Five reasons why Jeremy Corbyn is electable
Just 2 months ago nobody in Britain could have predicted that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership campaign would morph into the political movement that it has since become. While it looks increasingly likely that he will win the Labour leadership contest, his detractors within the Labour Party are growing anxious. Corbyn, they tell us, is unelectable and what Britain really wants is a (Blairite) centre-ground politician capable of winning general elections. Here are 5 reasons why they are wrong:
Corbyn occupies the centre ground: Alistair Campbell recently warned Labour members that Corbyn is espousing ‘positions that the public just are not going to accept in many of the seats that Labour is going to have to win to get back in power’. However, like many of Corbyn’s Blairite detractors, he declined to mention which policies he was referring to. This is because Campbell and his friends are aware that across a range of key issues – including foreign policy, the economy and the nationalization of public utilities – Corbyn’s views are actually largely in line with public opinion. If the ‘centre ground’ is defined by majority opinion, Corbyn occupies it better than any of his rivals by some margin, and the more discerning of his opponents acknowledge this. Earlier this month the veteran Conservative Ken Clarke warned his colleagues not to underestimate Corbyn, whose popular policies he admitted ‘will be difficult to campaign against’.
Popular political movements are gaining traction globally: All over the world popular political movements are emerging. Whether it’s Bernie Sanders in the US, Podemos in Spain or Syriza in Greece, people are seeking alternatives to ‘centre-left’ parties whose failure to offer an inspiring vision to counter the Right’s neoliberal narratives and austerity policies has led to a sharp decline in their popularity. In Britain, Jeremy Corbyn has provided a strong focus point for a number of previously scattered grassroots organizations, groups and unions that are campaigning against social injustice and austerity. The likely outcome of this is that Corbyn will mobilize and attract support from sections of the population – particularly young people – which refused to vote at the last election out of a profound disenchantment with mainstream politics.
Corbyn stands the best chance of winning back Scotland: Perhaps the biggest factor which caused Labour to lose the 2015 election was the party’s performance in Scotland, where the Scottish National Party won 56 out of 59 seats on a leftist anti-austerity platform. Unless Labour heeds the advice of Nobel Laureate economists Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz and presents a strong, unequivocal stance against austerity, it will stand no chance of regaining Scottish seats. Reversing such a resounding defeat will not be easy. But as the only Labour candidate to reject austerity and vote against the recent Welfare Reform Bill, Corbyn is surely best placed to win back Scottish voters who turned their backs on Labour out of frustration at previous leader Ed Miliband’s confused economic message.
Corbyn is well placed to attract disillusioned voters from the United Kingdom Independence party (UKIP): According to conventional wisdom, if Labour wants to win the 2020 election it must regain support from working-class voters in England who voted for UKIP because they felt Ed Miliband was too leftwing. Yet contrary to popular belief, many of UKIP’s 3.8 million voters at the 2015 elections actually hold political views which are to the left of Miliband. A YouGov poll in 2013 found that 73% of UKIP supporters would like the railways to be renationalized and the British Election Study revealed that 77% of UKIP voters agree with the statement that ‘ordinary workers do not get a fair share of the nation’s wealth’. This suggests that Corbyn’s promise to clamp down on corporate tax avoidance and set up a national investment bank to launch a ‘people’s quantitative easing’ programme’ may well prove more popular on the doorstep than his political foes would have us believe.
The mainstream media are not as powerful as they think: Corbyn’s main barrier to power will arguably be the corporate media which is already doing everything in its power to echo the smears of his detractors while avoiding any meaningful discussion of his policies. Yet the more the media attack him, the more his popularity soars in the leadership polls. It is also difficult to see how the press’s savage treatment of ‘Red Ed’ Miliband prior to the general elections could be outdone. This merciless and highly personal onslaught clearly had some effect, with many potential Labour voters choosing to vote for the Conservatives on the grounds that they couldn’t envisage Miliband as a credible prime minister. But despite losing, Miliband – a more awkward figure than Corbyn – still managed to increase Labour’s share of the vote by 1.4%, and that was without the support of a mass movement which Corbyn will likely have behind him.
Furthermore, the power of the mainstream media is being steadily eroded by the emergence of popular social media channels, with important figures on the Left who are supportive of Corbyn – such as Russell Brand and Owen Jones – now able to reach a potential audience of millions without relying on corporate outlets. On the current trajectory it seems likely that by 2020 the power and influence of social media activism will be even bigger than it is today and play a much more important role in the next general election than it did at the last one.
A version of this blog was originally publish on the author’s blog.