind the Shirearchy, have absolutely no need of a right-wing Labour Party when the Tories are on fine form. 

And most fine their form presently is: without ever pulling out of the 35% range, they operate a crafty electoral hegemony that cashes in on low voter turnout. It takes guile, smarts and unrepentant exploitation of the electoral system to build such success. The contemporary Tory party is excellent not only at appealing to its core vote but removing any need to win the active support of those beyond its traditional fiefdoms. In such an environment of dejection and disillusionment (around 40% of voters do not vote; many more do not even register), the Tories win almost by default.

The popular view on the centre left is that Labour is just a triangulation away from winning hordes of Surrey and Buckinghamshire voters away from the Tories. Just embrace aspiration and as quick as you can say "There's a lovely new cupcake cafe in Farnham," Labour will be safely ensconced in government. Corbynites know it won't work - not when the Tories aren't already ripping themselves to shreds. 

Labour - in fact scratch that, every left and leftish force in Britain - needs to focus all its energy on rebuilding the electorate. This is good for democracy and what's really good for democracy - like people actually voting in high numbers - is generally bad for Tories. The real unelectables are those who want the eternal return of the same 1997-2005 coalition. They're fixated not only on those years of beaming, Colgate-white grins, but also on the need to destroy any departure from that way of doing politics.

It turns out that, behind the centre left's realist pretensions, lurks a dread of hard-left folk devils. The quicker they set aside these fantasies about Trotskyist plotters and start dealing with the membership as it actually is, the more chance they have to ensure their own survival. In short, time for the realists to get real and grow up.

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