David Cameron had good reason to smile when Jeremy Corbyn rose to ask his first question in Westminster. Allegedly, the Tory Cabinet had quietly celebrated the rise of the “left winger” to their competing political party.
Unfortunately, Corbyn’s leadership of British Labour is nothing to celebrate.
The election of the steely veteran to the head of British Labour excited many party supporters, estranged by the centrism pursued by Blair and his replacements. This enthusiasm was accompanied by the sentiment that Britain would boast two distinct political parties, not simply two different shades of blue. Interestingly, the media did not analyze the sharp divergence between the electric energy of Corbyn’s supporters and the apprehension of the wider UK. Jeremy was enthusiastically embraced by 59.5% of Labour’s internal vote and injected thousands more people into Labour’s ranks. He boasts a strong democratic mandate, but it is delusional to generalize these results to that of a national election. Mr Corbyn’s victory within his party was a consequence of him motivating a small, but politically active section of the public to stack a Labour party conference vote. It is by no means a referendum on his ability to win an election, let alone form a government.
For the most part of his political career, Jeremy Corbyn has remained an outsider to national politics. He has supported nuclear disarmament, Britain’s withdrawal from NATO and is a self-confessed pacifist. His voting record confirms this, as well as his wish to not toe the party line. So how is it suitable for a man who has remained outside the mechanics of government and who is unable to achieve political compromise to be Britain’s opposition leader? Opposition and government require political acumen, maneuverability and above all, a hunger to win elections. All those are impossible given Corbyn ostensibly prefers successive Tory victories to any moral compromise.
Furthermore, his poor management skills were evident in his approach to the Commons vote on Syrian airstrikes. Instead of identifying the popularity of a free vote and diversity of views within his party, Mr Corbyn promptly tried to bind his MPs against British intervention. Despite efforts by his Momentum faction to enforce his position, Labour MPs and members of the shadow cabinet resisted. Corbyn had unnecessarily divided his party on an issue of national security whilst simultaneously failing to implement his own policy position.
This moral ardour points to the unsuitability of Corbyn to govern the broad church of British Labour. The opposition must encompass the wider concerns of the community, and be able to effectively scrutinize government policy. But Corbyn’s Labour is relatable to almost none of their base. His narrow views estrange him from the working-class base of the Labour party that has looked to UKIP and the Conservatives for job-security and concerns over mass immigration. On the other hand, his Socialist credentials discredit him in the eyes of many middle and upper income voters who are essential to win over if Labour wishes to clinch power. Sadly, Corbyn has only gained popularity in areas like gentrified East London. He has failed to resuscitate Labour’s national polling (currently around 30%) and only a 1/4 of total Britons could imagine him as being prime minister.
It is time to recognize that Corbyn is not representative, but sectional. His views will relegate the Labour Party to an insufficient rump of the national vote, guaranteeing yet another Conservative majority. This will play into the nationalist rhetoric of the Scottish independence movement, who increasingly depict the British government as conservative, unrepresentative and above all, distinctly English. It is not healthy that the current Tory government rules out-right from England, without any seats in Scotland. Without a competitive opposition, the government cannot be properly scrutinized, and a sizeable amount of the population is left unrepresented.
Upon his election as Labour leader in 1994, Tony Blair said something that should resound loudly through Corbyn’s head. “Power without principle is barren, but principle without power is futile”. The British Labour party is a party of government; it should be led by someone who wants to get them there.