Is Corbyn’s proposed economic policy cloud-cuckoo impracticable? Quite possibly. But it doesn’t matter, because despite the best efforts of Blair, the Labour leader still does not unilaterally make Labour Party policy. And should he ever become Prime Minister, the Prime Minister does not rule by diktat (despite the best efforts etc…) but is constrained first by the Cabinet, and then by Parliament. Corbyn’s loudly stated commitment to democracy both within the party and beyond will make it harder for him to push through pet policies than any previous leader. So it’s good that he’s flagging up a few policies that have been out of fashion for decades – but they won’t become reality unless he can build a consensus for them. It’s interesting, incidentally, to note that the same opponents who say that a Corbyn government would be a disaster for the country are the same people who say that he’s unelectable. You can have one problem or the other, but not both.
Has Corbyn expressed verbal support for some frankly dodgy organisations? Possibly, depending on your political stance on the Middle East and your views on how people who perceive themselves as oppressed can legitimately fight for their cause. But if so, he’s in the very good company of all the UK governments who have and still happily support oppressive regimes and dictators. At least, as far as I’m aware, Corbyn hasn’t actually sold anyone any weapons.
Is a Labour Party led by Corbyn completely unelectable? I have no idea; no one knows what the mood of the country will be in May 2020. It is interesting though that those who claim so vociferously that Corbyn is unelectable are the same people who had no inkling that Labour would be wiped out in Scotland in 2015, and were so confident that he couldn’t win the party leadership that they nominated him despite supporting other candidates (and did so on the grounds that it would be good for the party to have a debate – well, doesn’t the country deserve the opportunity to have that debate as well?). So I don’t have much faith in their crystal balls.
Most senior Labour figures are still traumatised by what happened in 1983. This is what they constantly refer back to as evidence that a lefty Labour Party is unelectable. But it isn’t 1983 any more. By the time of the next election, thirty seven years will have passed since 1983. That’s two whole generations of voters who weren’t even born when a resurgent Thatcher defeated Michael Foot (and it could well be argued that, post-Falklands, she would have won even against a Blairite Labour Party). However, it’s not just a question of whether a Corbyn-led Labour Party would or would not be electable.
The guiding purpose of the Conservative Party is to rule; it exists to win elections and exercise power to stop it falling into the hands of anyone else. But wasn’t the Labour Party supposed to be about more than that? Wasn’t it meant to be a campaigning organisation? Surely this shouldn’t just be about winning the 2020 election. That’s nearly five years away, and during that time there’s a massively important job of work to be done.
It’s called opposition; holding the government to account; asking the awkward questions, shining a light into the corners of its decision-making. I’ve noted before that, in my view, the role of the Opposition in British politics is greatly underrated. Governments will always be governments; the delights of power and the constraints of office combine to make governments tend towards the conservative and the authoritarian whatever colour rosette they were elected under. But a good, strong and – dare I say it, principled – Opposition can act as a check on this tendency. This country has not had a decent Opposition since 1997.
A Labour Party led by Corbyn – principled, distinctive and fearless – could be a revitalised Opposition, and that, in itself, is a noble aim and a thoroughly worthwhile achievement.